In the impending 25th anniversary celebration of the Carolina Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina, it’s easy to forget just how messed up that first season was in Greensboro, not just on the ice and in the empty stands, but behind the scenes.
The team was essentially on the road at home, a burden that fell as much on equipment manager Wally Tatomir and his two longtime partners, Bob Gorman and Skip Cunningham, as on anyone else. Tatomir, who died aged 76 on Sunday, went to great lengths to ensure none of the players noticed.
“He was very proud of it,” said his stepson Mike Beneteau. “It was now his show and he was in charge now and it was going to be a professional atmosphere with everything perfect, every napkin folded perfectly, every roll of duct tape in the right place.”
For then-Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford, both during the move and at other times, Tatomir’s presence meant it was one less thing he had to worry about.
“He was always ahead of everything,” Rutherford said. “He was so prepared for what the players wanted and what the team needed, there really aren’t any stories that jump out at you where he forgot to do something or he had to yell for it. do or had to order something at the last minute. He was so well prepared. He knew the job inside and out and he was ahead of the curve all the time.
Tatomir, who grew up in Windsor, Ontario, first met Rutherford when Rutherford was playing for the Detroit Red Wings and Tatomir was helping out at home games while working for a trucking company. When Peter Karmanos hired Rutherford to run his junior hockey teams, Rutherford brought Tatomir with him. When Karmanos bought the Hartford Whalers in 1994, they rose through the ranks together and Tatomir stayed until his retirement from the Hurricanes in 2012.
“Windsor is a small town — it’s not really that big — but it’s steeped in hockey tradition,” Karmanos said. “Wally was really good at what he did. Really good, very supportive, and he could be critical when needed. Just a good guy to work with. Very talented at what he did. Every step of the way. way, he was able to handle it.
He was a staple of the team’s early years here and an innovator in his profession with over two dozen patents. Even after his retirement, he never quit the game. On the day of his death, there was an order for his custom skate blades from an NHL team waiting to be filled at his home in Boone.
Pioneers in the sharpening and balancing of skate blades, players would come to Hurricanes from other teams and find new life in their legs. For a skilled skater like Bret Hedican, they also found someone who spoke their language and could make the fine adjustments that allowed them to perform at their best. Matt Cullen was such a believer that he bought one of Tatomir’s balancing machines to work on his own children’s skates.
“Wally could replicate what it looked like and make sure it was like that every day,” Hedican said in 2020. “I wanted to kiss him on the forehead.”
Tatomir wouldn’t have cared. He was a jovial character who knew everyone and was never shy about letting them know what he was thinking, often with a puck hidden somewhere in his tracksuit to throw at an unsuspecting child. The adults too: In the hallway of the Air Canada Center in Toronto, outside the visitors’ locker room where Tatomir and the other equipment managers worked, the NHL guys who were always hanging around made pilgrimages to him for advice.
“And not just in Toronto,” Rutherford said. “It was everywhere.”
His four sons have all served as unofficial helpers over the years, meeting Tatomir and Cunningham and Gorman at the arena in the early hours of the morning to help unload the equipment truck after games on the road or prepare the first pot of coffee at 6:30. the morning of a home game, long before the players or coaches show up.
“He was a larger-than-life character,” his son Shane Tatomir said. “When we were going to the rink, he would stop and talk to everyone on the way in and everyone on the way out.”
He bought his home outside of Boone in 2007 and expanded it over the years. four years ago, he left Raleigh for Florida, as he had long hoped, and divided his time between the sun and the mountains. After all these years of driving equipment trucks, he refused to let anyone move his stuff. Shane came over from Canada to help him move in a truck borrowed from the same company that has leased the Hurricanes trucks over the years.
Tatomir suffered a heart attack in Florida this summer and bounced back quickly, but it finally caught up with him this month and the family was able to reunite in Boone with him on Sunday. He is survived by his wife Constance, his sons Shane and Ty, his daughter Kim, his stepsons Derek and Mike Beneteau and 10 grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.
“Really, hockey was his passion,” said his widow, Constance. “No doubt about it. He loved his family and he had a million friends, buddies as he would say. Everyone was his homie. He was just that kind of happy, lucky guy.
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This story was originally published September 18, 2022 11:31 a.m.