December 12, 2008
Last week, radio host Mike Ross of XM NHL Home Ice was mired in non-stop talk about the Sean Avery/"sloppy seconds" debacle, as that cloud of negativity obscured all other hockey news. Then came a forwarded e-mail from a listener in Illinois with the subject header: "Counter-programming: Here Come the Hawks!"
It detailed a remarkable, heartwarming story: Chicago Blackhawks players decide to skip a flight home, take two buses "that have no heat" to northern Canada and surprise General Manager Dale Tallon with emotional support at his late father's wake. On the way back, they stop at a McDonald's in a small town, pig out on food wearing sharp suits and dazzle the patrons and workers.
Since then, this true story of professional athletes showing unbridled compassion and modesty during the holidays has been circulated around the Web more times than an offer for Nigerian gold. In the last 48 hours, we've received the forward nearly two-dozen times. Puck Daddy first posted about it when Deadspin picked up on the story; and, because it's Deadspin, debunked the notion that NHL players were crammed onto an unheated bus.
This has become hockey's official heartwarming holiday legend. All it needs is a great name, like The Christmas Shoes. We're going with The Funeral Burgers until further notice.
"It strikes a chord with people," said Ross. "We're always quick off the draw with a lot of the negative stuff."
So here's the question: Where did this story come from?
Brandon Faber, director of media relations for the Blackhawks, said that he was actually pitching the story to local media when the e-mail containing its narrative began to get forwarded to him.
"I don't know where it originated. I don't know who wrote it up," he said this afternoon.
Reading the well-circulated e-mail about the Blackhawks, it's pretty clear that someone associated with the team -- hey, maybe even in communications -- might have authored it, and Faber agrees.
Could it have come from a player on the Blackhawks?
"It could have. Honestly, I don't know. It's somebody that obviously knows the story very well," said Faber.
The mystery continues ...
Faber said he's read different versions of The Funeral Burgers.
"One of them said the bus had no heat; that's not true. It's like ‘up hill, both ways.' They forgot about the part where the bus broke down, and we had to strap the bus to somebody's back," he said wryly.
From Ross, via XM Home Ice, here's the e-mail that started it all:
In the middle of a grueling six game road trip where a very young hockey team is away from home, the third game of the trip ends late on a cold Canadian Saturday night. This is the only break on the trip and the three days between games allow them the only break to get back home in their own beds for a couple of days before going back on the road. A scheduled commercial flight waits for them at Toronto's International Airport for the short flight home; they could be home by midnight. 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 head 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 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.
Have I made this up, is this an excerpt from some fictional book? No this a true story of the Blackhawks last Saturday night and they decided to attend Dale Tallon's fathers funeral. Its amazing that such a good story can be found nowhere on the internet, and not even mentioned in the Chicago papers.
Had one of the Blackhawks got into a fight and punched some drunken loser in a Toronto bar it would be plastered all over papers and the television.
This being said, its hard to imagine any professional football, basketball or baseball team doing this, but the members of the Blackhawks claim any "hockey" team would have done this. This is one reason I continue to be a big hockey fan, and another reason I am excited about this Chicago team.
I thought I would share as this story appears to have gone unnoticed.
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."
By far the best part of the video: Burish's claim that Jonathan Toews suggested the team go to McDonald's because he knew they were giving away Toews hockey cards in the Happy Meals.
As anyone who reads this blog knows, we're practiced in the dark arts of cynicism, and haven't exactly been ready to bestow enormous accolades on the Blackhawks before they've earned them.
But what can you say about a story like this? If there's been a less self-serving, more heartfelt and inspiring recent tale that captures the blue-collar aesthetic of the professional hockey player better than this, we haven't heard it.
As Faber said, it's a story that cuts through the despair of some depressing times. "The economy's down, there's issues with our governor in Illinois ... you open the paper, and it's nothing but bad news. It's good to see this story getting its due."