A Lasting Impact

Dale Turner continues to impact my life and the lives of others. It’s been five years since his passing, but his legacy continues.

I will never forget Dale’s impact.

A Coaches Impact 

My earliest recollection of Dale Turner was when he approached me as a young player during a fall power skating session and said ‘would you like to try out for my team this Saturday’?

At 9-years-old, I really didn’t comprehend the magnitude and impact this man would have on my life. 

Dale’s unique skill set and accomplishments speak volumes about the type of athlete and hockey player he was but he also left his mark in the world of coaching. We have seen on countless occasions, highly skilled players that have tried their hand at coaching.  Unsuccessfully these skilled players enter the coaching world and their impact is a shadow of their playing career.  

In Dale’s case his skill set and wealth of hockey knowledge would transfer well into coaching and make an incredible impact on countless lives on and off the ice in process.

Dale’s honesty, integrity and willingness to educate shown through in every aspect of his coaching. Dale’s ability to teach the finer points of the game of hockey while promoting competitive and complex hockey systems is truly astonishing.  

Dale’s hockey philosophy has spawned countless former players to take on coaching responsibilities of their own. 

He has been a mentor and has touched thousands of lives in the classroom and at the rink. Dale’s promotion of class and honor while playing a competitive brand of hockey was truly inspiring to be part of.  

Teams that were coached by Dale were always prepared and well versed in every aspect of hockey and could excel in any brand or style the opposition would throw our way.  From the promotion of deadly specialty teams to sound defensive zone coverage and lethal offensive strategies his teams would control every aspect of the game from start to finish.

 Under Dale, we learned self respect, discipline and to have the utmost respect for your opponent in every situation.  Dale’s ability to mold and inspire his players created a well-rounded complete player that understood every aspect of the game.   

Dale’s ability to communicate and relate to all his players on their own individual level would make him not only a fantastic coach, but also a tremendous mentor.   Dale’s knowledge of the game and recognition of player’s strengths and weaknesses made him one of the best practices coaches ever to step on the ice in this region.  

As a player we would always notice that all the parents and random spectators would actually hang around our practice and marvel at the execution and sequence of drills.   Dale would always insist that we conduct ourselves like professionals.  The life lessons we learned under Dale’s watchful eye weren’t always based on “wins and losses”.   

These pivotal and life altering lessons were learned in practice, where work ethic, pride and determination were ingrained at a very young age.   No one player was singled out on a ‘Dale Turner’ coached team.

Dale’s philosophy was that of a team game where you executed unselfishly and in a timely manner.  His innovative and artistic approach to hockey was evident in every aspect of the game.   His ability to conduct and orchestrate constant puck movement and appropriate timing made his brand of hockey successful and unique. 

The knowledge that I have gained while playing for Dale over nine years of my career has transcended into my eleven-year coaching career and beyond. 

Dale Turner’s legacy and impact on the game of hockey in our region will only continue to grow as his former players continue to give back to the game.

The Lesson

I’ve learned so many lessons along the way from playing, to coaching and now in the broadcast world. Nonetheless, to have the opportunity to play for Dale Turner for so many years was a tremendous honor and privilege.  

There are so many lessons and stories to tell from my first meeting with Dale at seven years old to coaching advice on the way to winning my first Provincial title as a coach.  Dale’s impact still resonates and influences me in every aspect of the game and life. 

 I’ll never forget asking a question in a tight game during the championship game, it was my first season with Dale and I looked up at him called him over and asked the stupidest question ever by a seven year old kid that saw his friend the backup goaltender upset that he wasn’t playing.  

I looked up at him and said ‘Dale, why isn’t Chris playing’?  

In true Dale Turner fashion he got down to my level grabbed my face mask and looked intensely into my eyes, ‘I’m the coach, you’re the player, ‘I coach, you play,’ and stormed back up the bench to take his perch close to the forwards.  

In that split second, Dale expected a ‘hockey question’ but was probably floored by what came out of my seven year old mouth.  In no way was I challenging his authority, I was just looking out for my friend. 

Nevertheless, I learned a very valuable lesson that day, never to question a coach especially him.  I remember being completely embarrassed and visibly upset not at Dale’s comment but at my own willingness to question his decision.  

In some strange way I thought my playing days for Dale, a man I loved to play for and idolized were over.  We went on to lose the game in OT.

The devastation of losing in the finals in OT took a backseat to my belief that I had totally insulted my favorite coach and a man I looked up to. 

After every game Dale would stand outside the dressing room and gave every player a pat on the back, a tap on the hockey bag or a ruffle of the hair.  I walked out of that room fully expecting no acknowledgment that day after my blatant disrespectful comment.   My seven-year-old brain racing with anticipation and disappointment, to my surprise the pat came with even greater enthusiasm.

Dale’s uncanny ability to teach resilience and perseverance even in the darkest hour in a young boy’s hockey career showcased his complete understanding of his players psyche and his undying love to teach the game of hockey.  

As the years went by and my time with Dale continued, the lessons continued to pour in. From a slight subtle glance and shake of the head, or the negative glare after a questionable penalty, to a blast from his perch behind the forwards, to thrilling approval and the always welcoming yell “nice play” “good play” to the one on one intense constructive criticism, Dale knew exactly what I needed to play my best hockey and challenged me to become a better player and person. 

The impact of a truly great coach can be firmly implanted by the lessons learned. 

A Profound Effect” Fragile But Not Broken

When a young hockey player “plays fragile” you might as well say they are bound to break!  I know full well because I was that player.  From a young age I hated making mistakes as a defensemen, so I got it in my mind that I was going to be perfect or play mistake free.  I instantly failed.  I was trying so hard not to make a mistake or glaring error that it caused me to lose my edge.  A player’s edge is the intangible asset that is often underestimated by the individual player.

In the moment, when push comes to shove a player’s edge is the only thing that protects or galvanizes them in order to play effectively in any situation.  Has a young player this aspect of my game was haunting me, my parents and long-time coach and mentor both realized it.  In an effort to play mistake free I became passive, hesitate and began to second-guess my ability and actual skill.  

   The edge that I’m referring to is ultimately your confidence.  As a young player, I wasn’t confident in my ability to play in all situations and I felt the entire rink realized it.  Instead of being aggressive and stepping up to the challenge I backed down allowing my confidence to be affected in every aspect of the game.  If it wasn’t for my long time mentor pulling me aside in Atom A Prov. I would have probably stopped playing the game. 

I’ll never forget fighting back the tears as a 9 year old that day, I literally got lite up by one of the most skilled players I have ever played against.  I realized the minute I walked out of the room that day that my coach was upset and concerned.  Instead of yelling at me in game, he pulled me aside put his arm around me and said 

Craiger you are allowed to respect him as a player, and he’s a great player, but you can’t play the game like that anymore”.  He continued by saying “you gave him way too much respect and room out there, he’s a great player but you have to challenge him”.   

Fighting back tears, because I had thought I let him and the entire team down, I muttered “thanks Dale”, as I turned to walk away he said “you will be alright Craiger, we will get them next time”.

At my lowest point in the game to that point I learned so much in that 5 minute conversation.   I learned that my coach and hero believed in me, even when I didn’t.  

I learned to respect my opponent for their skill set, however not to let them take advantage of me.  I really think as coaches we demand so much from our players in every situation but we are very quick to point out their flaws.  Sometimes the biggest flaws aren’t physical in nature they are mental.  

Knowing the pulse of your hockey team is vital but knowing the pulse of each individual will guarantee overall success and enhance player development.  

Throughout my playing career it was an ongoing battle to find that edge and play with that type of confidence that Dale eluded to.  At every level, those negative thoughts came creeping back into my game until I realized that I didn’t have to be perfect I had to be solid.  As a coach I think it’s the greatest compliment, you can pay a player is by saying you had a solid game.  

It’s amazing that a 5-minute conversation 33 years ago had such a profound effect on me as a player, person and coach. 

Ten Minutes That Changed Everything

I will always remember a very candid and private conversation with my long time coach and mentor that changed the game of hockey for me forever. 

After an up and down rookie campaign in 1993, I was looking forward to my second full season as a Purple Knight.  I wasn’t the prototypical high school hockey player or student for that matter.   

I’m not sure why but I didn’t feel compelled to go out and party every weekend and drink with the boys.   I was a quiet private kid that minded my business and took my studies and the game of hockey seriously.  Looking back on it, I had played with some of the same guys since I could remember and I considered them my friends.  The only place where I felt comfortable enough to talk and voice my opinion was the dressing room.  

For some reason, I became a target, I’m not sure why and to this day I still try to put my finger on it. We had a great bunch of guys, maybe they wanted me to conform or something or perhaps the quiet guy was growing old in their minds.  

The game of hockey meant so much to me on so many levels but half way through my Gr. 11 season it had became apparent that I was an outcast. It was hard trying to hide in the dressing room, what others considered playful ribbing hurt my psyche and cut very deep. The constant ribbing became more intense and started to take a toll on me personally on and off the ice.  

I didn’t know where or who to turn to, we had great coaches and were a successful team, had good chemistry when we stepped on the ice, but the feeling of dread I felt coming to the rink was starting to consume my very existence. I became a pro at suiting up fast and wouldn’t waste anytime before and after games.  I felt so alone at times but a few of the quieter veteran guys surrounded me and for that I’ll be forever grateful.  In some weird way, I believed that if I approached the coach with any of this I would be treated like even more of an outcast.   

Unfortunately it took another incident on the team that would eventually change everything for me and give me the chance to love hockey again.  I will never forget my mentor coming and pulling me out of class, the walk down to his office in the basement of the school seemed like it took an eternity.

When I entered his office I was reluctant to talk knowing full well what the conversation was going to be about. My mentor didn’t waste any time and didn’t hold back. 

‘Are you ok, Craiger’?   

“Yeah I’m alright.”

 “That’s what the other guy said, he replied and he’s gone and I don’t want to lose you. Tell me what’s going on and who it is and it will end right now and this will never happen to you again.”   

I was hesitate at first to say anything but he made it so easy to talk about what was happening to me and was very receptive and understanding. With my voice shaking I started to talk “well I’m not ok, I tried so hard to keep my emotions in check but I was so sick of hiding and being a target. I just had to say something for my own sanity and peace of mind moving forward.  

A conversation that lasted ten minutes changed everything for me. We exchanged a handshake and he tapped me on my back as I walked out.  In a span of a ten-minute conversation my long-time coach and mentor gave me back the game of hockey.

In ten minutes, he took all the damage that was suffered away just by listening and understanding what I was going through.  As always, he was true to his word, the dressing room culture changed immediately. 

A supportive understanding coach that is transparent and receptive to discussing more than X’s and O’s can positively influence and impact their player’s in so many different ways. 

As I reflect some twenty-four years later and remember the impact that his words had on me. I strongly believe he was well before his time when dealing with issues surrounding the game of hockey.  He always had the pulse of his teams but more importantly he helped shape us as people and was always there for us on and off the ice. 

That conversation still resonates with me some twenty-four years later, I will never forget the impact he had on my life as a player, coach, teacher and friend. 

A True Professional On and Off the Ice: 

Five years ago I was asked to write about Dale’s impact as a teacher, which was going  used to formulate a part of eulogy. 

I never had Dale as a teacher, but I spoke to many former students and colleagues, the following showcases Dale Turner’s brilliance in the classroom. 

Dale Turner’s impact as an educator is often overshadowed by his athletic prowess. Nonetheless, he truly touched the lives of so many with his energetic teaching style and enthusiasm in the classroom. He was often seen teaching in the quad, library and auditorium or at the front of his class perched on his old trusty wooden stool.   This constant change in venue was used to motivate and inspire.   

A former student reported that his classroom was one of respect and that Dale had a calming and relaxed approach to classroom discipline and procedure.   Dale would effortlessly bridge the gap between teacher and student by creating a feeling of mutual respect that would enhance the learning experience.  In his early years, Dale often brought poetry to life by playing his guitar in class and singing, much to the delight of his young students.  

His sincere and genuine sense of humility would be ever present in his professional life. Dale’s demeanor and style was awe inspiring and enticed countless students into the teaching profession. He was a mentor, teacher and friend to many of his former students and, in fact, to many current staff members at MHS.   

Dale empowered students and colleagues alike through his passionate, caring personality and professionalism.  One had the sense that Dale truly saw you as a professional and as an individual.  He celebrated others and was generous in spirit.  Dale strongly believed in student accountability and work ethic; however, he was always there to guide and direct students and colleagues in their endeavors. 

 Dale’s innate ability to lead transferred directly to those new to the teaching profession. He handled every concern and dilemma with constraint and an all-encompassing poise that made those beginning teachers feel valued and appreciated.  Dale was never judgmental in providing guidance and embraced the role of a leader and mentor throughout his career at MHS.

Dale’s eloquent and poignant use of the English language captivated those who had the pleasure and honour of having Dale as a teacher.  Six years ago at the Moncton Wall of Fame Induction Ceremony the mentor and consummate professional showcased his intellectual talents at the podium by once again captivating his final audience with a speech for the ages.

A true professional to the end, his contribution to his family, friends and colleagues is immeasurable.  He was multi-dimensional, vibrant, literate, and curious: he was a true Renaissance man and a leader to all who had the pleasure of knowing him.  

A True Mentor

The definition for a mentor is “an experienced and trusted adviser” synonyms adviser, guide, counselor, consultant verb advise or train (someone, especially a younger colleague)

The true impact of a coach and teacher is always measured by the lives and people they have influenced.  

To have a mentor who was first my hockey coach for some twelve years then a colleague and a friend was very unique. 

Every blog/article that I have ever written in one way or another has been directly influenced by Dale’s ability to teach the game of hockey in the purest sense of the word.  

He was all the above-mentioned synonyms and many more. As an athlete, he excelled at every level in the game of hockey, tennis and baseball.   His impact as an athlete was extraordinary and truly the stuff of legend in the Maritimes.  

He developed a coaching philosophy that mirrored his own skill set as a player. The unique and unbelievable aspect about his coaching philosophy was he could apply it to anyone and made it easy to comprehend.  

In this day and age, coaches dream to have that ability, he made his philosophy ‘relatable’ to his players.  

My mentor taught the game the right way to each and every one of his players, he would use words and phrases that made sense like ‘bare down’, ‘be ready’, ‘jump on the puck’ and ‘little things will win this hockey game’.  

These words and phrases are embedded, implanted deep in my personal hockey philosophy and soul and have influenced my coaching career more than anyone will know. 

https://smu.ca/campus-life/dale-turner.html

My mentor and coach preached the doctrine of individual skill development with an emphasis on team success. 

No one player larger than the overall unit. A cohesive group would form almost instantly under Dale’s guidance. 

He would always instill trust in us, even if we didn’t succeed in pivotal sequences during the game, he would provide instant constructive feedback directly after a shift positive or negative. He was always there to guide and counsel, win or lose.  

Dale has shaped me as a player, coach, teacher, broadcaster/writer and a person. He used hockey as a conduit to teach us about life.  

In 2012, during a 21st year Pee Wee AAA team reunion, I needed more guidance, I was coaching a great Pee Wee AA team, but I realized that the pressure was mounting for us to win a Provincial Championship and that we needed something extra heading into the final stretch of the season.

 My question to my long time coach and mentor was. 

‘What should I work on leading into the playoffs and Provincials’?  

Without hesitation Dale said, ‘Craiger work on skills, skills the rest of the way, and you will be fine.’

My mentor and my trusted adviser maybe gone, but his impact will never be forgotten,

Thank you Dale, I miss you, we all miss you.

4 comments

  1. A wonderful and well-deserved tribute to Dale. He was a great man gone way too soon. Besides his hockey career he was an excellent teacher and musician. Thanks for the memories.
    Pat Tippett

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  2. Wonderfully written, Eags! I was honoured to have known Dale too. A truer gentleman with such a positive outlook and a passion for life and others, I have never known! A huge loss!

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  3. Hi Craig,

    Thank-you for writing this….I wish I had known you while writing Dale’s SMU Sports Hall of Fame nomination.

    I was Dale’s center for his first two years at SMU and am seated to Boucher’s left in SMU team photo.

    1969-70,he was a junior graduate in his first year at SMU and he was very quiet and humble.

    In these early years,I don’t think he ever realized what a talent he was and eventually the leader he was to become, both on the ice and as a dedicated human being,as echoed by your words.

    We have a 50 year SMU Hockey homecoming this fall, co-ordinated with the new rink opening.

    9 years ago, a group of 1967-1972 hockey alums, started the BOB BOUCHER HOCKEY ASSISTANCE FUND and Dale attended our first dinner at the WT Centre.

    We would be delighted if you would add your piece to our blog for all to read,
    bobboucher.com

    Thanks and hopefully we can meet someday.

    Regards,
    Carl

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    1. Hey Carl,
      It would be my absolute honour to share the link!
      Thanks so much for reaching out, it means the world to me

      Like

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