Johnny Gottselig was only ever, and very much, a Chicago Black Hawk: a useful left winger in his skating days, which lasted 16 NHL seasons, captain when they won an unlikely Stanley Cup championship in 1938, he later coached the team and (later still) served as its long-time director of public relations. He was born in 1905 in what today is very much Ukraine, in the village of Klosterdorf, on the Dnieper River, in Kherson Oblast. He was three months old when he emigrated to Canada with his parents, landing as homesteaders in Holdfast, Saskatchewan. Gottselig grew up Regina, which is where he learned his hockey.
He picked up a stick early on, but as the story’s told, he only started on skates when he was 16. Seven years later, he made his NHL debut with the Black Hawks. He was a key figure when Chicago won its first Stanley Cup championship in 1934. That year, Chicago’s Scottish-born goaltender Charlie Gardiner became the NHL’s first European-born captain to win the Cup; Gottselig was the second, in 1938. Gottselig was also the league’s second European-born head coach, after the Black Hawks’ Emil Iverson, who started in Denmark.
As a Black Hawk, Gottselig scored some goals, leading the team five times in scoring. A noted stickhandler, he was a renowned killer of penalties. “The best solution to a Hawk penalty, Chicago Tribune sportswriter Ted Damata wrote in 1945, “was to send John onto the ice. He became the deftest puck-nursing virtuoso in the league, tantalizing full-strength teams with his nimble touch in mid-ice.” Damata would remember him as the only player he’d ever seen who’d controlled the puck for the entire two minutes of a penalty.
A noted baseball player, Gottselig was also a manager in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, steering the Racine Bells, the Peoria Redwings, and the Kenosha Comets in the 1940s. He died in Chicago in 1986 at the age of 80.