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PIGEON RIVER… Stan Mikita. For any old time observers of hockey or historians of the game, those two words will bring a smile to your face and a remembrance of what greatness on and off the ice looked like. Stan passed away last Tuesday the 7th at the age of 78. Sadly, his mind passed away a few years back, the victim of Lewy body dementia, and now, his physical being has succumbed to old age. His passing was a showing of mercy from the Hockey Gods, they knew it was time for Stan, his cognitive abilities had been drained from him, he was a mere shell of the vibrant person we knew and admired for so long. Mikita was the embodiment of good guy on and off the ice, admired by friends and by foes.
In my very first hockey viewing experience ever, I got to see a Chicago Blackhawk-Montreal Canadien game back in January of 1961. It was a Sunday game of the week and I was watching on an old, small black and white TV we had. The game ended in a 1-1 tie and all I can say is that I was mesmerized by what I just saw and couldn’t wait to see it again. Montreal would become my all time favorite (they give me a headache currently) and I pulled for the Hawks as well, even after the NorthStar’s descended upon the Twin Cities. They had Stan and Bobby Hull, they were two of my favorite players and I wasn’t changing! Finally, during the NorthStar-Hawk wars of the 1980’s that was it for me. There would be no more Hawk cheering. Times changed, favorites retired and that was that.
But my admiration of Mikita? That will never go away. You must know what a great player this man was to appreciate what he accomplished. He is easily the greatest Blackhawk ever. On the list of league records he ranks 14th in points, 18th in assists, 31st in goals and 40th in games played. He is the only player in league history to win the Hart, (MVP) Art Ross, (scoring) and the Lady Byng (gentlemanly play) trophies in the same season and accomplished that feat two seasons in a row. He won one Stanley Cup in 1961, was an NHL All Star 14 times out of his 21-season career, was named to Team Canada for the legendary 1972 Summit Series, was the first Hawk ever to have his jersey retired and was inducted into the HHOF in 1983 after retiring in 1980. And that’s not the whole list folks.
Stan was an innovator. After an ear injury he was credited with being one of the early players to don a helmet, a bubble style shell that he designed himself. He was credited for being the accidental inventor of the curved stick blade when his own stick was caught in a door going on to the rink for practice one day leaving it in a not-so-straight form any longer. But he discovered that he really liked the new-found abilities that this stick seemed to possess. From there he experimented with a torch to heat the blade to obtain the curve he desired. He and teammate Hull tore up the league with those sticks and soon everyone was copying them. I began to curve my own sticks at home over the stove until it got out of control one time, stunk up the house and when my folks got home, that was it for the indoor stick doctoring. The NHL soon limited blade curves to one half inch in 1970 as a response to the Mikita-Hull phenom.
After retiring Stan became a Golf pro at a local course, began the first hockey school ever for hearing impaired players and was engaged in a variety of successful business ventures. His easy-going nature and approachability gained him legions of fans wherever he went. I got to see him play the NorthStar’s at the Met Center many times and many more on televised tilts back in the day. Many in the hockey world issued statements on his passing last week but as touching as they all were, to me, the testament of the man’s greatness and bond with fans was in how many Mikita jerseys you can still spot in the crowds at the United Center on Hawk game nights. In fact, I tried to get a Mikita T-shirt on the night of his passing and most sites I checked were already sold-out. I’ll keep trying until I get one, and I will wear it proudly when I do. This is one player who is worth that, on and off the ice…
I USUALLY TAKE a break from hockey in the summer but thank you NHL Network for giving some great summer coverage for a couple of Junior hockey events. I recently took in the Team USA games at the 2018 World Junior Summer Showcase from Kamloops. UMD Coach Scott Sandelin was a member of Mike Hastings staff for the event. Representing the Bulldogs on the roster were D-men Matt and Mikey Anderson and Dylan Samberg. This event started out with two days of split squad games with the team losing to Sweden, then defeating Finland and the two Canadian clubs. The team was 2-0 until meeting up with Canada again in the 3rd game in as many days and dropped a wild decision 6-5. To the Yanks credit they were down 5-1 in the 2nd, made a goaltending change and roared back. This was a good test to see where the team was at going into the next World Junior event…
THE HLINKA-GRETZKY U18 tourney took place last week and Team USA came away without a medal through no fault of their own. The club won an exhibition game, then went 2-1 in three prelim tilts. And then in what can only be termed a bizarre ending of a semi-final game versus Canada, the teams had a seesaw affair until the US entry went ahead in the 3rd by a 5-4 tally. Canada pulled for a sixth skater and then thought they had scored the equalizer, but time had run out and that was verified by broadcast replays. Prior to the event all involved agreed that since the TV and replay capabilities weren’t the same at all 3 tourney venues, that replay would not be used, and referees on-ice decisions would be final. They signaled goal, and after a US blitz early in the OT frame Canada had an up-ice rush and scored off a drop pass for a 6-¬5 win that they clearly had no business receiving. The US lost a nail biter to Russia in the Bronze medal game and that was that. Since USA Hockey was classy in their handling of the faux pas, I have no choice but to do the same. *&^%$# See ya’ next week! PEACE