The Chicago Blackhawks have an excellent chance to put an end to the NHL’s longest Stanley Cup dry spell, which stands at 49 years. That has been the Hawks’ festering albatross ever since the New York Rangers won in 1994, ending a 54-year drought.
What’s interesting about Chicago’s last Cup victory in 1960-61 was that it was the first and only NHL triumph for two of the game’s very best. I knew Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita were on that winning team, but what I didn’t realize (or remember) until recently was that Hull was just 22 and Mikita was a month shy of his 21st birthday.
They were just kids, really. But still go-to players, much like Chicago’s current go-to players, 22-year-old Jonathan Toews and 21-year-old Patrick Kane. Hull and Mikita were wunderkinds in Chicago in the early 1960s. They helped put an end to the Black Hawks’ 23-year Cup drought and seemingly were about to go on a run of their own.
The Hockey News is working on a book project chronicling the 25 best teams of all-time and I got a chance to talk to Hull and Mikita recently about their one Cup-winning season.
“I was too young to appreciate how very important it was going to be; I was just a pup,” said Hull, now 71 and an ambassador for the team. “This was going to be one of many that we were going to win. And I didn’t even drink out of the Cup. That’s how sure I was that this was going to be one of many.”
Hull was second in scoring on the Hawks that season with 31 goals and 56 points in 67 games. Mikita was third with 19 goals and 53 points in 66 games. Bill Hay led the team with 59 points.
Kane led the current Hawks with 30 goals and 88 points in 82 games this season, while Toews was third with 25 goals and 68 points in 76 games.
“It was great being in the city and going around town,” Mikita remembered. “People came up to us and called us by our first name. ‘Stan, how the hell are ya? My god, there’s Bobby Hull.’ Everyone wanted to talk about the game the night before.”
Another parallel between the old Hawks and the new Hawks was the play of an unheralded defenseman. Pierre Pilote was 29 and a couple years away from winning three consecutive Norris Trophies. He had just six goals and 35 points that Cup-winning season, but led the team with 15 points in 12 playoff games.
“There wasn’t a Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP back then, but Pilote would have won it,” Mikita said.
This year’s Hawks have Duncan Keith rising to greatness. He was second on the team with 14 goals and 69 points in 82 games and at 26 years old has improved his steady two-way play to the point he’ll be a Norris Trophy contender for years to come.
Hull likes Chicago’s chances to end the drought at 49 years.
“When they attack, they are fabulous; no one can beat them,” Hull said. “When that team attacks, attacks, attacks with all four lines, they can beat anybody. Yet when they fall back into their own zone and try to just defend a lead, they are terrible.”
Television viewers have seen glimpses of Hull, Mikita and former Hawk goaltending great Tony Esposito watching the games from the ambassadors’ box at the United Center. That’s a sight unseen in playoff runs in the 1980s and ’90s. New Hawks chairman Rocky Wirtz made that one of his priorities following the death of his father, long-time owner Bill Wirtz.
“I never thought this would happen to me,” a beaming Hull said. “After all these years, 30 years being away from the Blackhawks, I thought I had burned all the bridges I could. But Rocky Wirtz knows more in one minute than his dad did all his life, about hockey. When he got a hold of the reins, he did everything right.
“That’s why the people came back in droves. The fans were there; they were just being as bull-headed as Bill Wirtz was. And they said they’re not coming back until the Chicago Blackhawks do something for the fans. (Rocky) hired (team president) John McDonough, he put home games on TV, he hired Scotty Bowman, then delved into the past.
“If you’re not proud of the past, then you don’t have much of a future. Now everyone is happy. It’s a big happy family.”
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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