Chicago Blackhawks: Stan Mikita passes away

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The greatest Hawk of them all lost his battle with dementia at 78, leaving behind an unapproachable legacy. 

Most Chicago Blackhawks fans these days never saw Stan Mikita play. I didn’t, as his last game was before I was born. But you didn’t have to see Mikita play to know what he meant to Hawks fans who did and to the Hawks themselves, or the NHL. Throughout every turn of Mikita’s career, he didn’t just play for the Hawks. He was the Hawks.

The records are there, and they speak volumes. The only man to win the Hart Trophy (MVP), Art Ross (leading scorer), and Lady Byng Trophy in the same season. And he did it twice. The Hawks’ all-time leading scorer. And their career-leader in assists. Four games shy of 1400 in the league (regular season), most of it at a time where the sport could resemble prison roller derby. There wasn’t anything on the ice he couldn’t do.

For more recent fans, Mikita was introduced as an ambassador or living legend. But the stories from press and fellow fans alike simply gushed around about what a gentleman he was, and how he had time for everyone who made time for him.

The words “dignity” and “class” were permanently attached to him, which makes it a hard juxtaposition and a shame that he was almost always positioned next to Bobby Hull, who wouldn’t find either of those things if he were on a high-speed train for weeks.

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While the image of Chicago as a gruff, blue-collar, make-you-earn-it town fades into caricature and farce these days, Mikita played at a time when that was the case, and perhaps the most gruff made their way into Chicago Stadium every night to see him. And Mikita’s game matched that attitude, as skilled as he was you wouldn’t exactly choose to go into the corners with him.

There are stories that Mikita and Bob Pulford, far too long the GM/Wirtz Errand Boy/Wandering Drunk of the Hawks, couldn’t be left in a room together for years after they were both done playing after so many faceoff battles on an NHL ice.

And much like Chicago, Mikita kept running up against more illustrious and celebrated opponents. He only ever won one Stanley Cup, because that was something reserved for the Montreal Canadiens in the Original 6 days. Without them, perhaps he could have found a few more.

Mikita also represented just how lost the Hawks became in the 90s, as Bill Wirtz turned them into a movie set depicting misery and indifference. You could have filmed a remake of “The Running Man” at the United Center from ’97 to ’07 if you wanted to. None of the Hawks legends wanted anything to do with Wirtz and in turn the Hawks.

And Mikita represented their rebirth, welcomed back into the fold just as soon as Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough took over. And while he was still able, you could find him in the UC, the best of what an athlete should be, signaling that it was a new time for the team and their fans, and they were both in it together.

There quite simply won’t be another one like him, and one so closely tied to the only team he ever knew. While it is a sad day, I can’t help but feel a small sense of relief that such a dignified man, who enriched the lives of so many if only for a minute or two, who accomplished so much will no longer have to suffer such an awful and debilitating condition. He deserved so much better, and I hope he gets it now.

Farewell, No. 21.