RIP JACK DRYBURGH AND RED IMRIE

British ice hockey has lost two of our finest players in the past few days after Jack Dryburgh passed away on Friday 21st August and Red Imrie on Monday 24th August.

Our thoughts and condolences go to their families and friends at this difficult time.

Well-known ice hockey journalist Stewart Roberts reflects on their careers….

Hall of Fame bios
Jack Dryburgh took to the ice almost as soon as he could walk, first skating at the age of three and playing hockey by the time he was nine. Such an early start for a British youngster was plain to see in his later years as he was widely regarded as one of the smoothest skaters and stickhandlers of his generation.

But other than sporadic guest appearances, Jack never iced for his home town team as it folded in 1955 just as he was due to make the step up from the junior Kirkcaldy Flyers. A gifted athlete who had already gained honours in tennis and football, Jackie (as he was known in his youth) found the confidence to go south to Nottingham and join the Panthers, the closest professional club at the time. However, the 17‑year‑old aircraft fitter was unable to find suitable employment in the Midlands and he was forced to return over the Border.

The Edinburgh Royals snapped him up and in his first season, 1957-58, he was the top points scorer in the North British League, which the Royals won undefeated. After a second year in Edinburgh he tried his luck south of the border again, this time with another amateur side, Southampton Vikings. He enjoyed a memorable debut, netting four goals, and kept up this blistering pace to finish the season as the Vikings’ leading scorer.

After splitting the 1960-61 campaign between the Vikings and Edinburgh, Dryburgh signed for Brighton Tigers, to begin arguably the best four years of his career. The fans quickly took to the lithe, swift skating playmaker, and his less than six-foot stature led to them dubbing him affectionately ‘the Wee McGregor’ (his middle name). He topped the team’s scoring charts in each of his four seasons, his total points tally of 474 ranking him the third highest scorer in the Tigers’ history.

The demolition of Brighton’s Sports Stadium left the country with so few rinks that Jack decided, like some of his teammates, that there were better prospects on the continent. In the late 1960s he played for Liège in the Belgian League as well as Kitzbühel in the Austrian Tyrol, and he also made sporadic appearances for Fife Flyers, Perth Panthers and the now homeless Tigers.

Dryburgh was capped for his country in 1961 with five games in Switzerland when GB finished tenth in the world. After retiring from playing he went into management, firstly at the new Aviemore rink in the Scottish Highlands where he also turned out occasionally for their Blackhawks team. He was appointed manager of the Solihull rink in 1977 when he took over as boss of their team, the Barons, and guided them to the top of the Southern League.

He eventually returned to his native Scotland and managed various rinks, especially in Kirkcaldy where he often acted as bench coach of the Fife Flyers. He was for a time a member of the BIHA Council, representing the Scottish Rink Managers Association. Whatever Jack did, he did with a passion for the sport he loved.

Jack McGregor Dryburgh was born on 14 January 1939 in Kirkcaldy, Scotland and died there on 21 August 2020 . He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.

Thomas Imrie, always known as ‘Red’ for his flame-coloured locks, was one of the band of Scots who become the heart of Brighton Tigers in their hugely successful post‑National League era of the early 1960s. He captained the side in 1962-63 before taking over from fellow Scot Johnny Carlyle as player-coach for the Tigers’ last two seasons on West Street.

The Hockey Fan of April 1962 said wonderingly of him: ‘Since joining the Tigers his performance has been nothing short of spectacular.’ In 136 games over five seasons, Red scored 67 goals. A fine stickhandler who was difficult to dispossess, he helped on twice as many more, recording 133 assists. Although a keen competitor, a reporter noted: ‘His visits to the penalty box were rare enough to cause raised eyebrows.’ He was the friendliest of men off the ice.

As a youth Red played many sports, excelling at tennis, golf and football as well as ice hockey where he was equally capable at centre or on defence. It could be argued, however, that he chose the wrong sport as his time in ice hockey coincided with its most troublesome period.

He broke into the senior ranks with the Canadian dominated Falkirk Lions at the age of 17 and scored a remarkable 51 points (18 goals) in 54 Scottish National League games. Unfortunately, that was Falkirk’s last season and he was forced to play the next few years at an amateur level in Edinburgh and Paisley.

Called up for National Service in 1959, he served in Colchester, Essex and persuaded his commanding officer to let him play ice hockey for Streatham in the 1959-60 season. That, too, turned out to be the swansong of both the club and the British League. But Streatham went out on a high, pulling off the league and Autumn Cup double and Red made a success of his new role as a defenceman, being voted the league’s Best British Player.

His high standing in the game made him a target for Brighton Tigers’ ambitious manager Benny Lee and Red was a fixture on West Street until the old jinx struck and Tigers’ home, the Sports Stadium, was demolished in 1965.

Now settled in south London with a job in insurance as a motor assessor, Imrie played three-and-a-bit seasons with Wembley Lions in the strange days when the team played friendlies in front of 5,000-plus crowds, only to fold in mid-season of 1968‑69.

When the sport eventually returned to Streatham in the 1970s, Imrie was happy to take on the coaching role and guided the Redskins to three league titles and two play‑off triumphs. He retired after taking them to the semi-finals of the 1985 Heineken British Championships at Wembley Arena. He also worked with Streatham’s youngsters, the Bruins. Between 1961 and 1981, Red was voted on to seven All-Star teams either as player or coach.

Britain were still in the world’s top ten when he was selected to compete in the 1961 and 1962 World Championships. Chosen again in 1966 when GB competed in the world’s second tier, he was voted the tournament’s Best Defenceman, the first Brit ever to receive this honour. He was capped 19 times for GB, tallying 11 points (six goals).

A shrewd analyst of the game, he was recruited in 1986 by BBC-TV as a colour commentator, originally working alongside ice hockey’s premier play-by-play man Alan Weeks and later with football’s Barry Davies. During the 1980s and 1990s the BBC screened several Wembley finals on Grandstand in addition to a ‘game of the month’.

Red spent his retirement in Coulsdon, Surrey where he played his beloved golf – his handicap was in single figures – almost every day until he became unwell in his eighties.

Thomas (Red) Imrie was born in Falkirk, Scotland on 15 July 1937 and died on 24 August 2020. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987.