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A legend lost: Blackhawks icon Stan Mikita dies at 78

All-time great Mikita passed away Tuesday and leaves behind a legacy of great play, sportsmanship and the willingness to evolve as a player and person.

It’s always sad when a legend of the game passes away. But the wound is especially deep when hockey loses a true ambassador. Stan Mikita was absolutely one of them. He passed away Tuesday at age 78. He had been battling a disease called Lewy Body dementia since 2015.

“He was surrounded by his loving family whom he fiercely loved,” explained the Chicago Blackhawks in an official statement.

For his on-ice exploits alone, Mikita was an all-timer. He spent his entire Hall of Fame career, spanning 22 seasons, with the Blackhawks (then the Black Hawks) between 1958-59 and 1979-80. He won four Art Ross Trophies as the league’s scoring champion and led the league in assists four times. He won two Hart Trophies as the NHL’s most valuable player and was a six-time first-team all-star. Centering one of the sport’s greatest tandems with lethal scoring winger Bobby Hull, Mikita led the Blackhawks to the 1961 Stanley Cup. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in games (1,396), assists (926) and points (1,467). Only nine players have played more games with a single franchise than Mikita logged with Chicago. In The Hockey News’ top 100 player poll two decades ago, voted on by a panel including Hall of Fame coaches and GMs, from Al Arbour to Sam Pollock, Mikita placed 17th. He was the highest-ranked European-born player.

Mikita has few peers for his NHL exploits. What made him extra special, though, is how he overcame obstacles to do what he did – and that he did it all with class. Mikita, born in Czechoslovakia under Communist rule, came to Canada with his aunt and Uncle in 1948, leaving behind his parents. He became a hockey star in St. Catherines, Ont., but when he arrived in the NHL he was a hardened bulldog of a player, having grown up as the kid who didn’t speak English and spoke it with an accent at first once he learned it. Hull once described him as “tougher than a night in jail.” Mikita topped the 100-PIM mark three times in his first seven seasons, cracking the league’s top four in that stat three times. When his daughter, Meg, called him out for his style of play, he vowed to change. Amazingly, Mikita ended up winning the Lady Byng Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player twice. He became a symbol of sportsmanship.

“There are no words to describe our sadness over Stan’s passing,” said Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz in the team statement. “He meant so much to the Chicago Blackhawks, to the game of hockey, and to all of Chicago. He left an imprint that will forever be etched in the hearts of fans – past, present and future. Stan made everyone he touched a better person. My wife Marilyn and I, joined by the entire Wirtz family, extend our prayers and thoughts to Jill and the Mikita family. ‘Stosh’ will be deeply missed, but never, ever forgotten.”

Mikita was a cultural icon for years in the Windy City. The  Illinois-set 1992 movie Wayne’s World named a fictional coffee shop ‘Stan Mikita’s Donuts,’ spoofing the Tim Hortons chain. In recent years, Mikita worked as an ambassador for the Blackhawks.

Mikita is survived by his wife, Jill, and their four children: Meg, Scott, Jane and Christopher. According to the team statement, details of a service will be released when they become available.