Enough was enough, Tim Talty had decided.
The Southern Oregon Spartans forward threw his gloves down and started throwing punches after seeing teammate Mike Leskun take a cheap shot during a rough match in November.
"I usually don't do that," Talty says. "I was just trying to stand up for my teammate."
Afterward, Southern Oregon head coach Mike Stanaway simply said this to Talty: "Timmy, I'm real proud of you, but don't let it happen again."
Talty will be the first to say that he's a playmaker, not a fighter. But the Midwesterner has grown more aggressive as the season has progressed, developing an unwillingness to back down that Stanaway loves seeing.
And that toughness, Stanaway says, has made Talty even more difficult to stop.
"He has proved to be not only a kid who is the most talented forward in this league but a guy who can't be intimidated or pushed around," Stanaway says.
Long before the 20-year-old Talty became the Spartans' go-to guy and the Northern Pacific Hockey League's player of the year, Stanaway knew he had something special on his hands.
Talty is one of the most resourceful and talented players whom Stanaway has coached. Hailing from Tinley Park, Ill., Talty executed electrifying plays with the Chicago Mission before arriving in Medford and promptly proved to be a scoring threat at the Tier III junior hockey level. But Stanaway wanted more toughness from Talty early on.
"I wanted to see him finishing checks hard, giving and taking checks and still being able to make the play," Stanaway says.
He got tougher.
"By the midpoint of the season he wasn't scared of anybody," Stanaway says.
Certainly, Talty scored on just about everybody. He recorded a team-best 83 points this season for the Spartans, who won the franchise's first NORPAC championship and qualified for the USA Hockey National Championship in Rochester, Minn. The squad went 34-8 during the regular season and is 40-9 after a 6-1 playoff run.
The Victor J. Andrew High graduate had 50 assists and 33 goals in 38 games. Talty finished in third in the league in points behind Seattle's Ricky Doubrava and Parker Eliot, who tied for first with 93 points.
"My linemates played a huge role in my assists," Talty says.
In seven playoff games, Talty led Southern Oregon in points (16) and in goals (10), including two game-winners. The Spartans swept Seattle in the best-of-five championship series earlier this month, with Talty coming up big on several occasions.
"I think one of the things that Tim possesses is his ability to turn a play that has been completely broken into a scoring chance," Stanaway says. "He's got that impromptu ability to turn nothing into something. ... In my opinion he has the best set of hands in the league."
The fight in November still stands out to Talty as a breakthrough moment: "I didn't think I'd ever fight. It was a big moment for me playing tougher."
And, now, he actually kind of enjoys the physical brand, which he says differs from the more skillful style of play more common in the Midwest.
"Once you finish a hit or get hit, it gets you going into the game," Talty says. "It sets the tone."
A Michigan native, Stanaway helped mine the nation for talent during the offseason. The first-year coach, who replaced Steve Chelios, and Spartans owners Troy Irving and Forest Sexton knew exactly where to look: they entered America's Breadbasket.
"Last year they had a good team, but we only had two players from last year's team," says Stanaway, whose roster includes eight players from Illinois, four from Wisconsin and two from Michigan. "We had to build from scratch and put a lot of time into recruiting players that would be dominant but would also be good solid citizens."
In the Midwest, they discovered Talty.
The Southern Oregon coaching staff had originally recruited Lane King, who was Talty's friend. But late in the summer, King mentioned Talty's name to the Spartans, who urged him to try out for the squad in Wisconsin.
Talty made the two-hour drive from his hometown to the rink in Wisconsin, where he was one of about 60 players trying to land a spot.
"Coach offered me a spot there," Talty recalls.
Now, Talty is the complete package: someone with finesse and fire, agility and aggression and skill with an occasional scowl. There's little need or desire for Talty to actually brawl — everyone within the franchise would much rather see him make a stunning play — but Stanaway says he appreciates a fighting spirit.
Away from the ice, Talty is adjusting to life without authentic deep-dish pizza and Portillo's Hot Dogs. His hometown is about 30 minutes away from Chicago and Talty, like most of his teammates, have never been away from home this long. Fortunately, he lives with several of his Chicago Fury AAA youth hockey teammates at the Sexton home. Nick DeSimone (Naperville, Ill.), Luke Nickels (Carol Stream, Ill.) and Leskun (Geneva, Ill.) also play for the Spartans.
The familiar faces and the success they've all experienced leave Talty with little doubt: "I made the right decision coming here," he says.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com
Tough, talented Talty
Enough was enough, Tim Talty had decided.