Sharp-shooting Scottish centreman Jimmy Spence played in three World Championships for Great Britain, but competed in club hockey full-time for only 13 seasons over 22 years. National Service and a downturn in the game’s fortunes combined to keep him off the ice in many of his prime playing years, making him one of our most underrated players.
Spence enjoyed an ideal introduction to ice hockey, being able to develop his skills from the age of eight at the Perth rink where his father was ice-master. He was only 15 when he scored on his senior debut with the Canadian-dominated Perth Panthers.
On the recommendation of his coach Tommy Forgie, he was offered a place with an NHL-affiliated junior team, but his parents felt he was too young at 16 to make the long trip. Instead, he was selected by Scotland at under-18 level for two home internationals against England.
Noted for his deceptive turn of speed and well-timed passes, in the year he turned 20, he was Perth’s top scorer (and tenth overall) with 81 points (43 goals) in 61 games. During four full seasons in the Scottish National League (SNL), 1951-55, he tallied 310 points (161 goals) in 245 games, with a paltry 66 penalty minutes.
After the demise of the Scottish league, Jimmy spent two years in its English counterpart where his 71 points in season 1955-56 helped Nottingham Panthers to the double of Autumn Cup and National League and he joined the league’s elite 200-Goal Club. He was then called up for National Service by the Royal Signals. By the time he returned in 1958, the sport was struggling.
After two seasons with Altrincham Aces in 1961-63, he went back to Scotland and became part of Fife Flyers’ prolific ‘Perth Line’ with Ian Forbes and Sammy MacDonald, and gained berths on four All-Star teams but decided to call it a day in 1966 and concentrate on his day job as a senior electrician at Dewar’s of Perth.
In 1971 at the age of 36 he was persuaded out of retirement by Forbes who was then coaching Dundee Rockets in the Northern League. There he was reunited with MacDonald and Mike Mazur, another Perth-based player, on their ‘Golden Oldie’ line. Jimmy was a goal scoring machine again, knocking in 149 in 52 games over two seasons, and winning the Earl Carlson Trophy in 1972-73 with most points from all official competitions. When he finally hung up his skates, his tally of goals topped 500 from around 400 games.
With Great Britain he netted twice on his World Championship debut in 1961, and turned out for them twice more – in 1965 and in 1973 when he was just short of his 38th birthday. In all, he was capped 18 times for his country, and scored 11 goals.
A fine all-round sportsman, who was a swimming champ and played football and cricket, Jimmy was respected as a gentleman on and off the ice, to which his low penalty minute totals attest.
James Davis Spence was born in Edinburgh on 21 March 1935 and died in Perth on 9 September 2004. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.