The Chicago hockey and sports-journalism communities turned out in big numbers to honor the late Tim Sassone, a Blackhawks beat writer rated one of the best hockey journalists in the country.
Sassone, 58, died after a long illness on March 25. He had covered the Hawks for the suburban Daily Herald since 1988. The 1978 graduate of Northern Illinois University was respected in all corners of the United Center for his reporting and old-school manner on his job.
Hawks chairman Rocky Wirtz, president John McDonough, coach Joel Quenneville, vice president Jay Blunk and team broadcasters paid their respects at visitation Monday night in west suburban Lisle. Sassone’s colleague, Hawks TV voice Pat Foley and the team’s entire media relations department attended a memorial service Tuesday.
Particularly touching at the service were hand-written notes from former players of the Lisle Hawks youth baseball team for which Sassone had coached in the off-season.
Times correspondent Tim Cronin worked with Sassone longer than any other hockey writer. Cronin was his colleague wire to wire in his career, having begun covering the Hawks himself in 1978.
"Tim Sassone was a master craftsman of journalism,” Cronin said. “He knew a good story when he saw one and knew how to make it better. Tim would always, always ask the most salient question, the one that would elicit either the best quote of the night or reveal the unseen truth.
"He was both a solid reporter and a gifted writer. The former was obvious by his command of the facts, but the latter was more subtle. Tim didn't get fancy. He got to the point. He was able to say in 25 well-chosen words what others failed to say in 100. And he was brilliant on deadline.”
Blunk spoke on behalf of the top brass.
“For 26 years Tim painted a picture for Blackhawks fans and worked tirelessly to be a great reporter,” said Blunk. “The entire organization was proud to work with Tim each and every day as he was driven to bring the hockey to life on the pages of the Daily Herald. He will be missed by everyone at the United Center and around the National Hockey League. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Sassone is survived by wife Christine, daughter Alison and son Andrew.
A first season worthy of praise: The first full NHL season of Hawks winger/sometime second-line center Ben Smith was rated a success by Quenneville.
“I’ve seen some nice progress to his individual game all year long,” he said. “That (fourth) line and his contribution at that line was one of the reasons it’s been so successful, so effective in a lot of games.”
In 69 games, Smith had 10 goals and 12 assists with a plus-3 rating.
Another Sharp season: Despite a recent scoring slowdown, Patrick Sharp’s fourth 30-goal season as a Hawk also earned Quenneville’s plaudits.
“He had a big year for us,” he said. “Offensively, whether it’s his numbers point-wise or production wise, (he) has been nice and consistent. That’s a pretty remarkable number in this game, scoring 30. He’s got some time left so see what he ends up with. So it’s a nice offensive contribution.”
Although Sharp’s goal-scoring pace fell off from earlier in the season, he continues to collect assists. He has a career-high 42, with his 73 points total leading the Hawks and tying for seventh in the NHL.