While the Dineen kids would always tell stories about their dad and his myriad connections, when Bill died, the stories came back to them. In spades.
Ken Holland, known today as one of the most formidable GMs in the game and the architect of the great Red Wings teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s, made a point of reminding Kevin that it was Bill who told Holland he could have a future in hockey management. In the mid 1980s, Holland was a goaltender of modest ability for Dineen’s Adirondack Wings.
Retired referee Paul Stewart told of the time he and Bill got into it pretty good during a game in which Steward had made a suspect call. A few days later, Stewart received a two-page letter in the most beautiful handwriting he had ever seen. It was Bill, apologising in an old-school way for getting carried away in the heated, in-game argument.
“Those kinds of small gestures are the ones that people remember for a long time,” Kevin says. “It changes you as a dad. He set the example for how to act with your own kids.”
Even Neil Diamond could tell you a Bill Dineen story, if you asked him.
During a cross-country concert tour, Diamond ran into Dineen at an arena venue and they got to talking. Dineen attended the show that night as a guest of the great troubadour.
At Bill’s funeral, the women in the Dineen clan had that story in mind when they took to the stage at the bar in the Glens Falls hotel where some of the visiting family were staying. In rare form, they belted out a rendition of Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”
“We sang with vigour,” Margaret recalls. “Nobody had tears — we were just really into it. It was a wonderful memory.”
The best trade Bill Dineen ever made, comes with an assist from son Jerry.
After Wayne Gretzky played his final game with the New York Rangers in 1999 (his last game in Canada happened to be in Ottawa), Jerry, a Rangers staffer, helped arrange for his dad to get a Gretzky game-used stick. In exchange, Bill gave the Great One a drinking glass etched in red ink with the signatures of the entire 1954 Red Wings team. As Stanley Cup champions, each Detroit player in 1954 had received a set of eight autographed glasses. In this way, Bill offered a toast to Gretzky, who in turn stick-tapped an homage to Bill.
“I used to sleep with that stick every time I went down there (to Glens Falls),” Margaret laughs. “It was in our bedroom.”
In the end, what is the Bill Dineen legacy as hockey continues to fight cancer with programs of support throughout North America?
It may be as simple as this: Bill Dineen was an exemplar of all that is good in the game.
Dineen’s career and life serve as a reminder that hockey bears a wide streak of great people who have passed down the traits of decency, respect and humour through the years.
“He was just such a nice guy,” his sister Margaret says. “He treated everybody the same, be it family, friends, the arena janitor, the gardener, it didn’t make any difference.
“He had a great way of finding a common denominator with people, and could just chat about anything. He had a special gift.”