In 1986 Emile Francis, then the general manager of the Hartford Whalers of the National Hockey League, made a trip to Cincinnati to check out one of his draft picks, who was playing in an exhibition game with the U.S. National Team. He got an eyeful of another player that night, a player who had gone undrafted and had no NHL ties. The U.S. fell to Team Canada that night, 3-2.
Both U.S. goals were scored by the player who caught Francis' eye, "Clearly the best player on the ice that night", Francis would later recall. His name was Dave Tippett. Francis went to the locker room after the game to introduce himself to Tippett, whom he found slumped on the stool in front of his locker, tears in his eyes. Francis asked why a player who had just turned in such a spectacular effort would be so upset. "Because we lost the game", came the reply from Tippett. "I knew then and there that I had to have this kid on my team", Francis recalled, and the next season Tippett was in a Whalers uniform.
Tippett was everything Emile Francis knew he would be that night in Cincinnati, a team player to whom personal glory without team success meant nothing, team success without personal glory meant everything, he was a winner. During an eleven year NHL playing career Tippett carved out a name for himself as one of the best defensive forwards in the game, an ironic note on his resume when he interviewed for the job as head coach of the Dallas Stars this week.
For all his defensive prowess, the Stars were knocking at "Tippy's" door in hopes of bolstering an anemic offense. After his playing days, as a head coach in the International League and an assistant coach to Glenn Murray for three years in Los Angeles, Tippett made a new name for himself. The kid who anchored so many checking lines in his playing days, it turned out, was also an offensive genius.
Who would have guessed?
Emile Francis would have.
He knew this kid understood the game, forward to back, top to bottom. When Tippett arrived in Los Angeles the Kings were ranked twenty fourth in the league on the power play. When he finished his run in L.A., where he developed the offensive scheme, they had the top unit in the game. That was enough for the Stars.
"We interviewed some of the best in the business", said Stars owner Tom Hicks, "But we got the right man for this team at the right time, for this era of Dallas Stars hockey."
Dave Tippett played his college hockey at the University of North Dakota. One day he answered the phone at the atlete's dorm. It was a co-ed looking for another athlete, but she was intriqued by Tippett's deep voice and they struck up a conversation. Not one to beat around the bush, Tippett asked her for a date. Sight unseen, Wendy, a stunning blonde, accepted. They've been married for nearly two decades.
Dave Tippett was always one who knew what he wanted and he went out and got it. Funny how that works. Yesterday the Dallas Stars did just the same thing. This should turn out to be another strong marriage for Dave Tippett.
With a comment from the sports world, I'm Scott Gray.
- Scott Gray
May 17, 2002