By Allan Maki of the Globe and Mail
At first, Dale Tallon was so stunned he thought he was back in Chicago instead of at his father's wake.
Walking into the hall that Sunday evening were many of Tallon's co-workers from the Chicago Blackhawks, the coaching staff, trainers and equipment handlers. Then came the players - Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews - all of them getting off a bus in tiny Gravenhurst, Ont., instead of home in Chicago.
Without warning or fanfare, the Blackhawks had chosen to forgo their chartered flight the night before so they could take a four-hour, round-trip bus ride north of Toronto to honour Tallon, their general manager, and his family.
What the Blackhawks did isn't a story many know about and if it weren't for an e-mail that has been circulating the hockey world the past few days, it would have stayed untold for much longer. But in these times of economic torment and manager-eat-employee ruthlessness, a little good news deserves to go a long way.
As Tallon explained yesterday, "What the guys did was really special - unbelievable."
Then he laughed and added: "It's made it hard to trade some of these players. I sure hope the [salary] cap goes up."
It began Nov. 22 in the aftermath of Chicago's 5-4 overtime road win against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Blackhawks had a charter flight waiting to whisk them back to the Windy City when it was suggested the team return to its hotel and spend Sunday with Tallon, whose 80-year-old father, Stan, had just died of pneumonia.
Without a hint of hesitation, the players agreed. Arrangements were made and two buses ordered, and the next morning the team was on its way into Southern Ontario's cottage country.
"It was a no-brainer that we were going to be there for Dale and for his family," forward Adam Burish told blackhawks.nhl.com. "He comes in here, he's always positive; he treats everybody here like his sons. ... It was something that needed to be done and we were happy to do it."
Tallon was so bereaved and exhausted by his father's death that he hadn't taken in the team's game against the Maple Leafs. Instead, he was overseeing his mother's move to an assisted-living home and arranging the arrival of his daughters from Boston while talking with many of his former Chicago teammates, including Pit Martin.
Martin had said he would attend the funeral for Tallon's dad but was unable to get off the island he lived on near his hometown of Rouyn-Noranda, Que. The 64-year-old Martin drowned a week later, when his snowmobile crashed through the ice and sank.
"To have this team do this made it a little easier for everyone, especially my mom [Julie]," said Tallon, who admitted he was numb when he finally figured out the coaches and players had come to the wake just to spend time with the man who'd been following their careers since most of them were young teenagers.
"We have 11 guys on our team drafted in the last five years," Tallon said. "We've gotten close to the kids as they've advanced from junior and the minor leagues ... and I have a good relationship with these guys. As an organization, we stay in communication with them.
"What these kids did speaks volumes about their character. It says a lot about how young kids are today."The Blackhawks players didn't leave Gravenhurst without spending a little cash. On the way out of town, their bus pulled into a McDonald's, where the players marched in and began ordering.
"People kind of looked, 'What's going on here?' " Burish said. "Guys come in dressed up in nice suits start ordering Big Macs and French fries. Then we saw some little hockey cards of Kane and Toews [in the restaurant] and Toews was actually the one who asked to go to McDonald's so we think he did that so he could see his hockey card."
Restaurant manager Barry Gottschalk would have liked to have chatted up the players, but he was too busy cooking burgers.
"We get the hockey players who have cottages up here," Gottschalk said. "Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn were in once; Kris King has a hockey school here. But we've never had a whole [NHL] hockey team before. It was definitely an experience."
The Blackhawks' goodwill stint in Gravenhurst has created a buzz among NHLers. Tallon said he's been getting five to 10 calls a day about it, not to mention text messages from other general managers, owners and players. (He recently got "a lovely one" from Robert Lang, whom Tallon traded to the Montreal Canadiens months ago.)
Everyone agrees that what the Chicago players did was as splendid as it was unselfish, something we just don't hear enough about these days.
"I think it's a wonderful story because it was so unexpected," Tallon said. "My father played hockey in the Quebec junior and senior league and all the kids looked at the pictures of him in the hall. My mom gave Kane a big hug. It was uplifting for her.
"Me, I was shocked."