Capital ice hockey legend Tony Hand will have his famous No.9 jersey retired and hung from the rafters at Murrayfield ice rink ahead of Edinburgh Capitals match with Dundee Stars this weekend, meaning no other Caps’ player will ever wear the number again.
Hand, who retired last season from an incredible 34-year playing career which has seen him win countless trophies with seven different British clubs, awarded an MBE for his services to the sport, and the first UK-trained player drafted to the NHL, describes the accolade as a “great honour” and spoke of his “appreciation” for the people connected with his home-town rink ahead of Sunday’s ceremony, which will see his shirt unfurled just before the 5.30pm face-off.
Hand, 48, who made his debut for the highly decorated Murrayfield Racers as a 14-year old in 1981, and only left after the club went bust at the end of the 1994-95 season, winning six major trophies including two British League league titles, said: “I’m really looking forward to it. Having your shirt retired is a great honour, especially at Murrayfield where it all started for me such a long time ago. It will be nice to go back there on Sunday and see a lot of old faces and hopefully some new one’s as well. I’m very appreciative of Murrayfield and all the management and owners who allowed me to train and play there growing up. I’ve been very fortunate to make a long career out of it”
“Winning the play-of’s at Wembley in 1986 was a real highlight. We beat Dundee Rockets 4-2, with Jim Lynch scoring a couple of the goals. There’s a lot ice hockey history in Edinburgh and it was nice to be part of such a successful team that won a lot of trophies.”
Later that year, aged 18, Hand was drafted by top NHL team Edmonton Oilers, home of the world’s greatest ever player Wayne Gretzky, and invited over to their training camp, where he arrived having travelled over with his only hockey stick, which he broke on the first day.
The then president of the Oilers, Glen Sather, wrote in Hand’s biography Tony Hand – A life in British Ice Hockey: “We knew it was a long shot but we invited him over to one of our training camps where he surprised a lot of people.
“I could see he had a great ability to read the ice and he was the smartest player out there other than Wayne Gretzky – his intelligence on the ice really stood out.
“Tony had an unusual background for someone coming to the NHL to play for one of the best teams around at the time but he held his own. I offered him a contract but he turned me down”
In all Hand, attended two Edmonton training camps and said of the experience: “It was great, and I learned a lot from that. I’ve been lucky that through hockey I’ve travelled a fair bit and seen lot’s of different parts of the world.
“I got offered a deal twice, and twice I said no because I wanted to keep playing in Edinburgh. They weren’t very happy the second time, and I think I knew there and then they weren’t going to ask me a third time.
“I think it would be easier now what with social media and the internet. When I went over, I didn’t know anything about the NHL or the teams that played in it. It wasn’t very easy to keep in contact with family back home. I remember if you wanted to make a phone call you had to book it in.
“In hindsight it would have been nice to maybe stick it out a bit longer and see what materialised, but I have no regrets. I’ve been very lucky with the career I’ve had, it’s given me the life I have now, my family and a lot of friends.
When Hand left Racers for Sheffield, the success did not stop and looking back on his hockey highlights away from Edinburgh he said: “I’m down in Manchester now (English Premier League side Manchester Phoenix) where I’ve been running the team there for the last ten years (as player-coach, and now coach), winning the league and the play-offs with them was fantastic. Winning the treble with Sheffield was great, and winning the league when I was with Dundee (Dundee Stars, as player coach) was another highlight.”
Hand still lives in the Capital and commutes to Manchester every week to work with the Pheonix, who actually have a game themselves on Sunday night.
“I got dispensation from my club to come,” said Hand. “We have a game on against Telford, I’ll keep half an eye on the score but this is a one off and I’m really looking forward to enjoying my night at Murrayfield with the Capitals and hopefully we’ll see a good turn out.”