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60 years ago, Ivan changed the Blackhawks' fate

by Brad Boron / Chicago Blackhawks
Tommy Ivan (left, with Billy Reay) oversaw a hockey renaissance in his tenure as Blackhawks general manager (Chicago Blackhawks Archive).

On July 8, 1954, then-Blackhawks Chairman James D. Norris changed the future of his franchise forever when he brought Detroit’s bench boss, Tommy Ivan, to Chicago as the team’s new general manager. Over the next 25 years, with Ivan at the helm, the Blackhawks made a resurgence unlike anything that had been seen in the NHL to that point, turning the team into a perennial contender and putting Chicago back on the hockey landscape.

While Ivan made numerous contributions to the legacy of the Blackhawks, here are his five best moments at the helm.

1. Trading for Glenn Hall and Ted Lindsay in 1957

In desperate need of a goaltender, Ivan made what turned out to be one of the biggest trades in franchise history when he brought two Hall of Famers to Chicago from Detroit in exchange for Johnny Wilson, Forbes Kennedy, Bill Preston and Hank Bassen. Hall, the 1956 Calder Trophy winner, was the centerpiece of the deal, with the Blackhawks’ farm system short on goaltending depth, and he backstopped the team to the 1961 Stanley Cup championship. Lindsay's involvement in the trade was meant as a punishment: the four-time Stanley Cup champion was included because the Red Wings did not approve of Lindsay’s work with the fledgling players’ union.

2. Purchasing the Buffalo Bisons and St. Catharine’s Tee Pees

Acquiring NHL talent from other teams was one thing, but finding the next generation of All-Stars was another. Fortunately, in the mid-1950s, Ivan’s eye for talent led him and the Blackhawks to purchase a minor-league team in Buffalo, where young defenseman Pierre Pilote learned his trade, and a junior team in St. Catharine’s, home to future stars Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Moose Vasko. It’s tough to say where the Blackhawks would have been without the investments that Ivan made, or where those legendary players would have played. Suffice to say, the history of Chicago hockey would have been very different.

3. The 1961 Stanley Cup Championship

Without a championship since 1938, but with a young core that Ivan had assembled which included Hull, Mikita, Pilote and Hall, the Blackhawks were on their way to big things. Although the 1960-61 team finished just third in the league, they knocked off the five-time defending champion Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Semifinals before beating the Detroit Red Wings to win the Cup. While Ivan won three championships as the Red Wings’ head coach, 1961 would be the only title he’d earn as general manager.

4. Hiring Rudy Pilous and Billy Reay

Almost from the team’s inception, Blackhawks head coaches aged about as well as Spinal Tap’s drummers, and were replaced almost as regularly. But it should come as no surprise that two of the Blackhawks’ longest-tenured coaches coincided with one of the team's most successful eras. Pilous (1957-63) oversaw the building of a perennial power, coaching the Blackhawks to a championship in 1961 and another Cup Final in 1962. Reay (1963-77), his successor, became the franchise's winningest head coach, earning 516 coaching victories in 14 seasons and taking the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cup Final appearances (1965, 1971, 1973).

5. Acquiring Tony Esposito in 1969

Claimed for just $25,000 from the Montreal Canadiens, Ivan acquired one of the greatest goaltenders of his generation for next to nothing in the summer of 1969. The investment paid immediate dividends: Tony O. recorded 15 shutouts in his rookie season on the way to the 1970 Calder Trophy. The future Hall of Famer would backstop the Blackhawks from 1969-84, compiling a record of 423-306-151, while winning the Vezina Trophy three times and making the NHL First or Second All-Star Teams five times. Esposito’s No. 35 hangs in the rafters, and he still holds the majority of Chicago’s goaltending records.

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