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Taylor soon to be Hall of fame

Phenom has athletic bloodlines -- Dad was a Bomber

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SASKATOON -- His son might be the next Steve Stamkos, if he's fortunate.

Or maybe even the next John Tavares.

But when he was a much younger man, Steve Hall was a 23-year-old Winnipeg Blue Bombers rookie receiver with a promising future of his own.

"I remember Cal Murphy saying, 'You're going to be the next Joe Poplawski,' " Hall recalled on Sunday. "I remember that distinctly."

Then Hall demurred, as if to chuckle: "It never happened, but that's what Cal said."

That's right, the father of Team Canada forward Taylor Hall -- the hockey prodigy who some observers project as the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft -- knows a bit about lofty expectations.

Acquired from the Edmonton Eskimos at the start of the 1983 season, along with future Hall of Fame running back Willard Reaves, Hall was a fleet-footed receiver out of the University of Guelph.

"I didn't necessarily grow up to be a football player like my son grew up to be hockey player," Hall said. "But I had a pretty fast 40 (yard dash) in college and got drafted."

Hall still fondly remembers, too, all those former teammates from the Bombers glory years. Dieter Brock. Poplawski. Rick House. Scott Flagel. "All of those boys," he said.

And he remembers his first CFL game, a Labour Day clash in Regina -- at what was then called Taylor Field, no less -- where the rookie caught his first professional pass.

Reaves stuck, of course. Hall didn't.

Instead, the next Joe Pop played a handful of games with the Bombers over two seasons, before ending up with the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1985. After his football days were over, Hall took up the bobsled, competing internationally for Canada for over a decade. An injury ruined any chance of Hall competing for Canada at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

It goes without saying, of course, that life toiling on the bobsled for the home country during the late 1980s was without much in the way of glamour. Said Hall: "We lived like rats."

Taylor came along in 1991, while his father was still training with the national team in Calgary. The family eventually moved to southern Ontario a few years back, where Steve Hall retired his bobsled ways and took up house-painting. Still does, in fact.

Turns out, though, that his son took to the ice, too. From age four, Taylor Hall was a hockey player. He was a natural. In one minor hockey tournament, Hall scored 17 of his team's 19 goals. It was only the beginning.

Last year, Hall led his Windsor Spitfires to the Memorial Cup championship, where he was named MVP after a 90-point season. Perhaps not surprisingly, Hall inherited the footspeed that served his father so well in football.

"He's got that Teemu Selanne, Pavel Bure type of speed," Detroit Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill told TSN.ca, "where he can be standing still and then all of a sudden he's pouncing on somebody."

Added Hall's father: "He's so much farther ahead of the curve than I was as far as being an athlete."

But while the younger Hall might have his father's athletic traits, he's always preferred the puck over the pigskin.

"You know, my dad never pushed me into football at all," Hall told the Free Press, after Team Canada's workout in preparation for the Swiss today, following a 16-0 romp over Latvia in their tournament opener. "I did what I wanted to do. I've never played a game of organized football in my life, so... I think it's safe to say hockey's worked out. My dad is a pretty big hockey fan now. He lives for the game."

However, the location of this year's world juniors hasn't been lost on the son, either.

"My dad playing football is kinda of cool for me," he noted. "When we were in the camp in Regina, we drove by Mosaic Field and it... kind of reminded me of what my dad did. Maybe I can play pro sports as well."

Maybe? Let's just consider that a taste of humility from the 18-year-old sniper. Or perhaps it's just another life's passed down from a football-playing father to a hockey-playing son.

"To be honest with you, you're only as good as your last game," Steve Hall said, when asked about Taylor's much-hyped future.

"There's enough pressure in sports that you have to take it a game at a time. If you start thinking ahead that 'I'm this' or 'I'm that'... you really get off course. I remember looking behind me at other guys trying to take my job. That's what sports is.

"It's great if you're playing well and people are saying great things about you, but keep your feet on the ground. You can't get too far ahead of yourself."

Words of cautious realism from the next Joe Pop.

So here we are, 25 years removed from Hall's days as a Bomber, yet there are some parallels that can't be ignored. You see, Reaves, the man who came to Winnipeg with Hall, has a son, Ryan, who after a junior career with the Brandon Wheat Kings now plays for the AHL's Peoria Rivermen. Ryan was drafted in the fifth round (156th overall) by the St. Louis Blues in the 2005 NHL draft.

Meanwhile, the Bomber teammate Hall most admired was Joe Poplawski. "He was a guy you always looked up to," Hall recalled, "because he was a great player and a great person." Well, Poplawski's son, Derek, played for the WHL's Swift Current Broncos and Portland Winter Hawks between 2002-2004.

Is there a moral to this story? Let's see: Steve Hall's first contract with the Eskimos was worth about $35,000. Asked if his son's signing bonus with an NHL team might be a bit north of that paltry sum, Hall hesitated just for a second and replied: "That would probably be the case."

Old football players, it seems, learn the hard way. But they learn nonetheless.

"If you're going to play sports in Canada, play hockey," the elder Hall concluded. "That's all I've got to say."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

More WORLD JUNIOR COVERAGE C12

No slacking off vs. Swiss

SASKATOON -- The trap Canada doesn't want to be caught in at the world junior hockey championship is not only the one that Switzerland is likely to set for it in the neutral zone when they meet today at 3 p.m.

A greater danger is in becoming complacent from easy victories, like the 16-0 win with which Canada opened the tournament against Latvia.

"We know that was just one game and we have to continue to play hard," coach Willie Desjardins said. "That's one reason we kept playing that way (against Latvia) -- because we know the games will get tougher."

The Swiss have been known to steal games with goaltending and defence at world championships and Olympics. And while their junior team is just back after being relegated to the B-pool for a year, they promise tougher opposition than lowly Latvia.

Like his teammates, Taylor Hall was still a little stunned by the one-sided win over Latvia. Canada led 3-0 only five minutes in, 5-0 after the first period, and 11-0 after two.

"I can't remember the last time I was involved in a game like that, but you have to keep playing hard and not get into bad habits," he said.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2009 C1

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.

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