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Saturday, 6 April 2013

1960-61 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks

The NHL hockey play-offs are just around the corner and I got to thinking about the time many moons ago (53 years?) when the Chicago Blackhawks ended the string of 5 straight Stanley Cups won by the Montreal Canadiens.
Growing up in the mostly English speaking community of N.D.G. on the west side of Montreal, I quickly learned that pretty well almost everyone was a Montreal Canadiens fan when it came to hockey. Like kids all over Canada we played street hockey in the winter often using frozen grey lumps of ice as goalposts. Of course someone would yell “car” occasionally and we would scuttle to move our goalposts out of the way so they wouldn’t get run over.
Some boys had the red woolen Montreal Canadiens sweaters with the CH crest in the middle. At grade school out in the school yard there was lots of talk about the young Jean Beliveau, Rocket Richard, Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, Jacques Plante, Doug Harvey, and Dickie Moore.
Most of the big stars on the Montreal Canadiens were French Canadian but many English speaking Montrealers knew that their success was in part due to a supporting cast of Anglos including Harvey and Moore, and reliable players like Floyd Curry, Donnie Marshall, Bert Olmstead, Ken Mosdell, Ralph Backstrom, Tom Johnson and others. A few English speaking dads dared to speak up and express their admiration for Gordie Howe. 

Other than the year 1951, when Toronto won the cup, the decade of the 1950s in hockey was mostly centred on the Montreal Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings. There were only 6 teams in the NHL back then (often referred to as “The Original Six”). For many years there were 3 tiers in the NHL. The Canadiens and Wings were la crème de la crème. Toronto was usually in the middle of the pack. The New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, and the Chicago Blackhawks shuffled around in the bottom tier of teams.
NHL hockey players didn’t make great money back then. Most needed to find other work in the off season. There was no player’s union and they were completely at the mercy of the owners. Expansion didn’t happen until 1967 and part of the reason that eventually came about was because the owners wanted to secure those cities before a new rival league came along and scooped those places up. In addition there was good money to be had for the original six owners in flogging off franchises.
Sometime around 1956 or 1957, a few players like Ted Lindsay, Doug Harvey, and Tod Sloan tried to form a players union. Most NHL players were in favour of a player’s “association” but were frightened by the owner’s wrath if they formed a “union”. (Unions=Communism? It was the 1950s!) For their efforts, Lindsay was shipped off from Detroit where he was the captain (it was stripped from him) to Chicago, Doug Harvey was sent to New York from Montreal, and Tod Sloan went from Toronto to Chicago.
Of all the teams in the NHL in the 50s, Chicago had the roughest go of it. During the decade they had losing season after losing season. They were led by players who were hardly household names like Jimmy Peters, George Gee, Al Rollins, Pete Conacher, Lou Jankowski, Jack McIntyre, Red Sullivan, Johnny Wilson, and Glen Skov. Things got so bad in Chicago that it wasn’t a certainty that the team would survive. Montreal pretty well gave the Blackhawks Eddie Litzenberger for nothing to help save the franchise. He would go on to have three 30 goal seasons for Chicago and become their team captain.
There used to be a section in the Montreal Star newspaper in the 1950s called The Weekend Magazine. Each week one of the pages was dedicated to an NHL star hockey player. There was a large photo about 18 inches from top to bottom with a player in his hockey gear posing. You couldn’t find a picture as big as this anywhere else with your favourite hockey player smiling at you. One weekend the magazine did an article on Bobby Hull. One of the pictures showed Hull pitchforking hay by his family home in Bay St. Anne, Ontario. Hull looked like the Incredible Hulk and at the tender age of about twelve I had a man crush.

Bobby Hull.

There were a few things back then other than Bobby Hull that made me a Chicago Blackhawk’s fan. One of those factors was that I liked pulling for the underdogs in sports. I was a big fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates who won The World Series in 1960. I also really liked the Blackhawk’s uniform with the Indian head logo and the tomahawks on the shoulders. In the early 1960s I drew that logo more than a few times. I also listened at night to Blackhawks games from Chicago Stadium in Montreal. The sound would come in and fade away and come back in. I can still remember their organ revving up the crowds.

Chicago Stadium.

The foundation of the 1960-61 Stanley Cup champions was slow in developing. In 1954 they acquired Eddie Litzenberger. In 1955 defenceman Pierre Pilote joined the team. In 1956 Eric Nesterenko and Elmer “Moose” Vasko were added. 1957 was Bobby Hull’s rookie year. In 1959 Stan Mikita had his first full year in the NHL.
When all was said and done the team that had both Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita would only win the cup once. They won it in 6 games over the Detroit Red Wings. That year they finished 3rd in the standings behind Montreal and Toronto.
A number of the players on the Chicago Blackhawks of 1960-61 have since passed away. Some are now in their 80s. The following is my salute to them.
Glen Hall. #1
Back then each team really only had one goalie. There was no switching around with a back-up. It seemed that almost every year Glenn Hall would turn up late for training camp from his farm home in Humbolt, Saskatchewan. Hall was known to sometimes throw up before a hockey game he was that anxious about playing. In the earlier part of his career, like all other goalies at the time, he didn’t wear a mask. How he ever ended up a Blackhawk is beyond me. He came over from Detroit along with Ted Lindsay in a trade. In Detroit he replaced the great Terry Sawchuk and was named Rookie of the Year. In his first year in the NHL he had 12 shut-outs. In his 2nd year his record was 38 wins and 20 losses. In his 3rd year he found himself in Chicago. What was Detroit thinking? Hall played a total of 10 seasons in Chicago before he was picked up in the hockey expansion draft by the St. Louis Blues. He was often referred to as “Mr. Goalie”. He truly was one of the all-time greats at his position.

Glenn Hall.
Pierre Pilote. #3
Pierre ran the Blackhawk’s offense for years. He was a rushing defenceman. He won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman 3 times. He spent 13 years on Chicago’s blue line. He was only 5-10” and about 180 lbs. but somehow managed to play 8 full years without injury. I would place him in the top 10 hockey defensemen of all-time.
Pierre Pilote.
Elmer “Moose” Vasko. #4
At 6’3” and about 225 lbs. Elmer Vasko was a big man as a hockey player for the times. He was “home grown” in that he came up through the Blackhawk’s farm system that included teams like the St. Catherine’s Tee Pees and the Buffalo Bisons. He was usually partnered with Pilote and was “a stay at home” defenseman. Vasko was probably the first hockey player that NHL fans mimicked a player’s name in unison. “M-m-o-o-o-o-s-e!!!”
Elmer "Moose" Vasko.
Dollard St. Laurent. #19
St. Laurent won 3 Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens before he was sold for cash to the Blackhawks in 1958. He was mostly a reliable stay at home defenceman. He spent 4 seasons in Chicago. 
Dollard St. Laurent.
Jack “Tex” Evans. #5
Evans was born in Wales but grew up in Alberta. He started his hockey playing career in 1948 and ended it in 1971-72 playing for the minor pro team The San Diego Gulls where he was a player coach. He was a head coach in the NHL with The Oakland Seals and The Hartford Whalers. Never a big points getter, Evans could lay out some really punishing body checks.
#5 Jack Evans with Bobby Hull & Stanley Cup.
Al Arbour. #2
One of only a few (if any) hockey players to wear eye glasses while playing pro hockey. Over a 20 year career, Arbour bounced around the NHL and the minors. He played 3 seasons for the Hawks. He was to later have greater fame as the coach of the New York Islanders who he led to winning four straight Stanley Cups. He is 2nd to only Scotty Bowman in all-time coaching wins in the NHL.

Al Arbour.
 Reggie Fleming. #6
Reggie Fleming was one hardnosed S.O.B. If he played for your team you probably loved him. If he played for somebody else you probably hated him. In the earlier part of his career including the 1960-61 season he mostly played defence. He was only 5’8” and built like a fire hydrant. While with Chicago he was converted into a defensive forward. He really liked to get under opposing player’s skins and was in the middle of a number of bench clearing brawls. After 4 years in Chicago he spent time with the Boston Bruins where he scored 18 goals one year and with the New York Rangers where he had 17 goals one year. When his NHL career was over he hung on in the minors for several more years. The latter years of Reggie’s life were pretty miserable. He had a stroke and a heart attack and his brain was scrambled. Before he died in 2009 he was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He may have suffered as many as 20 or more concussions in his life. His son Chris videotaped a number of chats he had with his father in his final years and those talks are both touching and disturbing.

My own autographed Reggie Fleming postcard.
There is an old adage in hockey that you build a team down the center. If that is the case the 60-61 Blackhawks had some damn good centers.
Stan Mikita. #21
I would rate Stan Mikita in the top 15 professional hockey players of all time. Although he retired about 34 years ago, he ranks 14th in all-time scoring in the NHL. I can’t think of another NHL player who spent all of 21 years playing for one team. Stan (known to his teammates as Stash) was born in Czechoslovakia but grew up in St. Catherines, Ontario where he played his junior hockey. He centered the “Skooter Line” with the Hawks with wingers Kenny Wharram and Ab MacDonald (later to be replaced by Doug Mohns). For the first few years of his career Stan was a feisty player who often got into scraps. At 5’9” he wasn’t a particularly big guy and he learned that fighting was taking him away using his talents. He changed his game around and twice was awarded The Lady Bing Trophy which was given for good sportsmanship. Over his career Stan won the Hart Trophy twice as the league’s MVP. He won the Art Ross Trophy 4 times as the league’s leading scorer. He also played in 9 all-star games. A goal scorer, a great set up center, Stan could do it all. He is still my favourite hockey player of all time.

Stan Mikita in front of Red Wings net.
Bill “Red” Hay. #11
Back in 1960-61 Bill Hay was one of only a few players with a college background. He was the center on “The Million Dollar Line” with Murray Balfour and Bobby Hull as his wingers. His 8 year career was all spent in Chicago before he retired and went into the family oil business in Alberta.
Bill "Red" Hay.
Eddie Litzenberger. #12
In the late 1950s, Eddie Litzenberger was the best forward the Chicago Blackhawks had. For 3 straight years he had over 30 goal seasons. He was named team captain. By the time the 1960-61 season rolled around Litzenberger had been relegated to 3rd or 4th line center behind Hay and Mikita and played more of a defensive roll. He played a total of 7 seasons for the Hawks.

Eddie Litzenberger in 1950s uniform.
Eric Nesterenko. #15
Nesterenko was perhaps the most fascinating hockey player to ever lace up a pair of skates. He was originally a Toronto Maple Leaf and they had expectations that he might be the next Jean Beliveau. During his 15 years or so in Chicago Nesterenko was a defensive center often matched up with the opposing team’s best scoring line. A durable hockey player, his activities away from the rink were unlike any other hockey player, particularly in the variety of jobs he held in his life in both the off season and after the end of his hockey career. At one time or another he was a stockbroker, a skiing instructor, disk jockey, university professor, travel broker, and freelance writer. His life story would make an excellent movie. During part of his career he was actually a full time university student and didn’t travel with the team. Years ago I saw a documentary show on TV where they did a segment on Nesterenko. They showed him doing figure eights at an ice rink by himself late at night after he had retired from hockey. If I had to choose one word to describe Nesterenko it might be “cerebral”. This guy was one fascinating dude.

Eric Nesterenko checking Rocket Richard.
 Tod Sloan. #9
Tod Sloan spent 8 years with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1950s. He 1958 he was shipped off to Chicago. It is thought that his exile to Chicago was due to his involvement in trying to form a player’s union. In Chicago he was an elder statesman and in his early 30s when Chicago won the cup in 60-61. It was his last year in professional hockey. For some unknown reason his name on the Stanley Cup says Martin A. Sloan.

Tod Sloan.
Bobby Hull. #16
He was one of the all-time greats in hockey.” He had big time name recognition like Howe, Richard, Orr, Gretsky, and Lemieux. “The Golden Jet”, he was the first hockey player to get a million dollar contract. With his explosive slap shot he terrorized opposing goalies. I once heard a story about him winding up to take a slap shot and Boston goalie Gerry Cheevers ducking behind a defenceman so he wouldn’t get hit with the puck. Hull played for the Chicago Blackhawks for 15 years and it would be hard to blame him for going for the money and jumping to the upstart WHA. He never played a game in the the minors and it didn’t take him long to establish himself as an NHL superstar. He was a big part of the Hawk’s 1960-61 Stanley Cup win. When I was a kid he was my idol. Unfortunately, in later years, I lost some respect for him when I heard stories about his involvement with domestic abuse. There is hockey and there is real life . His brother Dennis was said to have had as good of a slap shot as Bobby’s. His son Brett became a superstar in his own right.

Bobby Hull.
 Kenny Wharram. #17
Kenny Wharram kicked around the minors for 7 or 8 years before coming up to the Blackhawks to stay. At only 5’9” and 155 lbs. he was still a feisty guy who dug in the corners and went to the net. In the 11 years he spent with the Hawks almost all of that time was as a winger to center Stan Mikita. In his last year with the Hawks he had 30 goals but was forced to retire at training camp the following year when it was discovered that he had heart problems.

Kenny Wharram next to #21 Stan Mikita.
Ab McDonald. #14
Ab McDonald joined the Blackhawks in the 1960-61 season and became the right winger on the Scooter Line with Stan Mikita as his center. He came over from the Montreal Canadiens where he had been a part of two Stanley Cup championships. The Stanley Cup win with Chicago was his 3rd in a row. He later went on to play for several other NHL teams. He finished his career in the WHA.

Ab McDonald with Glenn Hall.
Murray Balfour. #8
He was one of two brothers who were forwards for the Hawks in 1960-61. He played on a line with Bobby Hull and Red Hay. He had a short NHL career that lasted about 5 years. His best year was 1960-61 when he scored 21 goals.
Murray Balfour.
Earl Balfour. #20
He had a fairly short NHL career and played in less than 300 games. In his best year he potted 10 goals. He was a defensive forward.
Earl Balfour
Ron Murphy. #10
Ron Murphy had a long NHL career playing almost 900 games. He spent 7 years with the Hawks. His best year was the 1960-61 season when he scored 21 goals.

Ron Murphy.

Players who were on the team but didn't play in the playoffs. Wayne Hicks, Chico Maki, Wayne Hillman, Denis Dejordy, Roy Edwards.
Chico Maki.
Rudy Pilous.
He coached the Chicago Blackhawks for six years starting in the 1957-58 season. Back then the original six only had one coach. Almost all of the coaches at the time including Punch Imlach, Toe Blake, and Rudy Pilous wore fedora hats behind the bench. In the year that Chicago won the cup the team finished 3rd in the league. Pilous later became the general manager of the expansion Oakland Seals team.
Rudy Pilous with Glenn Hall.
In my opinion there were 4 players that were the nucleus of the rebuilding of Chicago Blackhawks in the late 1950s. Glenn Hall, Pierre Pilote, Bobby Hull, and Stan Mikita.
After the Vancouver Canucks joined the NHL in 1970, the Blackhawks became my 2nd favourite team. It made sense to me. After all, there was almost no chance of Canucks going anywhere in the play-offs for close to 25 years after they came into the league.
Some of my favourite Blackhawk players over the years were Keith Magnuson who died way too young, the cigarette smoking scoring machine Denis Savard, and the off the wall Jeremy Roenick. Honourable mentions to Doug Wilson, Tony Esposito, Chris Chelios, Dennis Hull, Tony Amonte, Steve Larmer, Tom Lysiak, Pat Stapleton, Phil Russell, and Dirk Graham.
Who knows what the Blackhawk’s fortunes would have been if in 1967 they hadn’t traded away Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, and Fred Stanfield for Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte, and Jack Norris?

Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.

Funny thing. I've never actually been to Chicago. I've been close a few times while traveling across the US. I will have to put it on the bucket list.


Chicago, Chicago that toddling town

Chicago, Chicago I will show you around

Bet your bottom dollar you lose the blues in Chicago, Chicago

The town that Billy Sunday could not shut down


On State Street, that great street, I just want to say

They do things they don't do on Broadway

They have the time, the time of their life

I saw a man, he danced with his wife

In Chicago, Chicago my home town





1 comment:

  1. Thanx for sharing Colin. WE must be around the same age. I have been a Hawk fan since early 60s. I was too young to remember back then. I do remember my dad shouting at the TV, "Go Bobby!" My dad met Hull in 1971 in Vancouver thru a Ford dealership awards meeting. I missed that b/c I was in Hawaii for 6 mos. I had the black and white photos of them shaking hands but lost it. I met Bobby a few times in Kelowna though.
    One thing, Ab McDonald was a LEFT winger on the Scooter Line. Mohns replaced him. Speaking of which, I noticed Ken Wharram just died last month. Jan. 2017. )= . The closest I ever got to Chicago was Kalamazoo,MI. That is where I got assaulted in 1970 on my way there. )= There will NEVER be another stadium like the "Madhouse On Madison". I am also from Vancouver and went to a lot of Blackhawk/Canucks games at the Pacific Mausoleum. lol Nice blog!