The glorious career of Tony Hand MBE is unique in the annals of British ice hockey. An exceptional set of skills – soft hands, vision, easy skating stride, strength – enabled the Edinburgh born forward to achieve more than any other player in this country.
From being the first Brit to be drafted by the NHL to receiving the accolade of his fellow players, who voted him the Player of the Century, he set sky-high standards which may never be beaten.
Great Britain’s all-time highest points scorer; league, cup and play-off trophies galore; and the only ice hockey player ever to be awarded the prestigious Member of the British Empire (MBE) medal by HM The Queen for his services to his sport, Tony’s haul of honours is unsurpassed.
When he retired at the end of the 2014-15 season, the tributes didn’t come only from this country. The Hockey News of Toronto devoted a couple of pages to the news with the unblushing headline ‘The Scottish Wayne Gretzky finally hangs up his skates’.
That must have given Hand goose-bumps.
The story recalled the famous quote by the NHL’s Glen Sather, who coached both players, Tony very briefly at an Oilers’ training camp. “Hand,” said Sather, “is the most intelligent player on the ice – bar Gretzky, of course.”
Only 18 at the time (1986), he declined the opportunity to play in North America, preferring to return home to Scotland.
Just as remarkable as his talents was his longevity. To play 34 seasons in a hard, contact sport like ice hockey is rare indeed. How did he do it? Though sturdily built, he was never a particularly physical player himself. Like that other fellow, he usually had a ‘minder’, in the early days his older brother Paul.
Allied to this were his agility and his uncanny knack of being able to see how the play was developing, which usually enabled him to steer clear of trouble.
It was perhaps his laser-like passing that made him the ultimate team player. His linemates, whether British or foreign, invariably enjoyed a career scoring season when TH was setting them up.
The teams he played on won 15 major trophies, and his individual honours include 11 league and 13 club scoring titles. He has six Player of the Year awards and three for Coach of the Year. Though up against imports for much of his career, he was picked for 23 All-Star teams, 19 of them on the first line.
Hand, who made his senior debut with his home town side, Murrayfield Racers, aged just 14, wore Britain’s colours in 11 World Championships and one Olympic Qualifier. He played at the top in Italy in 1994 after being the top scoring Brit on the dual national-dominated team that won promotion a year earlier.
For two years he took on the coaching duties, the highlight of which was another promotion, this time to the final qualifying round of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Though, like all hockey players, he almost always carried niggling injuries, he only once suffered a major one. A broken ankle early in the 2011-12 season when he was already into his 40s, curtailed that year for him and ultimately hastened his decision to retire.
Forgive us if we write some of the figures here again as they are frankly astounding: 1,748 games played, 1,642 goals scored, 2,992 assists, 4,634 points. And this is just in domestic games in the major competitions. We’ve had to omit, for reasons of space, European Cup games, junior GB internationals, Scottish Cups, GB friendlies, and on and on.
Tony may have retired from playing, but he hasn’t left the sport. After spending his last 14 seasons as a player-coach, he’s continuing to pass on his huge knowledge of the game as National Development Head Coach of Ice Hockey UK, the governing body, where he is responsible for overseeing the development of GB’s junior teams.
He is also currently Director of Hockey with Murrayfield Racers.
Anthony Hand MBE was born on 15 August 1967. He was awarded the MBE in the 2004 New Year’s Honours List and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016. In 2017 the IIHF presented him with the Bibi Torriani Award for ‘an outstanding career by a player from a non-top ice hockey nation’.