For some of you the story that I’m about to describe could be old news. For the rest of you I feel as though not only it’s something that you’ll want to know, it’s also a tale that you need to know. If anyone wonders if Dale Tallon is respected and well liked, you should look no further than the events of the week of Thanksgiving 2008.
The Chicago Blackhawks resurgence as a playoff contender was well under way, and as we all know the main architect of their rise was general manager Dale Tallon. I’ve followed Dale from his days as a player (don’t do the math), to his time as color analyst with Pat Foley (this is funny), to his current position as general manager of the Florida Panthers. I always found him to be a person that was professional, well respected, and well liked. His players felt the same way.
During this particular week in November the Blackhawks were in the middle of a six game road trip that took them from Phoenix, to Dallas, to Toronto. Yikes. Then with three days off in between, had them going back out west to California. NHL scheduling surely needs work! The three day break between trips would be the only chance that the players would have to get home for the holiday before going back on the road to complete their swing. The intent for the organization was that the team would hop a plane home after finishing their game on Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Dale Tallon would stay behind to attend the funeral of his father in a small town of Ontario.
I can’t describe myself the events that took place any better than this excerpt that appeared on Deadspin, so rather than me mucking it up, here’s the description of what took place which came from an anonymous emailer to Deadspin.
This plane departs on schedule, but without a single member of the hockey team. Back in the locker room a vote is taken after the game was complete, and a unanimous decision is made by this young team to skip this flight and stay one more day. They make arrangements to check back in the hotel and on a frozen Sunday morning charter two buses that have no heat and begin a journey two hours straight north into a sparsely inhabited Canada , but where hockey is its passion. They arrive at their destination to the surprise of the teams general manager who is there attending his fathers wake.
After a few emotional hours, this team boards the buses and heads back for a two-hour trip back to Toronto . On the way they ask the drivers to stop in a tiny Canadian town because they are hungry. To the shock of the patrons and workers at this small hockey town McDonald’s, a professional team walks out of two rickety buses and into the restaurant, which just happens to have pictures of two members of this team on its wall. The patrons know every single one of these players by sight being Fanatic fans of hockey in these parts. One can only imagine their amazement of the locals seeing and the entire professional hockey team sit down and have a meal in their tiny little town in the middle of a hockey season. After a while they board the buses and catch their same flight 24 hours later, giving one day to their general manager.
The following excerpt from the Chicago Tribune describes how Dale felt at the moment he saw the familiar faces:
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.”
Some of the original email was said to be a bit “off”, but the bottom line is that the players all went without any complaints. Blackhawk forward Patrick Sharp describes:
“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 on board.”
New Panther and former Blackhawk Brian Campbell had this to say later:
“When we walked into the funeral home, to see his face light up it was something we knew that we did the right thing,” Campbell said Friday, hours before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals. “Everybody has gone through those things, and our dads mean a lot when you’re growing up as a hockey player.
“He’s done enough for us that we owe it to him.”
The news of this terrific gesture ultimately spread throughout the media. Here’s more comments from Dale that appeared in The Sporting News:
“It’s all true,” Tallon told SportingNews.com, “except for the rickety busses.”
When he first spotted team president John McDonough and a couple other people in management walking into the funeral home, for a moment Tallon said he thought he was in Chicago.
For a moment his mind was off his dad’s funeral.
“It was incredible,” Tallon said. “It was heart-warming and mind-boggling at the same time.”
One by one, the players filed into the funeral home, paying their respects to Tallon and his family.
They looked at old photos of Tallon’s father playing hockey and they shared stories. When hockey players talk about how their team is like a family, this was a moment where their action backed up their words.
“I’ll always have a special place in my heart for these guys,” Tallon said. “It means the world to me, it brings a tear to my eye every time I sit and think about it.”
Why do I bother to tell you this? It’s a feel good story about athletes that we don’t hear enough of for one. Second, it shows what a group of men from all different walks of life, and of all different personalities can do when they put their minds to it, and decide to come together as one. It’s about character. It’s about doing the right thing for someone that you care about.
I have no idea how many Panther fans knew about this. I have no idea how many NHL fans forgot about it. It’s no wonder players are now happy to come to South Florida.
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