CHICAGO -- It's the culmination of a reconciliation just about every Chicago Blackhawks fan thought was impossible not too long ago.
Now showing at the IMAX Theater at the Windy City's famed Navy Pier is a new film entitled "Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita -- Monuments to Excellence."
It's a well-produced 42-minute compilation that had its premiere showing on Tuesday night, with the legendary Hockey Hall of Famers in attendance. A celebration of their near-lifelong friendship and unforgettable hockey careers, it's also a nice capper to the repaired relationship between the famed pair and the team they once felt shunned by, for various reasons, for a span of decades.
Since Blackhawks President and CEO John McDonough reached out to Hull back in 2007, the duo became official team ambassadors, were honored on the ice and in a team-sponsored book, and this past fall had their likenesses bronzed and placed outside the United Center -- looking out across West Madison Street to where their old Chicago Stadium used to stand.
"It's been an amazing four years for Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita," McDonough said in giving the official introduction to the premiere showing of the film. "When I reached out to Bobby in December of 2007 about reconnecting with the Chicago Blackhawks after 35 or 36 years, I sensed on the other end of the line there was a little trepidation. So, I asked Bobby to come to Chicago."
That meeting, McDonough said, is what set all of the other wheels in motion for what's become a full-fledged revival of "Blackhawks Pride" in Chicago.
"When he came in my office he sat down and swore at me in Canadian, in English and in French," McDonough said in his premiere address. "But these were things that I needed to hear, and after a very short period of time, within about two weeks, we reconciled. We were also able to bring Stan Mikita back … and in many ways, oddly, Bobby acted as Stan's agent."
They were joined by fellow Hawks legends Tony Esposito and later Denis Savard as official team ambassadors, a job each seems eager to tackle -- signing countless autographs and mugging for photos with fans who remember them fondly.
Hull and Mikita, especially, have been honored by the Blackhawks several times over the past four years -- not only for their on-ice accomplishments but the lasting relationship with fans they built away from the rink.
Hull played 15 seasons in Chicago and won two Hart Trophies, three Art Ross Trophies and the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy once -- but it was the countless number of autographs he gladly signed that really helped endear him to Hawks fans. The same went for Mikita, who played 22 seasons for the Hawks and won two Hart Trophies to go with four Art Ross Trophies and a pair of Lady Byngs.
Now, the two old friends and teammates have a movie production worthy of the huge IMAX screen -- artfully produced by Blackhawks TV -- playing in their honor at Navy Pier, a popular tourist attraction. After the free-admission film is through in the theater, the Hawks also plan to make it available on DVD through the team's website.
"We always thought it'd be a half-hour show … now all of a sudden it's a movie," said Mikita, who also told reporters he's feeling good and was given a clean bill of health on Tuesday after a recent battle with oral cancer. "Wow … it took a lot of hard work. I know that. It was fabulous. It was the first time I saw it. I can't really say one part was better than the other or anything, but it was fantastic. Even if I'd had to pay for it, I would've enjoyed it."
The film details just about everything in their careers, from how they got started in hockey to how they both played for the same prep school in St. Catharines, Ont., to how they became Blackhawks. It also gives viewers a detailed look back at how they won the 1961 Stanley Cup together and what transpired for each in the years that followed -- including Hull leaving the Hawks after 15 seasons to play for the WHL's Winnipeg Jets in 1972-73, causing a big rift with now-deceased Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz.
Mikita played his entire career for the Hawks, but also felt unwelcome after his playing days -- which hurt the team's fans almost as much as it hurt the former stars. The guys they knew as "Stoche" and "The Golden Jet" were gone forever in fans' minds, never to be heard from again as Blackhawks.
Then came that phone call to Hull in 2007, after the elder Wirtz died and was succeeded by his son Rocky Wirtz -- who hired McDonough away from the Chicago Cubs to revitalize not only the Hawks but the sport of hockey in one of its oldest American markets. It's been quite a whirlwind since all of that happened.
There was the big reconciliation and prior to it the draft picks that netted future stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. There was also that 2010 Stanley Cup championship, which all Blackhawks ambassadors helped celebrate during a memorable victory parade that attracted an
estimated 2 million people downtown.
Each of the team's ambassadors received 2010 Stanley Cup rings, which is a bauble that Hull seems almost as proud of as the one he won as a Hawks player. Just five or six years ago, who could've dreamed that or any of the other cherished moments involving Hull and Mikita were even remotely possible?
Answer: McDonough, and maybe a few others. Nobody else, including Hull or Mikita.
"I never ever thought, first of all, that I'd be a Chicago Blackhawk again," Hull said prior to watching the premiere showing of "Monuments to Excellence." "I never ever thought that Stanley Mikita and I would be out on Madison Street, next to one another in bronze. And now … a movie? This is fabulous. These Chicago Blackhawks folks don't miss a trick and I'm very, very happy to be a part of it."
He's right about that, too.
The film was originally supposed to have fewer showings, but the Hawks added four more to accommodate the demand.
"Is that amazing [or what]?" mused Hull, who along with Mikita signed autographs and posed for photos with those invited to the premiere for more than an hour at a post-viewing reception. "That's just typical of the Chicago fans … how great they are and what they think of their players now and what they think of the people [who] played a number of years ago. I've always said that they're the most important people in our business, and this is proving it."