Johnny Carlyle was one of the finest and most feared defencemen of his era. He was selected to play for or coach Great Britain in five World Championships and was much sought-after in both roles by clubs on either side of the border. Though he stood only 5ft 9ins and weighed 177 lbs, he used his size effectively, as many an onrushing forward caught with his head down would testify ruefully.
As a coach he worked his players hard. A player’s player, he knew what he wanted from his men and the best way to get it and many of the most successful British players in the years after World War Two attributed much of their success to his early guidance.
Carlyle’s hard-working nature may have come from his paternal grandparents, who originated from the American coal mining state of Pennsylvania. His hockey talent emerged early and he made his senior debut at the age of 17 in season 1947-48 with his home town side Falkirk Lions.
Though his ice time was limited by his two-year National Service with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, he appeared in 297 games over eight seasons in the Scottish National League, including the Lions’ three play-off successes, scoring 190 points (74 goals) and sitting in the cooler for 311 minutes.
When Falkirk dropped out of pro hockey in 1956, he tried his luck in London, but he was with Harringay Racers for only three seasons when their huge Green Lanes arena was converted into a warehouse. By then, however, the Scot had made his name as the first Brit on the import-staffed club to be appointed captain and to be voted onto Ice Hockey World’s All-Star ‘B’ team.
The two disappearing clubs didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the sport and he signed on cheerfully for whichever team would give him a game – Edinburgh Royals (folded in 1958) and Nottingham Panthers (1958-59), Brighton Tigers (1959-60 and 1961-63), then back to Scotland as player-coach of the revived Royals (1960-61). Success and silverware closely followed each move. After leaving Brighton in 1963 he returned to Edinburgh one more time and ended his career there after ten years as coach, being voted on to the All-Star ‘A’ team four times.
Johnny was well respected at a national level, playing nine times for Scotland and 16 times for Great Britain in the World Championships. In his very first international in 1950, he scored a hat-trick for GB against France in London’s Empress Hall and was duly called up again a year later. He was handed the coaching duties in addition to his playing ones in 1961 when GB finished tenth in the world, and went behind the bench again in 1971 and 1973.
John Cumming Carlyle was born in Falkirk on 31 July 1929 and died on 15 April 2017 in Larbert near Falkirk. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988.