Late spring 1988. A friend rings. He asks if I have seen the teams.
I have not, but I know the teams to which he refers. Indeed, a full Canada Senior Men’s rugby trial, Probables vs Possibles, is scheduled for June 4 in Ottawa. From it, a national squad will then be chosen for the annual encounter vs USA, that match to be held in Lake Placid, New York the following Saturday.
You are at flyhalf in the Possibles, he notes. I breathe a sigh of relief, my participation in these games hardly an iron clad guarantee.
I inquire who our scrum half might be.
Some new guy, the friend tells me. Scott somebody or other. Hubcap is his name, I think.
I laugh. I am quite sure the player in question is a young tyro, fresh off playing for Canada in the Hong Kong 7s. Scott Hubich. A burgeoning talent, just making his way on the representative scene.
But, for me, the nickname sticks. He will forever remain as Hubcap.
Trial day finally arrives. Twin Elms Park is in reasonable nick, but conditions promise to be tricky. A fierce wind, upwards of 35mph, howls straight across the pitch. Handling and kicking become something of a lottery. Perhaps not surprisingly, the error count is high, the game a stop-start affair.
Around the twenty-minute mark comes a defining moment. The Probables look to clear the ball from a scrum near their goal line. Coiled like a cobra waiting to strike, Hubcap rapidly closes down the space and launches himself at the kicker. Fully extended, he blocks the attempted punt, with the ball skittering away behind the goalposts.
Following up, I am the direct beneficiary. I scramble after the loose possession, dive myself, am first to get downward pressure. The referee awards a try.
However, I am in no mood to celebrate. Somehow, in the pileup, I have dislocated my right index finger. The top half, sticking out at a grotesque angle, stares angrily at me. The endorphins may be kicking in, but it hurts like hell.
Hubcap arrives on the scene. “No way you’re going off Hydes”, he snaps. “We need you. No way we are losing this game. Gimme that.” And with those words, as I look away, he grabs the offending digit, reefs on it and sees it pop back into place.
Scott goes on to complete, in my opinion at least, a tremendous display. If an actual hubcap provides peace of mind that dirt, rocks and other debris will not damage a car’s wheels, he provides the same service for our team. Agile, fit and feisty, he toils away bravely behind our forwards. Snipes away around the fringes. Does not shovel out crap ball. Tackles everything in sight.
In the end, if on paper the result is something of an upset, we the Possibles register a deserved victory.
Two hours later, the combined squads meet in the clubrooms. Half will stay to prepare for the game vs USA. The other half will head for the airport and flights home.
The chairman of selectors reads out a list. In alphabetical order by surname. Based solely on the trial, I think I am in with a reasonable chance. Scoring the try certainly hasn’t hurt. Still, it takes a while to process when my name is called. As a player facing the downside of his career, every opportunity is precious.
The roll call finally comes to an end. It is only then I fully grasp that Hubcap has not been picked.
I make my way over to him, offer condolences. Reiterate that he performed outstandingly well and should be proud of himself. If the words ring hollow, I add that I hope to partner him in the future. “I owe you”, I conclude.
“Thanks”, he replies. “It’s disappointing. But I’m young, there will be many more chances.”
A week later, Canada meets the USA. We start poorly, never get untracked, get on the wrong side of the referee. The Eagles gain early ascendancy and don't look back. Indeed, it is their newcomers who provide real “X” factor, the 28-16 win a very fair reflection of proceedings.
Sunday morning, June 12. Battered and a bit bedraggled, we slink into vans for the three-hour drive back to Ottawa. Accustomed to pretty much always beating the Americans, we are sour and sulky, pride bruised. Plenty of time to stew and ruminate, especially for those of us who face a further five-hour flight home to British Columbia.
Eventually, we land in Vancouver, and to a deeply distressing story. There has been an incident that afternoon near Tunnel Point in nearby Lions Bay. A young man, reported to be Scott Hubich, is missing.
We learn that the area in question is not without its dangers, especially should hikers or swimmers seek shortcuts from the main trail. The cliffs above Howe Sound are steep, sheer, and treacherous.
Still, it seems incomprehensible to me that the missing person can be Hubcap. My mind roams back to events of a week ago, to a teammate so deft, strong, and alert. With the balance and footwork of a mountain goat.
Yet, I am wrong. The days pass into weeks, but eventually the news we all dread is confirmed. On July 3 his body is found by divers, 40’ below the surface of the water in the Sound.
In my mind, I consider our final conversation, the fact I still owe him. Realize I will now never be able to repay the debt, not only for him playing so decisively in the trial, but for blocking the kick which results in my try and then for the “repair” work on my finger.
Much more to the point, I replay, again and again, Hubcap’s last words to me.
Tragically, for him there will be no more chances.
Such a precocious talent, lost far too soon. Life, at times, so cruel and so unfair.