• By: Dave Gross

Summer camp and summer heroes

Just as the headline conveys – this string of November warmth makes me think about summer . . . and the adventures we enjoyed as kids.

By the way, this pleasant, mild run is more than welcome, so thank you Mother Nature.

But I digress.

About a million years ago I had my one and only experience with being shipped out to summer camp.

We were living in Montreal at the time, so the trek to Orillia, Ont. was a lengthy one. But worth it.

My older brother and I were headed to hockey camp for two weeks.

Not just any hockey camp, people, Bobby Orr’s hockey camp.

The Bobby Orr Mike Walton Sports Camp was our destination, and the expectation was we were going to learn from the best.

We did.

From the great No. 4, to ‘Shaky’ Walton, to Jim Rutherford, to Marcel Dionne – the camp was rich with stars.

Like plenty of kids, Bobby was my hero.

The scramble to see who could grab No. 4 out of the equipment bag for our house-league games was akin to the Royal Rumble. I guess I was quicker than most cause it generally fell into my hands (of course whining played an important role as well).

However there was one ‘teacher’ at the camp who wasn’t quite a star, not even close, but became one in the eyes of one young lad.

Guess who the ‘lad’ was.

You nailed it.

A little background before the trip, and the identity of my champion: My mother warned me before making the long drive that I would likely become homesick. I shrugged it off and told her, ‘no way!’

I was beyond excited and juiced. I was going to hang with legends.

Homesickness? C’mon mom.

Boy, was I wrong.

The first few days were fine. Getting acclimated and making new friends was at the top of the agenda and kept my small mind busy.

Things were flowing into place.

It didn’t last.

When the nighttime hit, the homesickness took over.

Two weeks, I thought, two weeks? How am I gonna do two whole weeks here?

The days were frantic enough. We usually had two on-ice sessions (the best one of all was watching my brother go backhand-forehand on Jim Rutherford – a goalie with the Pittsburgh Penguins at the time, now GM of those same Penguins – and tuck it upstairs. Bobby was on the ice at the time and dropped his gloves to give my brother a big ovation).

But it was those long nights.

Have to admit it was starting to show. I was pretty bummed out.

And here’s where a youngster’s hero gets born.

He was a fresh-faced hockey player and had just finished his first couple of years with the Vancouver Canucks who’d taken him 2nd-overall in the 1970 entry draft. Of note, Buffalo had grabbed Gilbert Perrault 1st-overall that year. Snipers Reggie Leach then Rick MacLeish went 3-4 respectively.

Dale Tallon would go on to have a capable career, nothing spectacular but he would pot 98 goals in his 642 regular-season games.

Let’s just say he didn’t have the pizzazz and star-power of Bobby.

Still, Dale showed what type of person he was, even at that young of an age.

He saw this mopey looking kid, small for his years and sad beyond repair.

Dale took this kid under his wing for much of the second week.

In my eyes, he was a life-saver.

Dale would grab me an extra bag of chips or a pop from Tuck on occasion.

He was always there with an open ear and a kind word, and as importantly, words of encouragement.

He certainly didn’t have to do it. Most of the ‘stars’ on hand were there for a quick paycheque and were in-and-out without a word to the kids between sessions.

Dale obviously was brought up right.

On the day we were to leave, I was sitting in a funny mixture of elation and remorse. Elated that I was going home to my own bed; remorseful that I was losing my friend.

To the end Dale was there.

I remember him helping me with my luggage and hockey gear, taking it out to my parents’ car.

As I remember it, my mom and dad were a tad startled to see this rather large man carrying bags for this little kid.

Maybe even a bit more startled when this ‘star’ reached out and shook hands with my parents putting in a good word for me.

Dale did just that.

If you asked Dale today if he remembered it, he probably wouldn’t.

My guess is he did that for countless homesick kids at that camp. And there were plenty.

Stars are usually made through goals and assists and Stanley Cups.

The truly important ones though, the ones that count, are the ones that give and care.

The ones that make a little kid’s stay away from home for an – at times unbearable two weeks – a bit more bearable.