Feel Good Stories In The NHL

We are surrounded by bad news. Don’t dare watch the nightly news these days without a handful of Tums. From coast to coast, north to south, and east to west there just isn’t too much to smile about out there. This appears to be especially true in the world of sports. Players entering rehab, shooting themselves, making lewd comments about ex-girlfriends etc. are easy front news stories. History will remember this time if for nothing else as the train wreck generation. We love bad news about someone else. A crash on the highway stops traffic the other direction so people can stop and take a real good look. Enough, you get the point.

2 stories recently involving NHL clubs caught my eye and in the spirit of the holidays i thought it was a good time to share with those out there not familiar.

The obvious one involves the Chicago Blackhawks. The team was in town to play the Buds and were supposed to fly back to Chicago the next morning. However, the team’s general manger Dale Tallon was heading to northern Ontario to attend the wake for his father who had just died. The players, acting on their own accord altered the plans to return to Chicago. Instead they were able to arrange for a practice in Toronto the next morning and pay out of their own pockets for 2 buses to drive them north to attend the wake.

“I thought to myself, ‘What is this? Am I back in Chicago?’ ” Tallon said. “They started coming in and, wow. My mother, she gets the hockey package and watches all the games, it was so great for her. She was having such a hard time with it, we all were, but to see that, it was so heartwarming and it really took the edge off everything. That was the buzz the rest of the night. My dad was a hockey player and there were pictures of him when he was a young player, so the guys were looking at all the pictures and stuff. It was really cool.
It makes you feel good about the character of our team and the homework we’ve done as a staff in drafting and getting these players. They’re genuinely good kids. It makes you feel good about our young population, to make the decision they did.”

The story doesn’t end there. Not sure how many of you have been up to Gravenhurst, where the wake was, but at 9pm on a Sunday night there just isn’t a whole of choice when it comes to dining options. The players headed for the golden arches and the coaches to Harvey’s.

“There weren’t a lot of people in the restaurant and the players said they barely were recognized as they ordered. “I’d say there were about 10 people there, maybe,” Sharp said. “I don’t know if they were surprised and knew we were an NHL team, or if they were just surprised a bus load of guys came in in their suits.” What did happen was the players acted like kids when they saw a display of hockey cards that McDonald’s was giving with the purchase of meals.”It was cool when you walked in, there were all these hockey cards on the wall because it was a giveaway and if you bought a Happy Meal you got a set of cards,” Sharp said. “So right away everyone was looking to see if they were in this set of cards. But it was just Kane and (Jonathan) Toews and maybe (Nikolai) Khabibulin. I think it was just the three of them.” The players filled the restaurant, eating their burgers and fries as people in the store finally began to sense this was the Chicago Blackhawks eating in their little town. “It was pretty funny because most guys don’t eat McDonald’s,” Bolland said. “The last time I had McDonald’s was, I think, last summer.””Not to sound like I’m a health nut or anything, but I haven’t eaten at McDonald’s in years,” Sharp said. “It was funny to see guys like Dunc (Keith) and Ben Eager, guys that really, really take care of themselves and watch what they eat, sitting there eating chicken nuggets and Big Macs.”

Try to imagine the scene of that Mcdonald’s on that Sunday night in cottage country. It’s 9pm and there are 10 people in the restaurant. Suddenly 2 greyhound buses unload and a ton of guys in suits enter the um, restaurant and end up ordering happy meals so they can get the hockey cards! Grown men, making serious coin, buying happy meals so they can play with hockey cards. This is what the game should be. It is nice to hear that beneath it all, the business can step aside if only for a day and the guys can be the decent people we always hear about and then be kids at heart loving the game they play as much as we who watch it do.

You can read more from the story here

The second story happened in Washington DC. Imagine you are 26 years old, working for an NHL club when you are sitting in your cubicle, doing your job producing the team’s website when the GM appears at your desk to tell you that you need to get suited up for the game that night. Now I am sure many of us out there have had a similar dream (save for the web producer part). I am sure we have all at one point in our lives envisioned the GM of our team asking us (why us?) to suit up for the big game. Well, Brett Leonhardt lived the dream for all of us. The pride of Waterloo Ontario has been fortunate enough to play goal the for the caps when needed in practice. However, with Jose Theodore out with an injury and the third-string goalie Simeon Varlamov stuck in air transit McPhee was stuck. What else is a GM to do but walk down the hall and tap the 6’7 web producer on the shoulder?

“Before the game, (the players) were telling me, ‘Be yourself. You’ve been doing this your whole life. They made me feel really comfortable. In the warmup, I didn’t want them to not shoot their hardest because it was me. I tried to challenge them and help them get them ready for the game. (The players) were awesome. They couldn’t have been better. I’ve practiced a couple times with the team, so the guys were familiar with me, and I travel with the team because I do the Web site. The guys were cheering and high-fiving me.”

Brett got to sit on the bench in full equipment, jersey on for about 30 minutes of real time, just over 10 minutes of the first period when Varlamov showed up. What did the 26 year old do when he got relieved? Showered, dressed and headed up to the press box to do his job!

Can you imagine a better holiday present then that. Here is hoping someone took lots of pictures and video for him to show his kids and grand kids. One that day, Brett Leonhardt was able to live the dream so many of us lived. Quite a lesson for all of us this time of year to teach our kids. Keep dreaming, you never know who is going to come tap you on the shoulder at your cubicle to get ready for the big game.

TSM is trying to confirm whether he had to sign a contract and got paid for one day as an NHler. If not I am hoping that Glen Healy steps in and gets the kid his due!

Happy Monday to all…

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