James Syme, a big man who rejoiced in the jokey nickname ‘Tiny’, was an outstanding Scottish defenceman with Great Britain, Dunfermline Vikings and Paisley Pirates. He and his younger brother Tom (‘Tuck’) made their names as the heart and soul of the GB team that finished fourth behind only Canada, the USA and Switzerland in the 1950 World Championships in London.
The six-foot, two-inch Paisley captain was an intelligent and well-educated man, belying his rugged, on-ice image. In fact, he learned to speak French at the age of 12 some seven years before he could skate. But with the encouragement of Dunfermline’s Canadian coach Keith Kewley, he soon made up for lost time, stepping up to the senior Vikings in early 1948.
Tiny and Tuck played together on the Vikings’ blueline for six seasons (1947-53), were appointed captain and alternate captain in 1951-52 and helped the side to the Canada Cup in 1950-51 and the Autumn Cup in 1952-53.
When Dunfermline folded in 1953, Tiny, Tuck and coach Kewley moved to Paisley and were key to the Pirates winning the treble of league, Autumn Cup and Canada Cup. Tuck and their parents then emigrated to Canada but rather than joining them, Tiny was able to emerge from the shadow of his more illustrious brother and he captained the Pirates for two seasons. During the six seasons between 1954-55 and 1959-60, he was the only home-grown player to be selected to the All-Star ‘A’ team, in 1955-56.
When Kewley decided to return to Canada in 1957 as the post-war ice hockey boom began to fade, Tiny joined him and the Symes and played on Kewley’s amateur senior ‘B’ teams in the Ontario Hockey Association.
After twice representing Scotland against England, Tiny was selected to play for GB in the World Championships and scored against Norway at Harringay Arena. He would have competed in further championships but his club refused to release him the following year and after that the IIHF ruled him a ‘professional’ and thus ineligible.
Former GB captain Bill Crawford, who played alongside him at Paisley, recalled: “Tiny was a good egg, a helluva player, and a good captain. He imparted so much knowledge to young players, he would have made a good coach.”
Tiny, who was in the coal mining industry before turning professional, left ice hockey altogether on taking a senior management role with the Vicks chemical company in Toronto.
James George Syme was born in the Fife coalmining village of Blairhall on 1 October 1926 and died in London, Ontario on 22 August 1973. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.