Remembering Tim Taylor: Thoughts on the legendary former Yale coach

Editor’s note: The college hockey community is remembering former Yale coach Tim Taylor, who passed away Saturday. Here are some thoughts from USCHO’s Jayson Moy and Dave Starman.

Jayson Moy, USCHO: I started doing radio for Rensselaer in 1992, and that was when I first met coach Tim Taylor. But it wasn’t until I started covering the ECAC for USCHO in 1996 that I really got to know Coach Taylor on a deeper level. I would call him on the phone and ask him the standard reporter questions, and then we would just talk. He would ask how I was doing, how life was treating me. He had a great understanding of what it was like to make connections, to understand who he was talking to and to make sure that that person was happy. Coach Taylor was always honest, gracious, full of thoughts and insights.

When Becky Blaeser joined me on the ECAC beat, she brought something even more special to the relationship that Coach Taylor and I had. Becky’s brother, Jeff, had played for Coach Taylor at Yale, and she had known him since she was a little girl. She called him Grandpa Tim, and that name stuck as we talked about Yale for our weekly column, or just in passing for hockey. It was a fun way of talking about a great guy that we knew.

When I passed off the ECAC beat for USCHO, I missed my chats with Coach Taylor, and I would only see him when Rensselaer played Yale or at Lake Placid for the ECAC Championships. But each time we talked, he would always take time to see how I was doing. I haven’t talked to Coach Taylor since he left Yale, but I can still remember the talks we had, how much I learned from him and how much he set an example for the rest of the world. I will truly miss Coach Taylor.

Dave Starman, USCHO national columnist: I was lucky enough to have met Tim when he was the coach at Yale and I was working with the New York Apple Core junior program. A few of our alums went on to play at Yale, including Chris Higgins, Vin Hellemeyer, Mike Karwoski and a few others. Despite being a coaching legend at that point, Tim was just one of the guys when he was at the rink watching junior games.

Later on, he and I crossed paths on the scouting trail quite a bit, especially the year the World Junior Championship was played in Edmonton. It seemed we were watching a lot of the same games and same guys for a good stretch of weekends, and we would sit together and talk hockey. He was a quiet guy but he loved to chat about players’ strengths and weaknesses, and he wanted your opinion. I think it was a way he built trust in you. When that United States WJC team was being put together we talked about a lot of those NCAA players that were being considered and two stories stand out. One about Austin Czarnik and the other about Johnny Gaudreau.

First Czarnik. Tim had asked me about Czarnik and my thoughts on him as I had seen Miami two or three times already that season. I gave him what I liked as strengths and what concerned me about him as a candidate for the WJC, especially knowing how coach Dean Blais liked to construct those types of teams.

Miami was at Ferris State and the game was tied in the second period when the RedHawks won an offensive-zone draw to the left of Taylor Nelson. The puck came to Czarnik who, moving from his right to left off the scramble, snapped a backhand shot top shelf far side from 25 feet out. I looked at Tim and he looked at me and at the same time we both said two words: “He’s in.”

The next is Gaudreau. One night probably a month later we were at Boston College and had the same chat about Johnny G. I think I was there to do a game for CBS Sports Network. Tim asked for opinions; I gave them based on two or three viewings of BC. Gaudreau had a great game and I followed up some thoughts with him by phone that week. Just as the U.S. wrapped up minicamp in Camrose, Alberta, in preparation for the WJC, the U.S. blitzed the Swiss and Gaudreau had a couple of strong games. Coach walked up to me after one of them and we chatted about five guys on the bubble. The last line of the conversation was this, and I will never forget it because it came true: He prefaced it by saying he was worried about Gaudreau’s size for the current team but was already looking ahead as he was impressed with his skill level.

Taylor said, “After these exhibition games Gaudreau basically cemented his place on next year’s team for Ufa and I’d say he could be the best forward we will have over there.”

I enjoyed many great chats with Tim in rinks the past few years and even a memorable car ride from Camrose to Calgary to see an exhibition game between Finland and Canada with him and Ohio State assistant coach Joe Exter. His opinions, his stories, his perspectives came from a place of knowledge and experience, and without an agenda. He was to the point but not in your face.

I last spoke with Tim before the WJC as we swapped some info about some guys he was watching for Team USA and some I was watching in my various capacities in college hockey. I knew Tim was battling cancer and reached out to say I was thinking about him, but I think that was after he had stopped answering messages and I am sure there were hundreds.

The day of the NCAA championship game Tim Rappleye, a longtime TV veteran who knew Coach Taylor, called me and filled me in that Coach was starting to get near the end. He said “you might want to say something during your on-air time tonight on ESPN about him and his health issues.” I am glad he did but didn’t want to breach a trust and air something he would not want out there publicly. I reached out to a good friend of his, Jack Parker, and proposed my wording of what I wanted to say to get the point across that we all were thinking about him and that we cared. When Jack signed off on it, I wrote it and it is what you heard from me between the first and second periods of the national championship game. I won’t lie, it was hard to keep my composure.

I can’t say we were anything but friends, colleagues, and advocates of NCAA hockey and USA Hockey. I will value what he taught me and that he considered me someone he could have a good discussion with about players and the game he loved.