I first became acquainted with Hughie Sim in the early 1980s. He was coaching the novice hockey team in East Hants on which his oldest son Mike was playing, and my younger son Graham was the goaltender for Cole Harbour’s novices.
By then, Hughie already had a developing profile in the sport. He had played for Westville High School, New Glasgow Bombers in the Metro Valley Junior Hockey League, and Saint Mary’s Huskies in university ranks.
He entered the banking business in 1974 but, after a transfer to Prince Edward Island, he began coaching more seriously and, to become even more involved, he started scouting for the Montreal Canadiens. In 1981, he was back in shirt and tie with the bank assigning him to the regional office in Halifax.
That’s when our paths crossed.
Second son Jon was also into novice hockey in East Hants. Then, in 1985, Hughie and his family moved again, this time to his new position with Scotiabank in downtown New Glasgow.
That ended the transfers. He would spend 34 years on Provost Street, focusing on mortgages.
That brings us to recent weeks.
Hughie and I have been Facebook “friends” and it was in the social media that I just learned he was retiring from his day job to begin a new “adventure” with the Mortgage Group.
His comments on Facebook indicated that he was happy reaching this latest milestone in his life.
“Well,” he wrote, “it’s over with Scotiabank. What a run, 34 years. I would not have changed a thing – a great organization and super people.”
I couldn’t let the occasion pass without offering congratulations.
Years ago, he and I chatted for a couple of hours one day about his playing days, the scouting stint with Montreal and, more extensively, his three hockey-playing sons.
One thing came across clearly: Hockey’s been his passion.
He had actually gotten a taste of coaching with a Westville bantam team when he was just 16 and playing for the high school.
“I was kind of intrigued by the coaching aspect of it,” he told me. “I’m kind of a motivator and I always tried to be something like that when I was on the ice, too. I played hard. I tried to motivate everyone, sometimes the wrong way.”
He almost abandoned coaching to concentrate on the careers of sons Mike, Jon and Andrew. Right then he could have spent his hockey days and nights watching family. Even now, in his role of grandfather, he has many enjoyable hours watching Jon’s three sons playing the sport.
In the late 1980s, he had a chance meeting with Scott Weeks that proved to be the fork in the road that sent Hughie in a whole different direction.
The Weeks organization was near collapse. Scott couldn’t find a head coach and asked Hughie if he would consider taking on the position.
Pictou County hockey fans know the rest.
“That’s pretty well why I jumped on board and said, ‘Alright, I’ll do it.’ I was familiar with AAA midget, having scouted that age level in Canada and parts of the United States.”
He started rebuilding the team.
By the fourth year, the club won the provincial championship and reached the final at the Atlantic Air Canada tournament.
Then came the big three.
Son Jon, Colin White and Derrick Walser moved up from bantam. The way Hughie explained it, “They had something special about them.”
He recalls how all three were talking about someday playing in the NHL. Their presence made everyone believe a huge year was in store. Unfortunately, an injury to goalie Harlin Hayes ended those hopes.
After that season, owner Scott Weeks passed away and the organization was left with a big hole to fill.
Just after the Christmas break the next year, Sim cut his ties with the team. He explained it to me this way: “There were problems in the organization and I said it would probably be better if I left. So I left.”
Jon Sim eventually won a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars. White was a key defenceman on two Stanley Cup winners with the New Jersey Devils. Walser had a brief run in the NHL, followed by a great pro career overseas.
Hughie had spent six and a half seasons with the franchise.
Players under Sim compiled a tremendous bottom line. Thirty of them went on to play junior A, nine played major junior, seven played professionally, 14 played Canadian university, four played U.S. Prep, three played U.S. college, in addition to the three that reached the NHL.
With that, Hughie left me with comments I believe are worth repeating again.
“That’s what I really look at now,” he said. “It’s not what you won or what you accomplished as far as winning was concerned, it’s what happened to those kids. It’s not only their hockey achievements I think about, but the MBAs, the doctors, the lawyers, guys who went on to make great lives for themselves. That’s what is great.”
There’s another side to Hughie worth mentioning. He’s like the rest of us hockey dads who take pride in what our children achieve.
“I’m pretty proud,” Hughie explained. “I think they’ve all done well in the situations that they’ve been in. They’ve all worked hard. They didn’t know what the word quit meant.”
More recently, Hughie and I have occasionally run into each other – usually in hockey rinks like the Wellness Centre. He has Jon’s three sons playing in minor ranks, and I have Graham’s two daughters doing well in minor hockey. You know what our conversations are like.
A generation has passed since Mike and Graham played novice against each other. But I bet Hughie would agree – it’s still just as much fun going to the rinks to see the grandchildren enjoying the game.
That’s what minor hockey should be for us all.