In an era when it seems we can't get enough news about athletes, when every bar brawl, strip-club visit and parking-lot scrape merits a headline, the best story of the NHL season somehow managed to fly below the radar for nearly three weeks.
The story that's been dubbed "Millionaires Behaving Properly" was written in two small towns a few hours north of Toronto. It might have remained nothing more than local lore if not for the efforts of a few persistent e-mailers and fan message boards.
It begins with a young Chicago Blackhawks team in the middle of a wearying six-game road swing, having just beaten the Maple Leafs and learning that general manager Dale Tallon was staying behind to attend his father's funeral. The team had arranged a flight back to Chicago right after the Saturday night game to get some extra time at home before Thanksgiving and a West Coast swing.
Instead of boarding the plane home, though, the Blackhawks voted unanimously to check back into their hotel and charter two buses for a two-hour ride on a frigid Sunday morning to the rural Ontario town of Gravenhurst (pop. 11,000).
"It was a no-brainer that we're going to be there for Dale and his family," winger Adam Burish explained in a video posted the Blackhawks Web site Thursday, in response to numerous queries the club received. "Every guy in this locker room would say he's a guy you would do anything for."
The tale of a pro sports team pulling together when there's a death in its extended family isn't unique to hockey, of course. But what's unique about the Blackhawks' tale, and maybe hockey players in general, is that no one involved thought it was unusual enough to share with the rest of us. Part of it, no doubt, is because hockey resides at the edge of America's crowded pro sports radar ? at least until one player caves in a rival's head or tastelessly talks about his girlfriend. But the other part of it is hockey's ethos.
When people ask which athletes are the best interviews, I always say, "Hockey players, hands down." Not because they come up with the most colorful or controversial quotes, but because they're usually the most honest. For whatever reason ? the game's tradition, its Canadian roots, the fact that most players still labor at the low end of sport's stratospheric salary scale ? hockey guys tend to be more open, more polite and less impressed with their own stardom than their pro counterparts.................
A nice example of how not all pro athletes are idiots and a-holes. I find the last bit to be very true. When the Blue Jackets first came to town a few years ago, Ron Tugnutt and Kevin Dineen discovered this little family owned Irish pub that I frequent. They became regulars there and often brought other members of the club. One thing of note is that they never had an entourage, would sit and talk with pretty much anyone about hockey, other sports, life, throw darts, etc. and just wanted to have a beer and relax to whatever was playing on the jukebox just like the rest of us in Byrne's. It's nice to know that there are plenty of pro athletes out there who are just normal guys who just happen to play a sport for a living.