Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - Stan Mikita - The Pinnacle
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It was a team effort that saw Stan Mikita, Glenn Hall and the Chicago Blackhawks capture the Stanley Cup in 1961, thus breaking Montreal's five-year stranglehold on the NHL championship.
"The big one was the Stanley Cup," nods Stan Mikita when asked to isolate one pinnacle in a career filled with superlatives. "It was a team effort. We weren't the best team that year but we were the best team in the playoffs."

Through the years, Chicago had been the dumping ground for players with whom other owners had become disgruntled with. But some of these players had allowed the Hawks to become competitive while their junior teams were nurturing the nucleus of young talent that would be at the core of the 1961 Stanley Cup championship. As veterans like Ted Lindsay, Jimmy Thomson and Gus Mortson moved on, a new group moved in — Bobby Hull, Bill Hay, Ken Wharram and Stan Mikita as well as Glenn Hall, who had come over from Detroit in the Ted Lindsay trade.

"We ended up in third place during the regular season," begins Stan. It was the third consecutive season in which Chicago would finish the season in third place. Their first opponents in the playoff round were the first place Montreal Canadiens. Montreal had won the Stanley Cup in each of the five previous seasons, and there was little belief that the Canadiens wouldn't collect a sixth. The Canadiens had finished the regular season with 92 points; Chicago with 75. "Without Glenn Hall, we wouldn't have gone anywhere at all, to be honest with you," Mikita states. "He was the guy who kept us in there. We were never much of a defensive team, but Glenn Hall was the big stopper for us."

During the 1960-61 playoffs, Mikita led all participants in scoring with 6 goals. His 11 points placed him fourth overall, behind Detroit's Gordie Howe and Chicago teammates Pierre Pilote
and Bobby Hull.
"We happened to gel at the right time. We were seventeen points behind Montreal in the standings. They were a hell of a team. Going into the playoffs, we said, 'We may not be able to beat these guys but let's give them a good shot,' so we did."

The Montreal Canadiens handed Chicago a 6-2 loss in Game One of the semi-final, but the Hawks rebounded in Game Two with a 4-3 win. Mikita scored one of the Chicago goals. "We somehow won one game out of the first two in Montreal. We went back to Chicago and Game Three went into three overtimes. It was 1-1 at the end of overtime. Murray Balfour got the winning goal and Glenn Hall stood on his head to keep the puck out." Balfour, in fact, scored both Hawk goals that evening, including the winner at fifty-two minutes of overtime with Montreal shorthanded.

The Canadiens bounced back and earned a decisive 5-2 win in Game Four, throwing sixty shots at Chicago netminder Glenn Hall. Stan scored one of the goals for the Blackhawks in the loss that evened the series at two games piece.

"We went back to Montreal for Game Five and Glenn Hall shut them out 3-0," recalls Stan, who scored one of the three goals. "We came back to Chicago for Game 6 and I'll be a son of a gun if the same thing doesn't happen. Back to back shutouts. Unheard of!" The mighty Montreal Canadiens had their dynasty ended by the upstart Chicago Blackhawks.

Chicago faced the Detroit Red Wings, who had toppled the Toronto Maple Leafs in their semi-final. "Not that it wasn't a hell of a series but the Stanley Cup final was an anticlimax," states Stan. Detroit had finished the regular season in fourth place in 1960-61.

Through seventy-eight seasons in the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks
have collected Lord Stanley's Cup three times
-- 1934, 1938 and Mikita's squad in 1961.
Chicago took Game One at home by a score of 3-2. Detroit evened the series with a 3-1 win in Game Two. Moving to Detroit, the Hawks were victorious in Game Three, winning 3-1, including another goal by Mikita. The seesaw battle continued, with Detroit edging Chicago 2-1 in Game Four. Stan led the way to a 6-3 Chicago win in Game Five, scoring two of the Hawk goals.

On April 16th, 1961, the Chicago Blackhawks dumped the Red Wings 5-1 to earn the Stanley Cup for the first time in twenty-three seasons. In fact, it was the first time in the Original Six era that a team had wrestled the Stanley Cup away from either Montreal, Toronto or Detroit. Chicago captain Ed Litzenberger accepted hockey's most prestigious trophy from NHL president Clarence Campbell, with the crowd at Detroit's Olympia cheering enthusiastically for the visiting victors.

For Stan Mikita, it would be the only Stanley Cup championship in a sensational twenty-one season NHL career. "We went to the finals four or five other times and we got beaten in the seventh game once or twice," he sighs. "I'm very proud to be on a Stanley Cup winner. There are a lot of great players who never had the chance to do it."

Kevin Shea is Hockey Hall of Fame's Manager of Editorial Services and Publishing.