Tom Syme, the younger brother of James (Tiny) Syme, was an outstanding British defenceman, who played for Great Britain in the 1948 Winter Olympics and the 1950 World Championships. In his eight seasons in the Canadian dominated Scottish National League he was the only home-grown player to receive All Star recognition, being selected twice to the ‘A’ team and once to the ‘B’ team.
Dubbed ‘Tuck’ by his baby brother who couldn’t pronounce ‘Tom’, he came from a sports-loving, coal mining family (his father played professional football for Raith Rovers), who lived near the Dunfermline ice rink where both brothers learned to skate, Tuck first at 14.
Two years later he was recruited to the junior squad, helping them to the Scottish Junior League title, and broke into senior hockey, aged 18, during the 1946-47 season when Dunfermline Vikings captured the Autumn Cup, Canada Cup and the Play-off Championship.
Like his brother he was a well-built man, standing six-foot, one-inch tall and weighing 190lbs, and with the guidance of Vikings’ Canadian coach Keith Kewley, he impressed the national team selectors sufficiently to gain a place on GB’s Olympic side, playing in seven of their eight games in St Moritz, Switzerland.
Kewley’s introductions led him to a spot on New York Rangers’ farm team, Guelph (Ontario) Biltmores, where he iced in the early part of 1948-49. (He remembered fondly an exhibition game when he faced the Rangers in Guelph.) However, much like his fellow Hall of Famer Tony Hand, he became home-sick and returned to assist the Vikings to the Canada Cup in 1950-51 and the Autumn Cup in 1952-53, earning himself All Star honours in both campaigns.
Tuck and Tiny were a formidable partnership on GB’s first defence line at the 1950 World Championships in London, their hard-hitting body checks earning rave reviews as GB finished a creditable fourth.
When the Vikings folded in 1953, the brothers stayed together and moved with Kewley to Paisley Pirates. Appointed captain, a rare honour for a non-Canadian at the time, Tuck led them to a treble success of league, Autumn Cup and Canada Cup. He was reputed to be the highest paid sportsman in the country, earning £19 per week (around £500 in today’s money), more than the best paid footballer.
Then the brothers split up, Tuck going with his parents to Canada in 1954 where their mining contacts found him a place on the Val d’Or Miners in the Quebec Senior League. His wages had increased to Can$50 per week, but he had to combine hockey with working 7,200 feet underground in the local goldmine!
Again, he recalled a mouth-watering exhibition game, this time against the Montreal Canadiens and their legends ‘Rocket’ Richard and Jean Beliveau. Even more memorably, ‘Tuck’ so impressed the Montreal scouts that they invited him to training camp, only for the offer to be withdrawn when the club discovered he was 27.
That was when he decided to quit the sport. In his 380 games in Scotland (315 for Vikings and 65 with Paisley), he piled up 133 points (46 goals) and accumulated 594
penalty minutes. After serving in the Canadian Pacific Railroad police, he moved to California and worked for a telephone company. He had no regrets. “I would have been in the mines all my life if it hadn’t been for hockey,” he said.
Thomas Woods Syme was born in the Fife mining village of Blairhall on 15 May 1928 and died on 22 August 2011 in Palmdale, near Los Angeles. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.