This is the second piece of a three-part written obituary series by Team Historian Bob Verdi on Stan Mikita, who passed away on Tuesday, Aug. 7.
Stan Mikita made his National Hockey League debut as an emergency callup during the 1958-59 season. Rudy Pilous, Stan's junior coach who had been promoted to the Blackhawks, summoned the prodigy to the big show. Against the Montreal Canadiens at the Stadium, Pilous tapped Mikita to take a faceoff against Jean Beliveau, a legend in the making.
"He was a towering presence on the ice, around 6-foot-5, had to outweigh me by 60 pounds," Mikita recounted in his "Forever A Blackhawk" autobiography. "I look up at him from the circle and I wound up staring at his belly button. That's how tall he was. My knees were shaking. My head was spinning."
Mikita won the draw, a harbinger for sure. In time, the rest of the hockey world was looking up to him. Still an amateur, Mikita returned after three NHL games to his St. Catharines Teepees junior team. Partaking of only 45 games because of an injury, he still won the league scoring title with 38 goals and 59 assists.
By 1959-60, Mikita had turned pro. He would never log a single shift in the minor leagues. He was ready for the Blackhawks, and the Blackhawks were ready for him. They were building a formidable roster with Glenn Hall in goal and a dynamic Bobby Hull, who had played with Mikita in St. Catharines, where they occasionally double dated. It was there that Pilous decreed the two prospects switch positions.
"Stan started out as on the right wing and I was a center," recalled Hull, who joined the Blackhawks in 1957-58. "Rudy decided that I was too dumb to be a center and Stan was too smart to be a winger."
As for the theory that the NHL would overwhelm Mikita because of his diminutive stature, Hull scoffed, "Stan is tougher than a night in jail."
Indeed, Mikita took no guff and frequently initiated it. When he won that OHA scoring title in 1958-59, he amassed 197 penalty minutes - again, in only 45 games. As a Blackhawk, Stan retained that feisty demeanor. When he earned his first Art Ross Trophy as leading scorer in 1964, he amassed 146 penalty minutes between 39 goals and 50 assists. In 1965, for his second Art Ross Trophy, Mikita registered 28 goals with 59 assists despite 154 minutes doing penance.
Fatherhood prompted a sea change in Mikita's motif, coupled with the realization that he did his team no good by accumulating infractions. It was Meg, Stan and wife Jill's first of four children, who rang the bell. A very young Meg watched the first period of a game on TV before bedtime. Stan was being his truculent self, prompting Meg to ask Jill, "Why does Daddy always sit by himself? Why doesn't he sit with friends, like Uncle Kenny (Wharram) and Uncle Bobby?" Kids say the darndest things, but upon returning to Chicago when Stan heard of his daughter's perceptive analysis, it hit home. Stan reasoned that he really should cut back on the unnecessary antics, especially those misconducts accrued from chirping at officials. In 1965-66, Stan's penalty minutes dropped from 154 to 58, then to a mannerly 12 the next season, followed by a benign 14 in 1967-68. John Ashley, a grizzled referee, meandered over to Mikita one evening and felt his forehead as if to ascertain why the former hellion was suddenly behaving so politely.
In 1967 and 1968, Mikita received the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player in the NHL, his third and fourth Art Ross trophies as leading scorer (97 and 87 points, respectively) and the Lady Byng Trophy for superior performance plus exemplary sportsmanship. No individual ever reaped those three honors in the same season, let alone consecutive seasons, and nobody has done it since.
Early in his remarkable career, Mikita pivoted for two iterations of "The Scooter Line." In the spring of 1960, the Blackhawks swung a massive trade with the Canadiens. Ab McDonald, who won three Stanley Cups there, came to Chicago and seamlessly fit onto a line with Mikita and Wharram. In 1961, they were instrumental in the Blackhawks' first Stanley Cup since 1938 by beating the Detroit Red Wings in the Final.
In 1964, McDonald was dealt to the Boston Bruins, who sent Doug Mohns to the Blackhawks. He was a defenseman, but possessed such offensive acumen that he soon moved up to play with Mikita and Wharram. Thus evolved the second "Scooter Line." Both versions were among the most effective in the NHL.
On October 19, 1980, having retired after playing his entire career with the Blackhawks, Mikita became the first player in franchise history to have his number (21) retired. The Stadium rocked that night as an emotional Mikita thanked all. In 1983, Mikita and Hull were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"After that, I thought I was probably done with the Blackhawks," mused Mikita. "Fortunately, I was wrong."