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Fri Dec 12, 2008 3:19 pm EST

The Funeral Burgers: Blackhawks' story a holiday gift to hockey

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.

Ross published the e-mail on his XM blog under "Blackhawks Story of Compassion" on Dec. 8, and the blog post was soon picked up by the popular Kukla's Korner.

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.

Well, not so much anymore. Jim Litke of the Associated Press wrote about it, as did and the Globe & Mail, which received some great comments from the McDonald's manager and from Tallon:

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."

Here are Blackhawks players Adam Burish and Patrick Kane, in their words, about the story:

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."

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Post a Comment
  1. OnlyrealstarswereinMN
    1. Posted by OnlyrealstarswereinMN Fri Dec 12, 2008 3:25 pm EST

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    Ask and you shall recieve! Thanks for posting this! I really appreciate your email back too!
    Now if you can settle this Gaborik thing and end world hunger we are set...
  2. <i>herecomethehawks</i>
    2. Posted by herecomethehawks Fri Dec 12, 2008 3:39 pm EST

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    Where's Sarah Spain on the other side of the microphone? Good story.
  3. RussianRocket
    3. Posted by RussianRocket Fri Dec 12, 2008 3:41 pm EST

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    Cmon Wysh, Why is Dash breaking hockey news before you?
  4. The Forechecker
    4. Posted by The Forechecker Fri Dec 12, 2008 3:44 pm EST

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    If you want "more heartfelt and inspiring recent tale that captures the blue-collar aesthetic of the professional hockey player better than this," there's also the story of Don Parsons, who, with games tonight and tomorrow, might well become the all-time goal-scoring king of minor league hockey:
    It's another positive hockey story that's getting completely overlooked. The guy has toiled away in the minor leagues since the early 1990's (starting in Nashville, actually), and is just 3 goals away from the record held by Kevin Kerr (647).
  5. huit
    5. Posted by huit Fri Dec 12, 2008 3:44 pm EST

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    I assume any Canadian town is better than Chicago
    And this all might be McDonald's new PR trick...
  6. Rumpelstilzchen
    6. Posted by Rumpelstilzchen Fri Dec 12, 2008 3:45 pm EST

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  7. The Forechecker
    7. Posted by The Forechecker Fri Dec 12, 2008 3:45 pm EST

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    Make that 677 for Kerr, 674 for Parsons so far. There's a countdown on the IHL's website:
  8. Wyshynski
    8. Posted by Wyshynski Fri Dec 12, 2008 3:46 pm EST

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    @ RussianRocket --
    Look, I can only hope to meekly compete with Deadspin's hockey coverage. I mean, look at their daily NHL Clos ... on second thought.
  9. RussianRocket
    9. Posted by RussianRocket Fri Dec 12, 2008 3:57 pm EST

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    Bring it back Wysh, this Yahoo gig is for the birds.
  10. Ryan H
    10. Posted by Ryan H Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:01 pm EST

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    The part of the story that is false is:
    "which just happens to have pictures of two members of this team on its wall."
    Since when have you walked into any McDonald's to see any pictures on the wall other then Grimace, Ronald McDonald, etc? And especially in Gravenhurst - they would only have old "Felix (Potvin) The Cat" and Wendall Clark "Starline" posters up.
    I think this debunks this story.
    11. Posted by N. Y. NIGHTMARE Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:02 pm EST

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    @ huit
    why the knock on Chi-Town - greeat city and we all know canada sucks, im falling out of love with you
  12. Sank
    12. Posted by Sank Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:19 pm EST

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    Ha ha ha! wet willie!
  13. Josh T
    13. Posted by Josh T Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:19 pm EST

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    Love it... this is why I love the game, at least one of the reasons why. You'd never see this in other sports... hockey is by far still the most team oriented sport... nice good boys!
  14. Ryan H
    14. Posted by Ryan H Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:24 pm EST

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    Look's like Sundin has finally signed:
    December 12, 2008 at 4:22 PM EST
    Philadelphia — Free-agent forward Mats Sundin has signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.
    The Swedish superstar agreed to an $11.5-milion (U.S.), two-year deal which will pay him $5.75-million a year. It's believed six to eight teams were in the running but the powerhouse Flyers won out.
    “In the end, Mats chose Philadelphia, it was his decision,” GM Paul Holmgren said.
    The Flyers originally attempted to trade for Sundin in 1991 as part of the Eric Lindros trade to Quebec in 1992.
    “He could have already been a Flyer,” Flyers former GM Bobby Clarke wire sources from Kamloops, B.C. “I was in the room in Quebec City when we tried to trade for him, I'll never forget it.”
    “Mats Sundin is one of the best players in the game,” Holmgren said in making the announcement. “We signed him knowing that he puts us over the cap and we will have to trade some guys now.”
    To make room for Sundin's salary under the cap, the Flyers will reportedly traded centre Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings.
  15. huit
    15. Posted by huit Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:25 pm EST

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    A) I've never been in USA or in Canada so I have absolutely no idea which one is better. I'll just make (bad) jokes about every country and city I know
    B) I live in country where it's rainy over 200 days a year and the rest are misty or/and snowy and I haven't seen sun like in months (and there is no chance I'll get out of here anytime soon), so excuse me if I feel like knock on everything I see or read about.
    C)... No C, I'm off to search my dad's stoli bottle...
    And baby, please don't hate me...
  16. Liner
    16. Posted by Liner Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:26 pm EST

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    Ryan H - they could have pictures up as part of the hockey card promotion - think less family portraits, more mcdonald's ads
  17. Mark Norman
    17. Posted by Mark Norman Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:29 pm EST

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    Um, two hours north of Toronto is definitely not "northern Canada." For the geographically challenged here is a simple 3-step process to see where a two-hour drive from the city would take you:
    1. Find Toronto on a map (it's the big, Stanley Cup-less void just north-east of Detroit)
    2. Find Buffalo - that represents a roughly 1.5 hour drive.
    3. Use that information to figure out approximately how far north you could get from Toronto in two hours (on a bus no less).
    What you'll quickly discover is that you wouldn't get very far at all. In fact, you'd be well south of the 49th parallel. If you think that's "northern Canada" then just keep looking north on the map and you'll figure out how big the country is. The Blackhaws were pretty much in sububran Toronto, not Yellowknife or Iqaliut.
  18. Matt Conquer
    18. Posted by Matt Conquer Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:31 pm EST

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    I am not sure how 2 hours north of Toronto is "sparsely populated Canada" but hey, at least its a great story!
  19. <i>sqeekyclean38</i>
    19. Posted by sqeekyclean38 Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:37 pm EST

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    for some reason i just cant get a visual of Stef Marbury or Iverson doing the same. Oh well. Each sport is a reflection of the society that its roots belong. You can all connect the dots after that..........And poster 19.. get a job.. Who the hell cares were the GPS device is. Its not the point.
  20. Chris
    20. Posted by Chris Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:43 pm EST

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    @19 and @20: you just beat me to it. Gravenhurst is in the heart of the Muskoka Lakes, which is filled with million dollar cottages owned by celebrities (if you can call Hawn/Russel about Marty Short?), athletes, and other rich bastards. I guess it is kind of the Hamptons of Toronto. This is not exactly the "non-heated bus plowing the way through the Canadian hinterland" kind of thing.
  21. Josh T
    21. Posted by Josh T Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:59 pm EST

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    Oh, Jeez guys, does everyone have to piss on Wysh's parade?
    22. Posted by SIMMONS Fri Dec 12, 2008 5:00 pm EST

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    Dear Mark Norman Professor of Geography and Basic Mathematical Problems...
    Thanks for your stimulating insights. Here's one...the jerk store called and you're their best seller.
  23. Liner
    23. Posted by Liner Fri Dec 12, 2008 5:27 pm EST

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    Americans think all of Canada is sparsely populated, right guys?
  24. John Cook
    24. Posted by John Cook Fri Dec 12, 2008 5:28 pm EST

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    LMAO...very well put.
  25. Pearce M
    25. Posted by Pearce M Fri Dec 12, 2008 5:30 pm EST

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    We have a mcdonalds in the university of Minnesota campus where all the walls are covered with former gopher greats. from kevin mchale to paul hamm to john maysich to neal broten.

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