Retired NHL’er Tim Taylor knows how to keep a promise.
Maybe that’s why he was able to earn a spot on two Stanley Cup Championship hockey teams. Read on and leave a comment about how someone’s ability to keep their word can shape what kind of teammate they become.
I met Tim this week in Stratford, Ontario as part of the preparations for next month’s Tim Horton’s Hockey Day in Canada on CBC television. I knew that Tim was on the organizing committee, but I still wasn’t over my surprise that he’s back in the town where he grew up.
Over the course of a 13-year NHL career, Taylor lived in Detroit, Boston, New York and Tampa Bay. Unlike many professional athletes, he wasn’t drawn to the bright lights, nor to places where it doesn’t snow. Instead, he prefers a quiet town of 30-thousand people where they celebrate the bard in the summer, and build backyard skating rinks in the winter.
“I never had any intention of living anywhere else,” Taylor told me. “ In fact, my wife is also from Stratford, and our plan all along has been to stay here.”
When he was 18, a rising hockey star and resigned to a life on the road, Taylor’s mother made him make a promise.
“She said whatever happens, I want you to promise that you’ll come home to see me every Christmas. And I kept that promise, even when I was playing in the AHL. I’d fly into Toronto on Christmas day, drive to Stratford to spend the day with mom, and then head back out at night. Even if it seemed like there wasn’t enough time.”
Now that’s a sign of someone who is rooted. Every sports team needs someone like that. Someone destined to become a captain. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
That Christmas promise is easier to keep these days. Nearly two years after retiring from the game because of recurring hip problems, he and his wife have built themselves a new home in town. His two teenage children play minor hockey and are adjusting to life north of the border (after living in Florida for many years).
Taylor still looks fit enough to play, and is a remarkably positive person. In particular he speaks glowingly about his former coaches – John Torterella, John Muckler, Pat Burns, and Scotty Bowman (all acclaimed coaches who also have a reputation of being tough on people).
“A lot of different things are said about Scotty, but he was just the nicest person with me. Totally relaxed. I think some of the coaches behave differently with the media than they do around their players. The game has changed, nowadays coaches tend to be friendlier with their players.”
When Taylor came up with the Wings under Bowman, he had been a top flight centreman in the habit of winning scoring championships. The problem is he joined a team that was loaded with similar players, including Steve Yzerman and Igor Larionov. Bowman suggested that he become a left winger, and learn how to play a defensive checking game. That’s exactly what he did, and it’s that adjustment that permitted to have such a successful NHL career, winning Stanley Cups with the Wings in ’97, and again with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.
Talk to any of his teammates and they will tell you about the contributions he made to those championships, especially the one in Tampa. His former coach Torterella would talk about all the special things that Taylor did, many of them out of sight of the public.
Players like Taylor are sometimes called “role” players, but the better term is “character.” Taylor was a player who could do exactly what he was asked to do. Not one who is doing everything BUT what’s being asked or expected of him. Championship teams are often defined the ability of each member to do what’s expected them. The scorer needs to score. The checker needs to shut down the other team’s best players. And the leaders need to be leaders. So it wasn’t a surprise to see Taylor named captain of the Lightning in 2006.
Taylor was a leader on that Tampa team. One who could ask Toroterella to calm down behind the bench, just as easily as he could ask Vincent Lecavalier to pick up his game. Leaders earn the respect of their teammates because they are rooted and trustworthy people. They do what they say they’ll do.
Taylor knows where he comes from, and he knows a promise is promise.
Some people in Stratford knew that a long time before he ever hoisted the Stanley Cup.
Tm Horton’s Hockey Day in Canada airs on CBC TV on January 30, 2010. The theme of the show this year is “team”. It’ll include a profile of Taylor’s return to his hometown.