Stan Mikita doesn't know how many games he played against the Red Wings in his 22-year career, but the record shows he did a lot of damage. The Hall-of-Famer is Chicago's all-time regular season scoring leader against Detroit with 69 goals and 121 assists for 190 points.
Mikita understands the bitter rivalry between the Midwest-based Original Six franchises as well as anyone. He lived it, up to 14 times a season, sometimes in his home Chicago Stadium, others at the hostile Olympia Stadium.
Stanislaus Mikita played his first full NHL season in 1959-60, lucky enough to be one of the 130 or so full-time players in the league of six franchises. With a player pool that shallow, holding on to a roster spot was a battle of attrition.
Moments before teeing off on the first green on a balmy November day last month, Mikita took time to answer a question about the Blackhawks-Red Wings rivalry, and it didn't take him long to go off and running on a story that he wove with such clarity it seemed the incident took place yesterday.
"Early on in my career I had a personal meeting with Gordie (Howe) which was not a welcome meeting as far as I was concerned," Mikita began. "I made the mistake of accidentally cutting him under his chin. I went to hit him on the hands and the stick bounced off his gloves, came up and got him near his chin and cheek. He wasn't bleeding that hard, a few drips. Gordie looked at me, took his glove off, put his finger on his cheek, looked and saw blood, pointed the finger at me and said, 'You little bleep, I'll get ya.' Being the smart young kid I was, I told him, 'You're an old bleep, go get a wheel chair.'
"When we came into the dressing room for intermission, next to me was my left wing, Ted Lindsay, who spent 16 years with Detroit and he knew Gordie very well. He was sitting next to me and looks over and says, 'Stanley, you shouldn't have done that.' I said I didn't mean to hit him. Ted said, 'No, not that part. That was an accident. When you started yelling back at him and the part about being an old bleep, Gordie remembers stuff like that for a while, so watch yourself.' Looking back, it was very nice of Teddy to have that talk with me. So I finished the game and maybe had one other shift against Gordie.
"In the next four to six games against Detroit I made it a point to watch Gordie, but nothing happened. Later on, one night in Detroit, I remember I was on the ice going in to forecheck and Gordie was coming in off the off wing. We crossed paths in the middle of the ice in the end zone. Next thing I remember, I'm crawling on my hands and knees toward the bench. Someone picked me up and threw me and I went into the Detroit bench. Well, this was in Detroit, and the fans were going crazy. So I did make it to the Chicago bench and I'm next to a sharp guy named Denis DeJordy (the backup goaltender). He says, 'Hey, do you want to know the number of the truck that ran you over?' in his French accent. He says, 'I'm the only one in the place that saw anything. You go down ice, you make turn, and he threw fist in your face.' Well, I didn't go out for the rest of that period.
"Teddy looks at me and says, 'You're almost even with him. You better ask him if it's forgiven, or he may come at you again.'
"Next period, I see Gordie and he says out of the side of his mouth, 'Well kid, did you learn anything?' and he skated away. I watched him the rest of the time. In the third game after that incident, he said to me, 'I think you learned a few things in the last game,' and I said, 'Yes sir,' and that's the first time I called him sir."
In retrospect, Mikita was fortuitous to play next to Lindsay for so many reasons, as Lindsay was winding down a Hall of Fame career with the Blackhawks, exiled from Detroit by vindictive GM Jack Adams, who feuded with the star player.
"When I was in Chicago in 1959-60 for my first full year, Teddy my first left winger," Mikita said. "He had a helluva career. A great man, a belligerent little bleep. I can say that now because he's 85 and he can't catch me.
"He was the type of person who to play with or against was a job. That's his thing. It didn't matter how he did it, he was out to win. He was very tenacious, such a competitor, the ultimate competitor.
"He gave me a little saying and I'll never forget it. I said, 'Teddy, you played 16 years. How the hell did a salty bleep like you survive 16 years? He looked at me, and he talks out of the side of his mouth, and he said, 'Kid, hit them first.' I said, 'Oh, OK,' and that's how I played my first four or five years in the League. They tested you, they took shots at you."
In 1960-61, Mikita was on the team that brought Chicago its third and last Stanley Cup championship to date. To claim the hardware, the Blackhawks had to go through Montreal in the semifinals and Detroit in the Final, taking both series in six games.
"We had to beat Montreal to get that far, and our goalie, Glenn Hall, stood on his butt. I had never seen a goalie play that well in my life," Mikita said. "Against Detroit, we had the better of the play. We finished the season in third place, and they were fourth place.
"In Game 6, they went up 1-0. Reg Fleming scored the tying goal, shorthanded and Ab McDonald scored the winning goal.
"I didn't believe in the handshakes. After a game I went to the dressing room and sat in the shower. On my way out the arena I would walk past the visiting dressing room and find the captain and say congrats and look for the coaches and do the same thing. I did this an hour later when I was cooled off."
"In the days of the six team league, we saw each other 14 times a year, so you could really build up a rivalry without going overboard."