Where are they now: Multi-sport Griffins athlete Hamilton succeeding with red-hot business venture

Former Griffins hockey and golf team member Dexter Hamilton recently started his own company - Coulee Outdoor - which produces smokeless firepits.
Former Griffins hockey and golf team member Dexter Hamilton recently started his own company - Coulee Outdoor - which produces smokeless firepits.

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Entrepreneurship runs in Dexter Hamilton's blood.

When he was 10, his dad Kevin left his job as a teacher, moved the family from Westlock to Lethbridge and chased a dream by starting Evergreen Golf Centre – a successful facility he still runs as managing partner.

His mom Shawn has been involved in various lifestyle and fitness ventures, including renting facilities to teach aquatics and pilates classes before it was mainstream, and running a ceramics business.

When it came time for Dexter to write his own story, the MacEwan Bachelor of Commerce grad jumped right into the fire.


In March 2021, the former Griffins men's hockey player and golf team member, started Coulee Outdoor – a Cochrane-based company which manufactures and sells Canadian-made smokeless fire pits.

"I tell people innovation is sparked by what's not working," he said. "We used to have fires all the time and we hated the smoke, but still liked the campfire feel, so that's how the research all took off on my own time.

"I found something I thought was pretty cool, so it was 'let's make a good product here in Canada and see what we can do here.' "

The result is picking up steam with the company already over 5,000 followers on Instagram and gaining national attention after being featured on CTV's Marilyn Denis show June 30.

Coulee Outdoor is highlighted at 1:57 of the Marilyn Denis episode found here

"It's moving fast," said Hamilton, noting they're already shipping across Canada and have placed product for sale in several Alberta stores, including Beachcomber, Arctic Spas, Sundance Spas and Barbecues Galore. "We're shipping out products daily and already have about 20 locations for dealers. And people continue to reach out. We're seeing lots of growth already even though it's very early (into our existence)."

Although Hamilton only graduated from MacEwan seven years ago, he already has 10 years of experience in the outdoor industry, which started with a summer sales associate position at Edmonton's Beachcomber Hot Tub & Patio while he was still a student, and he became the store manager after graduation.

More recently, he worked for Dansons, an international company specializing in a variety of wood pellet barbecues. The sum of his experiences led him to the innovative world of smokeless fire pits.

"Being in the industry, I saw this new category that was growing outside of Canada," said Hamilton. "I didn't come up with this smokeless fire pit category myself. We designed some new units and some new designs to make it smokeless, which we think are better than the competition out there. I found a manufacturer in Alberta and was able to partner with them and just went for it."

Former Griffins hockey and golf team member Dexter Hamilton poses with two of his smokeless fire pits. He started Cochrane-based company Coulee Outdoor in March, but is already shipping product all over Canada (Handout).

The design is basically about funneling the smoke down to the bottom of the pit and back up through a dual wall, creating a secondary burn. Fuel can either be firewood or wood pellets.

"It's all about air flow that makes it smokeless," explained Hamilton. "There's cold air that comes out through some vent holes and then there is some on the bottom of our firepits where the smoke works its way down. Then it travels back up through our dual wall and it will essentially create a secondary burn."

See more on their website: https://www.couleeoutdoor.com/

"People have been very understanding, especially through the pandemic," noted Hamilton. "It's amazing how Albertans have really rallied for companies. Because of that, I'm looking at hiring a few more people in the next little while.

"It's going to take a little bit of everything from all my experiences to create that culture and create a winning formula and team, if you want to combine sports and business. It's been great."

In that regard, Hamilton is able to lean on his experiences playing for the MacEwan Griffins men's hockey team from 2009-14.

The program underwent a culture change in those years as they impressively transitioned from the cellar of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference in 2010 to a three-peat champion (2017-20).

Hamilton was part of the group that lived the first part of that equation, but not the second. However, he and his teammates deserve credit for buying into then-head coach Bram Stephen's culture change plan – including increasing the team's involvement in the community and renewing the student part of student-athlete – which ultimately paid off on the ice, too, setting the table for the championship years.

"You definitely take some pride in that, for sure," he said. "Bram was very honest with us and us older guys knew it, too – we didn't really have the talent at the time to compete for a championship. It was kind of tough, to be honest, sometimes to say, 'OK, let's do it and buy into (the plan) and really look at it (as being) something for the future and for the future guys – just have a lot of fun and just try to change that culture.

"That probably helped me a little bit, too, in my business career – just starting new things," he added. "Even just the entrepreneurship, starting from scratch and knowing that culture has a big thing to do with a company – to retain good employees and attract good employees for the future.

"I definitely learned a lot more than just playing sports."

Dexter Hamilton wore No. 28 for the Griffins men's hockey team from 2009-14 and also competed for the MacEwan golf team during the 2011 season (Handout).

Recruited to play hockey at MacEwan in 2009 by then-head coach Jamie Langley out of the KIJHL's Beaver Valley Nitehawks (with a few games in the BCHL and AJHL sprinkled in), Hamilton joined a Griffins team that finished dead last with a 4-23-1-0 record. They remained in the basement at 3-23-0-2 a season later.

But things began to look up in 2011 as the Griffins kicked off a run of nine-straight seasons in the playoffs – a streak still alive today.

The change in fortunes for the program didn't just happen on the ice. Now, Griffins players enjoy their own dressing room at the Downtown Community Arena with full amenities, within a stone's throw of MacEwan.

In Hamilton's days, however …

"It was crazy," he explained. "We had to drive out to Leduc for some of the (games and practices), so even the amenities side of it was taxing – having to go from downtown to Leduc on the QEII when it was snowing like crazy. We dressed on one side (of the arena) and had to walk through the lobby. We maybe weren't the most talented bunch, but man did it test our mental capacity having to do a bunch of that stuff.

"It is definitely good to see the guys are able to have a real dressing room. I'm happy to see that now."

Playing a combination of forward and defence over his Griffins tenure, Hamilton finished with 16 goals – including an OT winner that sent MacEwan to the playoffs in 2013 – and 46 points in 105 career regular season games.

But he was also a multi-sport athlete, enjoying a season on the Griffins' golf team.

In 2011, he and friend Trevor Klassen decided to sign up for golf tryouts. Both made it.

"We literally just walked on there and made the team," he said. "We won provincials that year and played some pretty good golf. We had a lot of fun. We went to Prince Edward Island and Victoria that year, so that was really cool. That was one of the things that was memorable for me, being able to travel coast to coast for golf."

Hamilton finished seventh at the 2011 ACAC Championship (third-best on the Griffins) and also cracked the top-10 in the ACAC South Regional (sixth).

Dexter Hamilton (fifth from left) poses with the rest of MacEwan's 2011 men's golf team, which captured the ACAC Championship (file photo).

However, his fondest memories are more about the sum of all the parts than individual results.

"With hockey and golf, it was more about the relationships you make – the bus rides and plane rides," he said. "It wasn't necessarily about the tournament here or the playoff game there. Those are my biggest memories – the team side of it.

"I still keep in touch with some of (my teammates)."

Hamilton hasn't played hockey in years, but he still golfs regularly in a Cochrane men's league.

"After getting the body beat up in hockey, golf is something where I can see Phil Mickelson win a major at 50 and say 'OK, I can play golf for a little while here,' " he chuckled.

After all, golf is a perfect complement to business. And Hamilton's just getting started with his promising Coulee Outdoor venture.

"The feedback we've gotten so far on the product and the support that we've gotten from lots of people in Alberta who want to support a Canadian company – in this case an Alberta company – is pretty amazing," said Hamilton.

"Just to be able to provide them a really amazing product puts your mind at ease. You know you're sending them something that's quality."