CHICAGO - Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Glenn Hall and Pierre Pilote each got a loud ovation as they slowly walked down the red carpet to centre ice.
The Chicago Blackhawks have four Stanley Cup titles now, but they still have plenty of love for their third title-winning team.
Hull and the rest of the 1961 championship team were honoured before the Blackhawks' 5-0 victory over the New York Islanders on Sunday night, receiving a framed replica of their title banner that hangs in the United Center rafters and a warm reception from the sellout crowd.
"It's been 50 years and they still love us," Hull said. "The cheers that the guys got, you can tell that they remember that group back in the '60s and it's a tribute not only to the Chicago Blackhawks, a tribute not only to our hockey club, but these wonderful hockey fans here in Chicago."
The Blackhawks also announced they will unveil bronze statues for Hull and Mikita outside the United Center early next season. Former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan currently is the only player with a statue outside the arena.
"It's a great gesture on their part to allow this to happen for us," Mikita said. "Now I know how Michael felt out there."
The 1960-61 team, coached by Rudy Pilous, went 29-24-17 in the regular season, finishing third in the NHL. Hall recorded consecutive shutouts to help Chicago upset heavily favoured Montreal in the playoffs before the Blackhawks beat the Detroit Red Wings 5-1 in Game 6 of the finals to win the franchise's first Stanley Cup title since 1938.
Hull, Mikita, Hall, Pilote and Pilous all went on to be inducted into hockey's Hall of Fame.
"This one was a labour of love in 1961," said Hull, who was 22 when he won his only championship. "There was blood, sweat and tears. Playing to first of all make the boyhood dream of playing in the National Hockey League, then, it was can you win, can you stay long enough to win a Stanley Cup? The Cup was more revered to us than it is today."
Hall played in every game—82 in all, including the playoffs—leading the league with six shutouts during the regular season. Pilote had a team-high 15 points in the playoffs.
Forwards Bill Hay, Wayne Hicks, Ab McDonald and Eric Nesterenko from the '61 club also were on hand for the festivities, which included a pre-game video detailing how the championship club was put together.
"It's just amazing," Pilote said of the reunion. "Just amazing, and you really feel proud of the organization, that you were a Blackhawk."
The '61 team was the franchise's last title before Chicago won the Stanley Cup last year to end the drought.
"Well, it's not an easy thing to do, win that Cup," Hicks said. "It takes a lot of things to be organized and the timing has to be good. But, yeah, we were wondering if it was going to happen because a lot of teams still haven't done it for a long, long time. So we were all happy now that it's been done and hopefully, they're going to do some more."