Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blackhawks big winners on special road trip

Yet another reason why hockey players are better than most people:


Blackhawks big winners on special road trip
Without fanfare, Hawks are there for their GM

Rick Morrissey

In the wake of the news

11:40 PM CST, December 14, 2008

It began with the rarest of elements in professional sports: silence. No press release. No major announcement. No photo opportunity. Just the quiet of people doing a nice thing, the right thing.

Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon was murmuring prayers over his father's casket a half-hour before the wake was to begin. The family was saying its goodbyes to Stan Tallon, a tough, big-hearted guy who liked helping troubled kids. Dale's mother, Julie, was there. So were his wife, Meg, and their two children, Lauren and Kristen.

Dale Tallon looked up and noticed a few members of the Hawks' front office wandering into the funeral home. That's odd, he thought. This is Gravenhurst, Ontario. They're supposed to be in Chicago. In the whirl and clatter of his emotions, Tallon was having trouble connecting thoughts.

Then he saw some Hawks players walking through the door — Adam Burish, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Cristobal Huet. On and on it went, fresh-faced kids and battle-scarred veterans. Coach Joel Quenneville and his staff. The trainers. John McDonough, the team president, too.

"I told my mother, 'Mom, the team's here. The whole team's here,' " Tallon said. "She said, 'You've got to be kidding.' She became 6 feet tall all of a sudden. She went from one emotion to another, a complete 180. She went from distraught to all of a sudden having a little fire in her eye. She was a little excited about it."

Sports sections are filled with stories about angry, greedy, self-absorbed athletes. There's a simple reason for that. There are a lot of angry, greedy, self-absorbed athletes. So you tend to notice when a group of players goes the opposite direction, especially when it's done in a near whisper.

On Nov. 22, the Blackhawks beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 on Dave Bolland's goal in overtime. Rather than take a chartered flight back to Chicago, the team decided to stay in Toronto, practice the next day and then make the 110-mile trip north to Gravenhurst for the wake. That's how it came to be that two busloads of Hawks personnel walked through the doors of a funeral home in the middle of Ontario on a cold night.

No acclaim. No hubbub. Just a nice thing, the right thing.

No one is exactly sure how the story got out. Some of us media members received an e-mail detailing the feel-good story of a professional hockey team going the extra miles for their general manager. It mentioned how one of the buses stopped at a McDonald's after the wake — millionaire athletes stopping for Big Macs! — and how the townsfolk were shocked to see the players walk through the doors. The McDonald's happened to be giving out trading cards, including Toews' and Kane's, with Happy Meals.

Most of the e-mail was accurate. Some of it — like the description of the buses being "rickety" and unheated — wasn't. And the players didn't vote unanimously to go to the wake. They were told they were going by management. Not that it matters.

"You might have expected a lot of complaints from people, but I didn't hear one," wing Patrick Sharp said. "It was the eighth day of a seven-day road trip, so I think a lot of people had that Sunday booked with their family, their kids.

"The obvious reaction would have been complaining and guys upset about it. But it wasn't. Everybody was onboard."

The e-mail spread like wildfire, the way forwarded e-mails are wont to do. Tallon heard from friends in the U.S., Canada and Europe who had seen it. The International Herald Tribune picked up the story about the hockey team with a heart.

Why did it resonate with people? Because it answers a deep desire for our faith to be restored in athletes. Some of us don't like where the sports world has taken us. We don't recognize ourselves in most of the people we root for. We don't see humanity in them. When CC Sabathia signs a $161 million contract with the Yankees, he might as well be from Mars.

The behavior the Hawks exhibited by going to the Tallon wake is behavior that good, normal people exhibit in everyday life. We're surprised when athletes do it.

We're not quite as surprised when hockey players do it. One of the truths in professional sports is that hockey players are different.

"A lot of us are Canadian, from small towns, and even the American boys are from small towns," Tallon said. "We kind of just do our jobs and do our business and stick our nose to the grindstone. That's a Canadian trait. Canadians just do their work.

"Just like this story. No one really came out and talked about it. It just started picking up a life of its own. The players went to the wake. They didn't brag about it. They were happy to do it. They're normal people. They don't think that highly of themselves.

"That's a nice trait to have. This group especially. Don't forget that some of these guys are first overall ( NHL picks), third overall, seventh overall. Some of these kids could have been a little full of themselves, given their draft position and what they've done. We don't have that on our team. It's really nice to see."

Tallon tried talking to the players in a side chapel at the funeral home but got choked up and couldn't finish. He said he still gets teary-eyed thinking about their gesture.

The Hawks bused back to Toronto and flew home that night. Quietly. Kind of hard to picture Terrell Owens going with that flow. Then again, it's kind of hard to picture NHL players putting up with Owens.

Stan Tallon died at 80 of Parkinson's disease. He had been a fine hockey player in his own right, playing briefly in the American Hockey League, and he had continued competing until he was 68. His son said the old man would have been tickled by the Hawks' show of force at his wake.

"He would have had a smile on his face," Dale Tallon said. "He would have been elated. He loved hockey players."

We do too.

rmorrissey@tribune.com

Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune

3 comments:

Lisa... said...

Let's hear it for the NHL!!

L.

BigFred said...

I had not heard thus story before, just another reason to come here!

Lisa... said...

Practically snowed in and no updates??? :-)

L.