Ab McDonald scored one of the most important goals in the history of the Blackhawks, and, appropriately, it was more about the art of work than a work of art.
On April 16, 1961, the Blackhawks led the Stanley Cup Final, three games to two, and were tied with the Red Wings, 1-1, in Game 6 at Detroit's Olympia. Reggie Fleming had given the visitors a mighty boost with a shorthanded goal. Then, late in the second period, Bobby Hull, wearing No. 16, burst toward the Red Wings' net. Neither he nor goalie Hank Bassen gained control of the puck, so McDonald, a burly winger, entered a crowd and nudged home a tiny tap-in at 18:49 to afford the Blackhawks a 2-1 advantage. Hull assisted, along with Stan Mikita, and the Blackhawks never looked back.
They collected three more goals in the third period to romp, 5-1, and the Blackhawks earned their first Stanley Cup since 1938. A blizzard in Chicago confined the victors to Detroit for the evening, but since sleep became optional, they required only one hotel ballroom for the celebration. Goalie Glenn Hall, who authored a fabulous postseason, was properly treated as the most valuable individual in the Blackhawks' unlikely run. But McDonald not only bagged the winner, he emerged as a prophet.
"We can go all the way with this team… we can win the Stanley Cup."
McDonald uttered those words early that winter, to a largely disbelieving audience. Mikita, 20, expressed surprise but noted the estimable pedigree of McDonald, who had won three consecutive Cups with the Montreal Canadiens before being traded to the Blackhawks, along with Fleming, in a massive nine-player deal in June 1960. McDonald joined Mikita and Ken Wharram on the "Scooter Line" that helped the Blackhawks emerge from a dark decade toward mission implausible.
"We spent a lot of time together, and Ab was a great leader," Mikita recalled. "We would gather for lunch and he'd draw plays on cocktail napkins."
On real paper, however, the Blackhawks were considered no match in the opening round against the dynastic Canadiens, who sought their sixth straight Cup. They drew the third-place Blackhawks, and what ensued was a colossal upset. Tied 1-1 in the series, the Blackhawks downed Montreal, 2-1, in an epic triple-overtime settled by Murray Balfour's goal. So contentious was the mood that Toe Blake, the Canadiens' coach, left the Stadium ice and took a swing at Referee Dalton McArthur, accruing a $2,000 fine - big money in those days.
The Canadiens won Game 4, but Hall proved impregnable thereafter, recording two 3-0 shutouts. The Blackhawks were on to Detroit, where McDonald registered the clincher by being in the right place at the right time.
McDonald was dealt to the Boston Bruins in 1964 for Doug Mohns, who replaced him on the "Scooter Line." McDonald went on to become the first captain of the expansion Pittsburgh Penguins in 1967, and in 1972 the first captain of the World Hockey Association Winnipeg Jets. He scored the first goal for the Jets, who had obtained another rather formidable left wing, Hull. But it was McDonald's opportunistic score in 1961 that forever will be part of the Blackhawks' lore. He had achieved his fourth straight Stanley Cup, and he called it months before that night to remember.