CHICAGO -- Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita says he couldn't hold a candle to either Patrick Kane or Jonathon Toews, the team's young stars of today.
"Talent-wise, I was nowhere near those guys," Mikita told NHL.com during a visit to check out how things were progressing at Wrigley Field just two days before the Winter Classic.
Stan Mikita may well be the best player to ever pull on a 'Hawk sweater -- he's definitely in the discussion -- so perhaps modesty got the better of him as he played up Chicago's current toasts of the town.
But Mikita remained adamant in his statement of modesty.
"You know what I like about them?" he asked. "They are so good with the puck. They don't get to the red line and just shoot it in. That is what was wrong with the NHL for a number of years. They hold onto (the puck) and make something happen."
Back in his playing days, Mikita could make something happen with the puck too. During a 22-year career with the Blackhawks, which ended in 1980, Mikita put up 1,467 points in 1,394 games. Mikita led the League in scoring four times and was named MVP twice.
During the prime of his career, Mikita teamed with Bobby Hull to give the Blackhawks the most feared offense in the League. Today, both players are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
But again, Mikita believes he finishes behind Hull when it comes to talent.
"I never considered myself to be in the same category as Bobby Hull," he said. "He was the spirit of our team."
In 1961, that dynamic duo led the Hawks to the Stanley Cup, the club's last championship. But now hope is alive again in the Windy City as Kane and Toews are leading the franchise's renaissance.
And the 68-year-old Mikita is as excited as anybody about these developments.
"I'm extremely proud of what I am seeing," says Mikita.
The Blackhawks have the third-best record in the Western Conference and are just four points behind the Stanley Cup champion Detroit in the race for the Central Division title. As a result fans are starting to believe that their club could be a legitimate threat to win its first title in almost 50 years.
Mikita is pleased with the team's place in the standings and the wins it has put together this season. But he is most pleased with the attitude the team, which is dominated by young players, brings to the rink every day. In fact, he says the 2008 Blackhawks are starting to look and sound like his Blackhawks of old.
"I love what I am hearing from the players," Mikita said. "When they talk after the game, it's always 'we,' never the word 'I.' They all have the same thought process.
"It's a great feeling for me to pick up the paper and see the captain (Toews), say that last year maybe only two or three guys would go out together for dinner and that number had grown to five or six by the end of the season. This year, it's 23 players all going to the same place."
For Mikita, that's all he needs to hear.
"That's what we did back in the day," he said. "That's how you become a team. Not so much at home, but on the road we would all go out together for dinner or whatever. We might not stay out together, but we'd all go together and we would have a team meeting or something if we had lost a few games. That's what you need to do as a team."
Mikita is excited to see the young Hawks take on the veteran Wings Thursday within the Friendly Confines in what should be an unforgettable contest. Mikita took in the scene Tuesday and was in awe of what he saw.
"I wish I could go out there and skate," he said. "I should have brought my skates."
After enduring some physical ailments a few years back, Mikita felt he was better off as a spectator than a participant.
"These days, I'd rather sit in the seats and watch it," he said, noting he expects to see a great show.
"It should be a lot of fun." Mikita said. "I can't wait!"
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor