Tim Sassone's colleagues saw him as a pro's pro in the journalism business, and readers who followed his coverage of the Blackhawks came to know him as "the Dean of Chicago Hockey Writers" who was passionate about the game he covered.
Sassone, who spent 26 years covering the Blackhawks and the NHL for the Daily Herald, died Tuesday at the age of 58 after an extended illness. A resident of Lisle, the award-winning reporter is survived by his wife, Christine, and their two children, Ali and Andy.
"The hockey world mourns a legend who knew, explained and critiqued the sport better than anyone," said John Lampinen, Senior Vice President and Editor for the Daily Herald. "The Daily Herald mourns a friend and colleague who quietly inspired an entire newsroom with his skill, grace and selfless dedication. Tim was a giant, and we will miss him."
Another legend in Chicago sports writing, team historian Bob Verdi, said Sassone was a true professional and a talented writer.
"Tim Sassone had it all. He was a terrific writer and reporter. He knew hockey and loved it," he said. "He respected his readers, his profession and his newspaper. He was a professional who took his job seriously but was able to laugh. Above all, he was a prince of a man. We have lost a really good man."
The Blackhawks were competitive when Sassone began his career covering the NHL. The team, however, began a free fall in attendance from 1995 to 2006, and Sassone was there as well during the darkest years as the Blackhawks hit rock bottom as a franchise.
Just four years later, under the ownership of Rocky Wirtz and the direction of team President John McDonough, Sassone was there when the Hawks completed their turnaround by winning the Stanley Cup in 2010 in Philadelphia. He was there again in the shortened 2013 season when they won the Stanley Cup in Boston.
Over the years, Sassone also assisted with coverage of professional golf, baseball, football and even high school sports. He helped cover the White Sox during their World Series run and the USA collapse in the 2012 Ryder Cup. He also provided coverage of Northern Illinois football during its Orange Bowl-run season.
Among his many career highlights, however, was being able to witness the 2010 Blackhawks parade while riding a double-decker bus with his son by his side.
Sassone, a Proviso East grad, began his journalism career working for The Northern Star, the campus newspaper at NIU. After serving three semesters as the Star's sports editor, he graduated in 1978 and worked as a correspondent for several publications, including Star Publications, before taking a full-time job with Pro Football Weekly in 1983.
He joined the Daily Herald in 1984, working as a part-time editorial assistant and correspondent before being promoted to a full-time position on the sports copy desk. Sassone took over the Blackhawks beat in 1988, and he was honored by the Blackhawks during the 2013 season as he celebrated his 25th year of covering the team.
Although his competitive nature kept him focused on providing the best coverage possible, Sassone collected numerous awards and honors along the way.
Among those honors:
• He won a Peter Lisagor Award for his sports coverage and recently was nominated as a finalist for his work in 2013.
• His coverage of the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup victory in 2010 earned Top 10 honors in a national contest conducted by the Associated Press Sports Editors.
• He was a key contributor when the Daily Herald earned Top 10 Daily Sports Section honors from APSE starting in 1989.
• In 2013, he was inducted into the Northern Star Alumni Hall of Fame for his contributions as a journalist.
• In 2007, he was nominated for the Hockey Hall of Fame's Elmer Ferguson Award, which is given annually to someone "whose words have brought honor to journalism and hockey."
While Sassone's coverage of the Blackhawks began the same year that current stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were born, he stayed current and utilized social media to promote the sport and the newspaper. He had more than 11,000 Twitter followers. His historical perspective on the Blackhawks often came into play in his daily reports, including a story he wrote a week ago before head coach Joel Quenneville recorded his 700th win.
"Tough news," Quenneville said Tuesday morning after learning of Sassone's passing. "The hockey world lost a great man."
Chicago Wolves public relations manager Lindsey Willhite, a former Daily Herald reporter, called Sassone's stamina and work ethic incredible.
"I spent the day with him in Philadelphia when the Hawks won the 2010 Cup," Willhite said in a web posting. "On almost no sleep, he did radio interviews across North America in the morning, wrote multiple stories during the day and night -- including a game story that won national awards -- and we were just about the last people in the building along with the cleaning staff."
Len Ziehm, who covered the Blackhawks for the Chicago Sun-Times, said he marveled at Sassone's versatility.
"To me he was much more than the best beat writer the Hawks ever had, he was also a pro's pro on the newspaper front. We spent nine years covering the Hawks together and a few more when we did Wolves' games. But I especially remember how he so capably filled in during the Ryder Cup at Medinah when he was pushed in at the last minute to write the lead story on the final day. Quite a task but Tim, as always, was up to it.
"A great family man and dedicated journalist, the world needs more Tim Sassones."
A visitation for Sassone will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Monday, March 31, at Blake-Lamb Funeral Home, 5015 Lincoln Ave., in Lisle. Blake-Lamb is near Route 53 about one-half mile south of Ogden Ave (Route 34). A memorial service also will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the funeral home.
A guest book page also been created for Sassone.