For any aspiring hockey player, there are two dreams to play in the National Hockey League and to win the Stanley Cup. Pierre Pilote achieved the first dream when he stepped onto the ice wearing a Chicago Black Hawks' sweater in 1955-56. He achieved the latter when his Hawks surprised the hockey world and won the Stanley Cup during the spring of 1961. For Pierre, it would be the only Stanley Cup championship he would win during his remarkable fourteen season NHL career, and is the pinnacle of his hockey career.
With the exception of 1956-57, when they finished second, the Montreal Canadiens finished first each year between 1955-56 and 1959-60, and won five consecutive Stanley Cup championships during that time. There was little reason to believe that 1960-61 would be completed with any differing results. By the end of the regular season, Montreal had again finished first, compiling 92 points. Toronto snuck in behind with 90 points while Chicago (75 points) and Detroit (66 points) captured the final two playoff berths.
Looking at the roster, although there are stars littered through the lineup, the statistics for the 1960-61 Black Hawks didn't exactly evoke fear in the competition. Bill Hay, the team's leading scorer, finished with 59 points. Bobby Hull, who scored 31 goals, collected 56 points while Stan Mikita had 53. Pierre Pilote scored 6 goals and added 29 assists for 35 points, and earned a berth on the NHL's Second All-Star Team. But Pilote credits another player -- a player who scored just two goals and had but 19 points as the reason Chicago succeeded in 1960-61. "The Canadiens traded Dollard St. Laurent to us in Chicago. He had been a winner in Montreal," explains Pierre. "Dollard talked about the championship clubs in Montreal and that rubbed off on us. He was instrumental in our success. We went at it together. We were team players, not individuals. Dollard was instrumental in getting the team together."
The Black Hawks met the Canadiens in the first playoff round, and prognosticators were already prepared to hand Montreal the Cup for a sixth straight spring.
Game 1 was a 6-2 Montreal win, with Pierre Pilote scoring an unassisted goal very late in the second period. But the Hawks edged the Canadiens 4-3 in Game 2, with Pierre assisting on Eddie Litzenberger's game-winning goal.
Moving to Chicago for Game 3, the Hawks again edged Montreal, this time by a count of 2-1 that was finally decided on Murray Balfour's goal at 12:12 of a third overtime. Pilote assisted on the critical marker.
Montreal re-asserted themselves and came up with a strong game in Game 4, which concluded with a 5-2 Canadiens victory. Pierre collected yet another point, a second period assist on Stan Mikita's goal.
The Hawks returned to Montreal for Game 5 and left with a 3-0 shutout, with Pilote assisting on two of Chicago's goals. Back to Chicago for Game 6 and the Hawks earned a second straight 3-0 win, eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champions in dramatic fashion and giving the Black Hawks a berth in the Stanley Cup final. For the sixth consecutive game, Pierre Pilote earned a point; an assist Bobby Hull's second period goal.
"When we went into Montreal, we really played well," emphasizes Pilote. "Then, when we played Detroit, we just walked over them."
The Stanley Cup final saw the Chicago Black Hawks face Detroit's Red Wings. The series opened in Chicago with a 3-2 Black Hawk victory. Pierre Pilote again earned an assist, this time on Bobby Hull's second goal, the eventual winner, in the first period. Detroit dumped Chicago 3-1 in Game 2, with Pilote scoring the lone Chicago goal in a contest played in Detroit. Game 3, played in Chicago, was a 3-1 Hawk final and Pilote earned two second period assists.
Detroit snuck out a 2-1 win in Game 4 that not only set Chicago back on their heels but concluded Pilote's consecutive game point streak at 9 games, collecting 11 points. Game 5 saw Chicago double Detroit 6-3 with Pilote contributing two assists and a goal when his shot deflected off Detroit's Warren Godfrey and passed Terry Sawchuk into the Red Wing goal.
The Chicago Black Hawks earned their first Stanley Cup since 1938 when they spanked the Red Wings 5-1 in Detroit on April 16, 1961. For Pierre Pilote, who earned another assist, it left him with a playoff-best 15 points, comprised of 3 goals and 12 assists.
The Black Hawks were snowed in in Detroit that night, so owner James Norris invited everyone to his hotel room for a Stanley Cup celebration. "The Black Hawks have come in four years from drinking beer in the cellar to drinking champagne in the penthouse," wrote one hockey reporter at that time.
"We had a pretty good season. We hit our peak in the playoffs," says the Hall of Fame defenseman. "Sometimes, the most talented club does not win. It depends on how the club plays for one another."
The Chicago Black Hawks had accomplished the unthinkable, stopping the Montreal Canadiens and capturing the Stanley Cup. The talent on the team was just maturing, and the future looked very bright indeed for the Hawks. "We should have won a few more championships but it didn't happen," sighs Pilote. The next season, three Hawks finished top ten in scoring, but Montreal again finished first and the Toronto Maple Leafs started a string of three straight Stanley Cup championships. In fact, the Hawks wouldn't finish first until 1966-67, and have yet to win another Stanley Cup. But that's the joy of sports anything can happen on any given night.
Kevin Shea is the Manager of Publishing and Editorial Services for the Hockey Hall of Fame.