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Sean Simpson is back

Sean Simpson terug in Tilburg voor ceremonial puck drop

In 2000 werd Sean Simpson uitgeroepen tot de beste import in Nederland gedurende de laatste 35 jaar. “That was a great honour for me if you think of all the great imports that have played in Holland over the years.’ De nu 57-jarige Canadees is zondagmiddag even terug in de Kruikenstad waar hij de ‘ceremonial puck drop’ verzorgt bij de derde play-off ontmoeting tussen Tilburg Trappers en Eisbären Regensburg.

(Foto Thijs de Witte)

Hoewel Sean geboren is in het Engelse Essex is hij een echte Canadees. In zijn jeugdjaren kwam hij uit voor veel jeugdteams in Brampton (een stad 30 kilometer westelijk van Toronto). Zijn hoogtijdagen als junior beleefde Simpson bij Ottawa 67’s, een topclub die actief is in de Ontario Hockey League. Hij won hier twee jaar achtereen (1978 en 1979) de William Hanley Trophy voor meest sportieve speler in de OHL. De laatste winnaar vóór Simpson was ene Wayne Gretzky. ‘My second and third year in Ottawa were my best years. I had many points in that year and became a seventh round draft pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1980. Unfortunately I have never played in the NHL.’

Drie jaar later kwam hij naar Tilburg. Vreemd voor een speler met zoveel talent. ‘I played for the Springfield Indians (a farmteam of the Hawks in the American Hockey League) but had contacts with other teams. That did not work out and an agent asked me if I felt something for playing in Tilburg. I knew nothing of the Netherlands, only that my father worked with a Dutch man who told him that Tilburg was a fine place to live.’ Ons land was in die jaren een vooraanstaande ijshockeynatie met een sterke competitie waarin Feenstra Flyers Heerenveen, Bisschop Amsterdam, Vissers Nijmegen en Tilburg Trappers de boventoon voerden.

Aan de entree van Simpson in Tilburg kleeft een mooi verhaal. ‘In the Pellikaanhal everyone knew each other. I would replace another import (Greg Wilson) but he was not informed yet. Coach Eddy Gosse in had made up a story that I would come to the game against Heerenveen as a relative of his wife. After this game I signed the contract and I became a Trapper.’ Op zijn eerste jaar kijkt Sean nog altijd met veel genoegen terug. ‘It belongs to the top-5 of my career as a player and coach. It was my first experience in Europe. We had a great group with Doug Mason, Mark Perry, Peter-Paul van Rooy, Klaas van de Broek, René de Hondt, Cees Oerlemans, Maarten Burgers and Joe Buchly who unfortunately died too early. Personally as well as the team had an excellent season.’

Drie seizoenen droeg Simpson het geelblauwe Trappers shirt. Zonder aarzelen noemt hij Doug Mason, Dave Russell and Steve Gatzos als de beste spelers uit die periode. Hij woonde in een appartement in de Schubertstraat en werkte zelfs als postbode. ‘I probably was the first import-mail man’, lacht Sean. ‘I volunteered for ‘Stadspost’ three days a week. At 6.30 A.M. I went to the Heuvel by bike, collected my mail, delivered it and worked till 12 o’clock. It gave me some routine during the day because practice was in the evening.’

In 1988 vertrok Simpson naar Rotterdam om voor de Panda’s te gaan spelen. ‘President Willem van ‘t  Wout made me an offer I could not refuse. He was a very nice person who treated the players very nice. It was good in Rotterdam and that year we won the Championship but it was different compared to Tilburg. In Tilburg you had a hockey tradition, in Rotterdam they did not.’ Sean illustreert dit met een voorbeeld. ‘If I meet someone from the Netherlands I tell him that I have been playing hockey over there. Then they ask me where? I say Tilburg. Oh, then you played for the Trappers, you frequently hear. Although hockey is a small sport, almost everyone knows about the connection between hockey and the Trappers. That respect you do not get for free, you must earn that. That is worth a big compliment for everyone within the Tilburg Trappers’ organisation.’

Nog altijd volgt Simpson Trappers. ‘I still have the website on my favourites and a couple of years ago I visited a game. The new rink is beautiful, but for me hockey in Tilburg has been linked with the Pellikaanhal. The atmosphere was thrilling and you had a close contact with all the fans. After the game we ate in the restaurant and had a couple of beers with the fans, that was really great.’ Sowieso probeert Sean eens per twee jaar een bezoek aan oude vrienden in Tilburg te brengen. ‘When I was presented as head coach in Munich in 1999 I could fly from Canada to London or Frankfurt. Instead I chose Amsterdam! Rang Guido Walenciak and his brother Cyril, the Masons’ and the Klijns’ and we had a fantastic evening’, lacht hij.