As one of the true greats in NHL history, a bona fide star who spent his entire career with the Chicago Blackhawks, the tributes have poured out from across the hockey world in the wake Stan Mikita’s passing.
Everyone from former teammates and rivals to current Blackhawks and pundits have shared their memories of Mikita, speaking about his innovative spirit — the creation of the curved blade changed the game and the rulebook — his dedication to the game and on- and off-ice passion. When the 2018-19 NHL regular season begins, the Blackhawks will assuredly pay tribute to Mikita, who is sewn into the fabric of the organization’s history. And as we continue to reflect on Mikita’s contributions to the game, here are 10 of the most notable moments from his illustrious career:
FIRST GLIMPSE OF GREATNESS — Oct. 7, 1959
When an 18-year-old Mikita was trotted out for some mid-season action during the 1958-59 campaign, there were already signs of the player he would become. During his brief three-game stint, Mikita registered an assist against the New York Rangers. The following season, however, Mikita burst out of the gates and gave fans in Chicago something to be excited about when he scored a goal and assist in his debut against the Rangers in the 1959-60 campaign. He followed that with another two-point night against the Toronto Maple Leafs the next game out, and finished his rookie campaign fourth in Calder Trophy voting after scoring eight goals and 26 points in 67 games.
SOPHOMORE STANLEY CUP VICTORY — April 16, 1961
His rookie campaign came with promise that he could become one of the faces of the organization well into the future, but his second NHL campaign put a stamp on his spot as one of the Blackhawks’ torchbearers. Improving on his rookie year, Mikita scored 19 goals and 53 points in his second season, but it was his playoff performance that was most impressive. In 12 games, Mikita scored a playoff-leading six goals and finished fourth with 11 points as Chicago won its first Stanley Cup in more than two decades. Mikita’s lone point in Game 6 of the final, a secondary assist, came on the Cup-winning goal that lifted Chicago past the rival Detroit Red Wings.
TIES SINGLE-SEASON SCORING RECORD — April 2, 1967
Mikita won his first Art Ross Trophy in 1963-64 when he registered 89 points, and followed that up with an 87-point performance to capture the scoring title for a second year in a row, but his shot at a three-peat was derailed when teammate Bobby Hull surpassed Dickie Moore’s single-season points mark and set a new NHL record with a 97-point campaign. Not to be outdone, though, Mikita followed right behind Hull the next season and matched the 97-point total on the final day of the season to win a third Art Ross. Mikita won a fourth NHL scoring title the next season, too, with another 87-point campaign.
FIRST TO WIN HART, ROSS AND BYNG IN SAME SEASON — 1966-67
Mikita stole the show at the NHL’s awards gala. On the heels of matching Hull’s NHL single-season points record, Mikita had already wrapped up the Art Ross and was a shoo-in for the Hart Trophy as league MVP. But what really amazed was Mikita’s dedication to playing disciplined hockey. Two seasons removed from a 154-penalty minute season, Mikita accumulated only 12 penalty minutes in 1966-67 — he wasn’t whistled for a single infraction in his final 22 games — and captured the Byng. He was the first player to win all three awards in the same season, a feat he repeated the next season, and is the only player in NHL history to capture all three pieces of hardware in one campaign.
FINAL DAY 40-GOAL SCORER — March 31, 1968
While Mikita dots the Blackhawks’ record book — more on that in a second — he doesn’t hold the franchise’s all-time goal-scoring crown. That belongs to Hull, who found twine 604 times to Mikita’s 541. For the majority of his career, Mikita was a consistent scorer, usually firing away in the 25- to 35-goal range. But after a flirtation with the 40-goal plateau in 1963-64, Mikita finally got over the hump in the final game of his 1967-68 season. Sitting at 39 goals entering the outing, Mikita fired home his 40th of the season with little more than five minutes remaining in the third period against the Red Wings.
BLACKHAWKS’ ALL-TIME GAMES PLAYED LEADER — March 3, 1974
When Hull, Mikita’s longtime running mate in Chicago, decided to depart the NHL and ink a contract with the Winnipeg Jets in the upstart WHA, he left Chicago as the team’s all-time games played leader with a whopping 1,036 outings in a Blackhawks uniform. That Mikita hung around in Chicago, however, meant the chase was on. He trailed Hull by more than 100 games played at the time, but a late 1973-74 contest against Detroit saw Mikita move ahead of Hull by one game played. By the time he hung up his skates, Mikita skated in a franchise-best 1,396 games played. No player in Blackhawks history is within 300 games of Mikita’s mark.
ALL-TIME LEADING BLACKHAWKS SCORER — April 7, 1974
Longevity is one thing, but sustained excellence is another. Mikita possessed both, and little more than a month after he overtook Hull’s games played record, he surpassed his former teammate in the most prominent category: all-time points. Again, it was late-season heroics that got the job done for Mikita. Fittingly, it also came against the Red Wings. Starting the game two points behind Hull’s all-time mark of 1,153 points, Mikita assisted on a first-period goal by Germain Gagnon and a pair of second-period markers by J.P. Bordeleau. The three-assist game moved Mikita to 1,154 points. He continues to hold the franchise’s all-time mark with 1,467 points.
WINDY CITY GOODBYE — Nov. 30, 1979
During the 1968-69 season, Mikita suffered a back injury that would continue to nag him throughout his career. Though he managed to play another decade, the pain would become too much as he entered his late 30s. Following a 19-goal, 55-point season in 1978-79 — his age 38 season, no less — Mikita tried to make one final go-round in the 1979-80 season. It was evident his play had slipped, however, and after scoring just two goals and seven points in 17 games to start the season, the then-39-year-old Mikita hung up his skates for good. He played his final game against the Vancouver Canucks.
No. 21 GOES TO THE RAFTERS — Oct. 19, 1980
There was no reason for the Blackhawks to wait when it came to retiring Mikita’s number, and it took less than one year from his final game for Chicago to celebrate the career of arguably the greatest Blackhawk in franchise history. On Oct. 19, the Blackhawks hoisted No. 21 to the rafters, and though six players have since followed Mikita in having their numbers retired, he will forever remain the first player in franchise history to be deemed worthy of the honor. (For those curious, the Blackhawks won the game, too. Chicago blew out the visiting Washington Capitals 8-4.)
INDUCTED INTO HOCKEY HALL OF FAME — 1983
From the moment Mikita announced his retirement, the Hockey Hall of Fame was never a matter of if, but when. The answer came in 1983, when Mikita was announced as an inductee. The timing worked out quite well for the Hall, too, as Hull had played his final game during the same season as Mikita, which allowed both to be inducted as part of the same class. Post-career, Mikita would receive two more outstanding honors. In 2002, he was inducted into the Slovak Hockey Hall of Fame. And in 2011, the Blackhawks unveiled a statue of Mikita outside their home arena, the United Center.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.