Hockey has sustained another heavy loss, especially hockey in Chicago.
Mike Spellman, who covered the Blackhawks for The Daily Herald, died on Tuesday, one day before what was to be his 51st birthday.
Mike, a veteran of 23 years with the newspaper, could cover anything and everything and did so with a certain professional ease. He blended passion and focus, whether filing multiple accounts of the Stanley Cup Playoffs under tight deadlines, authoring his insightful “Spellman’s Scorecard” notes column or prepping for his first Masters assignment by seeking tips from an older guy who presumably knew the ropes.
Only once did Mike ever seem uncomfortable. That was last winter, when Tim Sassone, the Herald’s brilliant hockey scribe, passed away after three decades of witnessing the ups and downs of the Blackhawks. Mike was devastated, as were all of Tim’s readers and admirers. But there was a job to do, big skates to fill, and Mike took over a prestigious beat in midseason with his customary nimble touch.
Not unlike Tim, Mike covered news without inserting himself into the story. It was never about Tim; it was never about Mike. A byline atop a thorough effort was recognition enough. He worked with a smile on his face, because he knew what we all know: They are called games for a reason. He was a great fit for any press box, any sport.
But that mindset did not deter Mike from devotion to duty. He didn’t just attend events, he surrounded them. The 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club was a happening so extraordinary that a fan (and recreational player, as was Mike) might have been overwhelmed. It is impossible for a journalist to develop a firm grasp of everything that is transpiring over an entire golf course, but Mike seemed to have it all figured out over three crazy days.
Mike enjoyed the horses, but the track is right in front of you, as is a hockey rink or a baseball diamond. But 18 holes spread over hundreds of acres? Mike at Medinah always had a knack of knowing where to be for the next crucial putt. You can’t teach that type of instinct. His editors at The Herald cited Mike’s versatility. Indeed, he was a superior reporter. He could have covered City Hall or a zoning board meeting in a pinch, although one suspects they would not have provided Mike with a tangible that he embodied – fun.
Mike had it all. He could craft a terrific one-liner at his leisure or a clean 700-word essay with 20 minutes until he had to hit the button. We all make mistakes, due to pressure or carelessness. I can’t ever remember Mike attaching his name to an incorrect fact or an erroneous notion. Nor can I ever forget how many times he made me laugh, in print and in person.
When Tim Sassone left us too soon, we were crushed by the fact that we were one man short in the press box. Now we are down two.