With decades worth of stories to tell, Tim Ecclestone stayed in Atlanta

The former Atlanta Flames player died Saturday at age 76.
Former Atlanta Flames player Tim Ecclestone. (AJC file photo)

Former Atlanta Flames player Tim Ecclestone. (AJC file photo)

Hockey players always have great stories.

Tim Ecclestone could recount the tales of his career with the best of them. In fact, he made a second career of sharing with family and friends, both old and new. He would hold court at the various restaurants and nightclubs he owned in the area with a rapt audience, many of whom would learn those stories as well as the narrator.

When the Atlanta Flames left the city in 1980, bound for Calgary, Ecclestone was an assistant coach. He had spent the last four years of his 11-year playing career in Atlanta before becoming an assistant with the franchise. He wasn’t about to subject his wife and two young children to the vagabond life of the NHL, even though the prospects of becoming a head coach were on the horizon.

Ecclestone had made a home in Atlanta. This is where he would stay.

“They loved Atlanta,” Ecclestone’s daughter Sandi Ecclestone Tisdale said of Ecclestone and his wife Sue. “Had already made friends. Loved the weather. Loved the people. They decided they wanted to stay here and also prevent my brother and I from moving from city to city while growing up.”

“I’m sure my mom thought he was nuts that the sports bar business was more stable than the hockey business,” son Mark Ecclestone said. “He made the decision and never looked back.”

Ecclestone died Saturday at the age of 76. A recent fall at home, that caused 10 broken ribs and a clavicle, led to complications with his lungs and a quick end to a vibrant life.

A Toronto native, born in 1947, Ecclestone was chosen by the New York Rangers with the No. 9 pick in the 1964 NHL Draft. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues following the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft. Those Blues made the Stanley Cup Finals in their first three seasons but were swept by the Montreal Canadiens in 1968 and 1969 and the Boston Bruins in 1970. Ecclestone was traded to the Detroit Red Wings and went on to be an all-star one season. He would also play for the Toronto Maple Leafs before joining the Flames from 1974-78. In 692 games, the forward had 126 goals and 233 assists.

In a 2016 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ecclestone said this of his career: “I was an average player. I really have no regrets from that game and it carried me into the business world. But if I was playing today, I would probably be making $1.5 million a year. But I wouldn’t trade playing in that era for anything. It was the best era of hockey.”

When he retired, Ecclestone opened Timothy-John’s Restaurant and Lounge in Sandy Springs. In 1990, he opened T.J.’s Sports Bar and Grill in Alpharetta. It closed in 2020 when COVID-19 hit. He also opened Stone’s Cuisine and Cocktails, in Johns Creek, currently run by his son Mark. His wife passed away in 2012.

Those restaurants are where Ecclestone would hold court, recounting the life of an NHL player.

One of the most famous tales came from his first NHL game. Ecclestone showed up at Madison Square Garden, where the Blues would play the New York Rangers, with equipment bag in tow after being called up. He took some time to talk his way into the building and security guards thought he had one elaborate plan to get into the arena.

Before the game, Ecclestone was informed by Blues coach Scotty Bowman that his job would be to just sit next to the backup goalie and open the door as players came off the ice. However, his fortune changed when a player who was called up the same day as Ecclestone froze when called to the ice.

“Scotty turned to dad and said ‘Ecclestone, get out there,’” Mark said. “The next day, the other guy got sent back down. Dad never left.”

At T.J.’s there were four high-top tables by the bar. They were called the Sky Boxes. Ecclestone would hold court at Sky Box 1. After the restaurant closed, Ecclestone would be at Stones several days a week.

“We joked that it was a new meat for him,” Mark said. “A whole new clientele never heard these stories. All his stories got a second life.”

Ecclestone would still get dozens of cards and letters in the mail from fans all over the United States and Canada who wanted to share their own stories from his playing days and to request an autograph. Ecclestone would joke that the playing cards sent to be autographed had their value cut in half by his signature.

Both Mark and Sandi described their father as loving and ever-present. Even with the night work required to be in the restaurant business, he would make the time to be at morning youth sport games.

Ecclestone also reached into the community and would organize many golf tournament fundraisers over the years benefiting a number of charities.

“The outpouring that we both have been receiving, it’s been heartwarming,” Sandi said.

A celebration of life will be held on Monday, March 18th at Mount Pisgah Church in Johns Creek. A visitation will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. with the service to follow.

Mark received a text after his father died with someone joking that they ought to inquire about the availability of Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the service.

There would be a lot of people interested in more stories about Tim Ecclestone.

Former Atlanta Flames player Tim Ecclestone. (Special to the AJC)

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