stan mikita: tough kid who grew up

The Chicago Blackhawks, long since out of the playoffs, wrap up their home schedule tonight hosting the still-in-hunt St. Louis Blues at the United Center. Before the game, the Blackhawks will honour Hall-of-Fame centreman Stan Mikita with a ceremony involving several of his grandsons. Mikita, who’s 77, was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia in 2015; Chris Kuc’s Chicago Tribune feature from that time deserves your attention, if you haven’t seen it already. Otherwise, a Mikita reading list might include books like Mikita’s own 1969 autobiography, I Play To Win, published the same year as Stan Fischler’s Stan Mikita: The Turbulent Career of a Hockey Superstar, along with Scott Young’s brief 1974 biography for young readers, Tough Kid Who Grew Up. More recently, there’s Bob Verdi’s richly illustrated review of Mikita’s career, Forever A Blackhawk (2011).

Mikita, of course, spent all 22 of his NHL seasons with Chicago, helping them to win the 1961 Stanley Cup. One of his coaches, Billy Reay, called him “hockey’s most complete player,” and Mikita helped make that case by winning two Hart Memorial trophies as NHL MVP in the 1960s along with four Art Ross scoring titles and a pair of Lady Byng trophies. “If you don’t have pride in yourself,” he explained to a reporter in 1968, “you won’t write a good story. It’s the same with hockey. You have got to have pride in yourself to win.”

(Top Image, from July of 1966, by Frank Prazak, Library and Archives Canada)

terry sawchuk: he didn’t move so much as he exploded

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This week in 1967, Toronto’s aged Leafs beat the Chicago Black Hawks to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for a showdown with the Montreal Canadiens. Chicago coach Billy Reay wasn’t happy in defeat, but he summoned up some grudging grace. “I’m a little one-sided,” he said, “so I think the best team lost. But Sawchuk stoned us and they outplayed us up the centre. I thought Davey Keon played terrific — on his regular shifts, killing penalties, and on the power play.”

Terry Sawchuk, pictured here in January of that last Leafly championship year, was 37. “He was,” the estimable Trent Frayne would recall, “the most acrobatic goaltender of his time. He didn’t move so much as he exploded into a desperate release of energy — down the glove, up the arm, over the stick, up the leg pad. He sometimes seemed a human pinwheel. He played the whole game in pent-up tension, shouting at his teammates, crouching, straightening, diving, scrambling, his pale face drawn and tense.”

(Image: Frank Prazak, Library and Archives Canada)

what we call the unseen hand

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The Canadians were ready in 1972 — at least, okay, maybe, no, not entirely prepared, exactly, but they were eager to shift from practicing to playing actual games. That, they were ready for. “We’ve had enough of this,” said forward Ron Ellis, “it’s time to get to work.” Phil Esposito didn’t care who was on his wings: “Regardless of whether I play with Roy Rogers and Trigger, just so long as we win.” Defenceman Gary Bergman insisted the team wasn’t overconfident when he said, “Look, we’re used to playing against the best forecheckers in the world — right in the National Hockey League. So we don’t have to learn to change our game to beat the Russians.” I don’t know whether centreman Bobby Clarke thought it was cockiness or not when he gave The Hockey News his prediction, below, but say this — it was in line with prevailing opinion in Canada as August came to an end and the pucks began to fly in earnest. Columnist John Robertson of The Montreal Star was a notable dissenter — his unpopular prognostication had the Soviets winning six of the eight games. And Canadian coach Harry Sinden was, notably, sounding notes of caution while others crowed Canadian domination. “We have to leave ourselves open and be ready to make big and quick adjustments,” Sinden said on the eve of the opening game. A sampling of Canadian self-regard (with bonus Soviet views, too) from the eve of the Summit Series of 1972:

 “We’re going to win.”
• Gordie Howe, former right wing, Detroit Red Wings

 “We will win eight games to nothing.”
• Alan Eagleson, director, NHLPA

“I bet a friend that we’ll win every game by at least three goals.”
• Bobby Clarke, centre, Philadelphia Flyers and Team Canada

“The Russians could take a game or two, though I don’t think they will.”
• Jack Kent Cooke, owner, Los Angeles Kings

“To ask any team to beat another eight times in a row is to ask a lot. But if we play up to our capabilities, we can win every game.”
• John McLellan, coach, Toronto Maple Leafs

 “I believe Russia’s best will beat Canada’s best in hockey eventually. But not this year; I doubt if the Russians will win a single game next month in The Great Confrontation, either in Canada or in Russia.”
• Jacques Plante, former goaltender, Toronto Maple Leafs

“If we play to our potential and, like I say, don’t take them lightly, we will be okay. I would be very disappointed if we don’t win all the games.”
• Jean Béliveau, former centre, Montreal Canadiens

 “I expect the Canadians to win every game. They’re that superior.”
• Billy Reay, coach, Chicago Black Hawks

“I don’t think the series will be a rout but I strongly believe we’ll beat them and beat them convincingly. I think we’ll win all eight games.”
• Ralph Backstrom, centre, Los Angeles Kings

“Our guys are pros and, in my opinion, the best hockey players in the world. If they play up to their potential, I can’t see how the Russians can win a game from them. Except for what we call the unseen hand — some fluky break that could make a difference. Barring that, it should be an eight-game sweep for Canada.”
• Scotty Bowman, coach, Montreal Canadiens

“I’m sure Team Canada is going to win. But I have a lot of respect for the Russians. Their conditioning is superb. They live together for 11 months of the year, and they’re like machines — their thinking is done for them. I don’t think they can react and act on instinct the way our players do. I think Team Canada will win all eight games.”
• Al Arbour, coach, St. Louis Blues

“You have said you will sweep us off the ice. We have said we would like to play and learn for the future. You must fulfill your boast. We will merely play our best, learning as we go.”
• Anatoli Tarasov, former coach, Soviet national team

 “We’ll give predictions for the games after the games. We won’t make any before.”
• Andrei Starovoitov, secretary, Russian Ice Hockey Federation

Sources: “What Experts Think — Most Favor Canada Sweep,” The Hockey News, September, 1972, p. 3; “Anxious To Start,” The Globe and Mail, September 1, 172, p. 36; “Jacques Plante Tells Why We Will Beat The Russians — This Year,” The Globe and Mail, 26 August, 1972, A14; “If We Lose Series Hockey Will Gain — Sinden,” September 2, 1972, p. 22; “No predictions, says Russian hockey official,” August 31, 1972, p. 26.

(Photo: Library and Archives Canada, Frank Lennon. Library and Archives Canada, e010933355 /)

the necessaries

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Denis DeJordy was a young Chicago prospect playing in the AHL for the Buffalo Bisons when the Black Hawks won the Stanley Cup in 1961, but when the time came to etch the names of the champions on the silverware, DeJordy’s was somehow included. Once the Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec-born goaltender’s NHL career did get going, he’d get into 334 games and while none of those won him another Stanley Cup, he did share in a Vézina Trophy with Glenn Hall in 1967. Shown here, above, with the tools of his trade at about that time, DeJordy played seven seasons for Chicago before moving on to stints with Los Angeles, Montreal, and Detroit. He first skated for the Black Hawks during the not-quite so-glorious 1962-63 season, when they ended up losing to Detroit in a Stanley Cup semi-final. The year after that, as DeJordy graduated to serve as Glenn Hall’s full-time back-up, David Condon of The Chicago Tribune introduced him to the Black Hawk faithful. From October of 1963:

To the rare breed that is a Black Hawk fan, there is only one goalie. That is incongruous, because this season the Chicago club will travel with two sentinels: Glenn Hall, the house man — plus Denis DeJordy.

Hall, 32 last Thursday, has been on the first or second All-Star team all except one year of his National Hockey league career. Of that you are reminded by his fan club, which neglects to mention that Hall was one of the Hawks who ran out of gas late last season.

The Hawks, however, took note of Hall’s weariness and believe they will solve any repetition of that problem by spelling Hall with DeJordy, who is 24. Hall will wear the familiar No. 1. DeJordy’s number will be 30, because the National League now has ruled that a club must not outfit all its goaltenders in the traditional No. 1.

To teammates, as well as to fans, Hall is “Mr. Goalie.” DeJordy has the less affectionate nickname of “Denis the Menace.” If DeJordy’s advance billings are accurate, however, Chicago will find increasing admiration for the newcomer as the calendar continues to close in on Hall.

DeJordy played a bit role in the Hawks’ final fiasco last season. No one on the Hawks was impressive at that trying time; in fact, management even became peeved at Publicity Director Johnny Gottselig, who was skating for the Hawks when Hans Brinker was an amateur, and Johnny was dismissed in a house sweepout that also cost the job of Coach Rudy Pilous.

But DeJordy comes well recommended from Buffalo, where the Hawks’ new skipper — Billy Reay — won the American League’s regular season championship and the playoffs. DeJordy won so many individual honors at Buffalo last season that he had to pick ’em up in a bag.

His bonus money, for individual honors alone, amounted to a staggering $4,200. Denis must have spent a sizeable portion of that for groceries, during the off-season, because he weighed only 155 when he appeared here last winter. Now he has bulked up to 170.

The Hawks lost only three of this season’s 10 exhibition games. One was to Hershey of the American league, 3 to 2. The winning goal was off Denis DeJordy. It was scored by Roger DeJordy, a veteran at Hershey. After that goal, Roger fought the Black Hawks to get the puck as a souvenir. He explained that, though both spent several years in the American league, it was his first goal ever against brother Denis.

rudy pilous: chauffeur, beer waiter, ice-cream salesman, inventor

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The Chicago Black Hawks were tenanting the NHL’s basement when GM Tommy Ivan announced in late December of 1957 that the old coach was out and a new coming in. That can’t have been easy — unless there was nothing easier. Ivan was himself the incumbent, having taken on the job when Dick Irvin relinquished the helm in October of 1956 due to poor health. The new man now was Rudy Pilous, late of the Junior A St. Catharines Teepees, where he’d been both coach and GM. He had one practice with his new players before heading into his first NHL game, early in January, in Toronto. With a smile, he asked a reporter for a program before the puck fell: “I’d better see who’s on the team.” The Black Hawks won that game, and the next one as well, at home to Boston. Chicago didn’t make the playoffs that year, though they had climbed up to fifth, ahead of the Leafs, by season’s end. And with Pilous aboard, they kept climbing, winning the 1961 Stanley Cup.

Pilous persevered with the Black Hawks until 1963, when Tommy Ivan fired him in favour of Billy Reay. Herewith, from earlier days, an excerpt from “Rudy Pilous’ Recipe For Enjoying a Headache,” Trent Frayne’s profile for Maclean’s, published March 28, 1959:

The coach in question is Rudy Pilous, a forty-four-year-old, bulky shambling man of six-feet-two, with a shock of black hair, dark eyes in a moon face, and no previous NHL experience whatever, even as a young player seeking a tryout. Pilous, never quite as graceful on skates as Barbara Ann Scott, played only pseudo-professional hockey — with the New York Rovers, the St. Catharines Saints and the Richmond Hawks in England. It is probably only coincidental that all three of these teams have long since quietly collapsed. Before these peregrinations Pilous endured part of a season with the Selkirk Fishermen, in Manitoba, whom he abandoned when he hadn’t been paid a penny of a promised twenty-five dollars a week.

But he has more than compensated for any lack of professional experience on the ice by the scope and variety of his activity off it. If the bewildering Black Hawks need a coach of bewildering background to get them out of purgatory Pilous (pronounced Pill-us) is their man.

Pilous, who left school at fourteen in Winnipeg to help his father support the nine children in the family, has been a chauffeur, a telephone lineman, an ice-cream salesman, a carpenter, a pipe cutter, a truck driver, a beer waiter, an inventor (General Motors paid him fifty dollars for a safety device), a receiving-department supervisor, and a publicist for ice shows, roller-skating derbies and race tracks. And, to top it off, he has coached hockey teams in such improbable places as California, Kentucky and Texas.

From this vocational mélange there has emerged a deceptively gifted, acutely observant man quite inconsistent with the bumbling, amiable, even naïve façade he often affects. Pilous’ public reputation stems partly from his tendency to link singular verbs with plural subjects and through in a mangled polysyllable now and then. When he succumbs he’ll laugh too quickly and refer to himself as “a big dumb squarehead.” Actually, he has an insight into many kinds of persons besides himself, and as a practicing psychologist it has appeared this year that he’s often been able to get blood out of a stone.

(Photo, from January of 1961: Louis Jaques/ Library and Archives Canada/ e002343755)

hockey players in hospital beds: pie mckenzie

Pieface: Johnny McKenzie of the Chicago Black Hawks was working the right wing that night, November, 28, 1963, alongside linemates Red Hay and Bobby Hull. The Leafs were in town and at some point in the first period two of them converged on 27-year-old McKenzie, the man they called Pie. Carl Brewer and Bob Baun caught him, hit him, hurt him: he limped off the ice and didn’t leave the Chicago bench for the rest of the period. He went to hospital after that, and while X-rays showed that while his ribs weren’t broken, he was bleeding internally. Dr. Myron Tremaine performed the surgery to extract his ruptured spleen. Afterwards, with McKenzie resting comfortably (if not, perhaps, pleased to be facing a photographer), Dr. Tremaine declared that he’d be back on skates in a couple of months. He was, too, in February of 1964, and looking good doing all the things hockey players like to do, scoring goals and bumping into other people, even if he was wearing a protective corset as he did so. “John is one of the gamest guys I know,” his coach, Billy Reay, told Red Burnett of the Toronto Daily Star. “It took a lot of courage for him to come back after losing his spleen as a result of being checked by Brewer and Baun in Chicago. What’s more, he’s skating and hitting as hard as he did when the season opened.”

Piefaced: Johnny McKenzie of the Chicago Black Hawks was working the right wing that night, November, 28, 1963, alongside linemates Red Hay and Bobby Hull. The Leafs were in town and at some point in the first period two of them converged on 27-year-old McKenzie, the man they called Pie. Carl Brewer and Bob Baun caught him, hit him, hurt him: he limped off the ice and didn’t leave the Chicago bench for the rest of the period. He went to hospital after that, and while X-rays showed that while his ribs weren’t broken, he was bleeding internally. Black Hawks team physician Dr. Myron Tremaine ordered the surgery that extracted his ruptured spleen. Afterwards, with McKenzie resting comfortably (if not, perhaps, best-pleased to be facing a photographer), Dr. Tremaine declared that he’d be back on skates in a couple of months. He was, too, in February of 1964, and looking good doing all the things hockey players like to do, scoring goals and bumping into other people, even if he was wearing a protective corset as he did so. “John is one of the gamest guys I know,” his coach, Billy Reay, told Red Burnett of the Toronto Daily Star. “It took a lot of courage for him to come back after losing his spleen as a result of being checked by Brewer and Baun in Chicago. What’s more, he’s skating and hitting as hard as he did when the season opened.”

stan the cam

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Stancam: Chicago Black Hawks’ centre Stan Mikita was the focus of a 1964 CBS television documentary, “Firebrand On Ice,” that aired in February of that year on the network’s popular show The Twentieth Century. Billed as “an inside look at big league, professional ice hockey and the brawling, lightning-paced, hard-playing Hawks,” it was shot on pre-season ice in Ontario, in Hamilton and St. Catharines. “In filming the documentary,” The Ottawa Citizen previewed, “air force gun cameras were mounted in shoulder holsters on Mikita, who also wore a microphone, as did coach Billy Reay and a referee. As well, five cameras were placed in strategic locations around the rink. One of them, encased in plexiglass, was embedded in the ice, back of goalie Glenn Hall.”