Tim Taylor leaves a lasting impact

Anyone who has supported or benefited from hockey’s growth in America — players, coaches, parents, fans, even reporters — should appreciate Tim Taylor’s unwavering commitment to that cause.

I’m lucky to do so personally — and with a heavy heart, following Taylor’s death Saturday at 71.

Taylor will be remembered as head coach of the 1994 US Olympic hockey team, head coach at Yale University for 28 years and, most recently, director of player personnel for the US team that won gold at the IIHF World Junior Championship less than four months ago. His impact in numerous executive and coaching roles with USA Hockey cannot be overstated.

Taylor was sincere and unselfish, tireless and humble — embodying the very best qualities of the sport he loved. Ron DeGregorio, president of USA Hockey, called Taylor “one of the giants in coaching in our country,” and he most certainly was that.

I’ve never played a day of organized hockey in my life, but Tim Taylor influenced my career, too: He was part of the reason I fell in love with sports journalism.

How? This may sound trivial, but Tim Taylor always returned my telephone calls.

I was a college sophomore, allegedly pre-law but mostly clueless about my course, when I joined the sports staff at The Harvard Crimson. I started covering the hockey team. I had very little technical knowledge of the sport, but I was fortunate: When I had questions, I could call the wise head coach of the archrival school. And then I would have answers.

Taylor was a Harvard graduate himself, but I don’t think that had much to do with how accessible he was to me. I wanted to learn, and that was more than enough for him. Here was a former Olympic coach, at the top of his profession, who gave a kid reporter his home number so I could call after class and gain an understanding of what made Chris Higgins a scoring machine.

Looking back, those conversations had a very real impact on my career choice. It’s ostensibly true that sportswriters are paid to watch games, but that part of the job takes around three hours each day, tops. We spend much more time talking with people in the sports we cover, trying to understand the human stories and nuances. Without knowing it, Tim Taylor showed me how rewarding those interactions could be.

I haven’t covered hockey on a regular basis for eight years. I do miss it. But as a baseball writer, I’m lucky to work in a sport with outstanding people, on and off the field, from whom I can learn. And my favorite interviews now remind me of those conversations I enjoyed with Taylor years ago.

In that way, the tributes from Taylor’s former players and coworkers over the weekend confirmed what I already knew: I had plenty of company as a recipient of his generosity. In the hypercompetitive sports world, very few executives or coaches arrive at work each day thinking primarily about how they can help others and expand the reach of their sport. They are mostly preoccupied with winning games and keeping their jobs. And it is hard to blame them.

Tim Taylor was different. He was a big-picture guy. He loved to share his knowledge, whether you could skate or not. Look at the breadth of his legacy now.