Sims was a 3rd rd draft pick in 1973, a two-way defender who was more famous than most because he played on a Memorial Cup team (Cornwall Royals) his draft year and was also QMJHL 1st All-Star that season.
He arrived in training camp fall 1973 with pretty much no chance to make the big club. The previous season, Boston’s top 5 defenders had been Bobby Orr (63gp, 29-71-101), Carol Vadnais (78gp, 7-24-31), Dallas Smith (78gp, 4-27-31), Don Awrey (78gp, 2-17-19) and Nick Beverley (75gp, 1-10-11).
If those names aren’t familiar, here’s a brief sketch: Orr was the best player in history, Vadnais was a brilliant offensive defenseman with gaps in his game, Dallas Smith was a classic stay-at-home type, very steady, Don Awrey was hugely underrated because pretty much his entire value came when he didn’t have the puck (Awrey was impossible to get around, he spent all of the 1970s between the puck and his own net), and Nick Beverley who was a replacement level NHL #5 defender. They also brought in Gary Doak in the spring of 1973 for depth on the Cup run. Doak was a very tough defenseman who by this time had gained enough NHL experience to be counted on (although the Bruins didn’t need him much that spring).
Training camp 1973 not much had changed, all 6 of the guys above were there, and their roster had some minor leaguers with experience (Wayne Elder played with the Boston Braves of the AHL in 72-73, Al Simmons had some pro experience). Sims was not thought of as being an obvious choice for the roster (a Hockey Digest article that fall detailed the famous rookies, including Denis Potvin, Lanny McDonald, Tom Lysiak, Andre Savard). Late in camp, the Bruins traded Don Awrey to St. Louis for a minor leaguer and the pick that would become Mark Howe.
That left the depth chart: Orr-Smith, Vadnais-Doak, Beverley. Except that rookie head coach Bep Guidolin took a liking to Al Sims and spotted Sims on the top pairing and kept him there all year. With Bobby Orr.
And that brings us to the first of two reasons Al Sims is interesting:
- Bobby Orr 74gp, 32-90-122, +84
- Al Sims 76gp, 3-9-12, +64
How on earth did Sims get those numbers while playing with Orr? In the playoffs (and I’ll be honest I don’t remember if they changed pairings, the Bruins did pick up Darryl Edestrand so might have elevated Dallas Smith back to the top pairing) Orr scored 18 points in 16 games and Sims managed 0 points in 16 games. In the finals, Orr had an assist at 12:08 of the first period, G1, and Carol Vadnais also had an assist on the same goal, but that was probably PP (Orr scored the winning goal in that game, May 7, 1974). The two also got an assist on an Andre Savard goal in G4, and then in the 5th game Orr scored at 16:55 of the 2nd period with Dallas Smith picking up an assist (Orr scored the winning goal in that game too). Anyway, that’s a weird point total difference for a pairing, probably the largest gap in NHL history.
The second reason Al Sims is memorable is for the hit he took in a HNIC game maybe 34 years ago (it was either his rookie season or the next one). He probably doesn’t remember it , but I do and would bet money everyone who saw it kept it with them for years.
Sims got possession of the puck deep in his own end and for some reason (probably because he was a rookie) decided to take the puck behind the net and gather speed while keeping his head down. He was going at a pretty nice clip when Eddie Shack came in fult tilt boogie and laid a hit on Sims that knocked him cold and to this day remains one of the two or three most violent things I’ve ever seen in hockey. If it had ended his career I don’t think anyone would have been surprised.
As it turned out, it was Shack who was at the end (Shack had a long career, finished when he was 38) and Sims would go on to play several seasons in the NHL (and actually contribute offensively later on). He earned a reputation as a very good shot blocker, and was known as a pretty good magician. When his career ended, he got into coaching and had a very brief NHL head coaching career.