Ronald “Chico” Maki, who played his entire National Hockey League career with the Blackhawks, has died. He was 76.
Maki, a selfless performer on right wing and with specialty teams, joined the Blackhawks for a cameo role during their 1961 Stanley Cup championship. He returned to their Buffalo Bisons farm club in the American Hockey League that autumn, but was promoted to the parent club late that season and became a staple with the Blackhawks, for whom he played all of his 841 games in the NHL.
Maki’s 22 goals in 1970-71 was a career high, but his value to the group as a defensive stalwart and tireless checker was not in numbers. Witness the praise from then General Manager Tommy Ivan, who described Maki as “a good, honest, hard-working hockey player whose statistics don’t indicate how much he means to the Blackhawks.”
Maki became a regular in 1962, soon to become part of a line with Phil Esposito at center and Bobby Hull at left wing. Hull was always effusive in his praise of Maki, and for good reason. When Hull exploded for 54 goals in 1965-66, Maki assisted on 16, more than any other teammate, including Esposito.
“Chico, Phil and I were together all the time, including off the ice,” recalled Hull. “They knew how to bring out the best in me, and they made it a lot easier for me. I need the puck, and they got it to me. Guys I played with always did that. Bill Hay and Murray Balfour were terrific, but Phil and Chico might have even been better. The day Phil, Chico and I were put together in 1964, we went on a 13-game winning streak. I’d like to think there weren’t many better lines than ours.”
Maki came to the Blackhawks from a familiar pipeline, the St. Catharines Tee Pees junior affiliation where Hull and Stan Mikita, among others, honed their skills. Maki was voted AHL rookie of the year with Buffalo in 1960-61, when he registered 30 goals and 42 assists. With the star-studded Blackhawks, no job was too big or too small for Maki, a trait that endeared him to Coach Billy Reay.
“I trust Chico to do anything out there,” praised Reay.
Maki’s brother Wayne played briefly with the Blackhawks. In 1974, he passed away from a brain tumor. Later, Chico’s young son was seriously injured in an accident at the family farm in Ontario. Chico announced his retirement and missed the entire 1974-75 season. But at the behest of Reay, Chico returned to the Blackhawks late in the 1975-76 regular season and for the playoffs.
Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Chico was almost never referred to by his given name, Ronald. As he explained, his mother was a big fan of the Marx Brothers comedy movies. Groucho achieved the greatest fame among them, but Chico was his mother’s favorite.
“So, I became Chico early,” said Maki.
At the 1972 NHL All-Star Game, his second in a row and third overall, Maki was part of a record contingent from the Blackhawks that included Hull, Mikita, Dennis Hull, Pit Martin, Pat Stapleton, Bill White, Keith Magnuson and Tony Esposito – nine players, plus Reay, who coached the East Division. Bobby Hull scored the first goal, assisted by his industrious sidekick, Chico Maki.