What a wild summer it was in 2010. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years, and they certainly benefited from the team’s success at the NHL’s postseason awards. Duncan Keith was named the Norris Trophy winner, Jonathan Toews won the Conn Smythe, and the team was very well represented at the league’s awards ceremony.
When the Blackhawks opened the season this year, in arguably the most emotionally powerful moment for the franchise in the United Center, members of the 1961 championship team handed the banner to the remaining players from the 2010 champions to skate across the ice to have placed in the rafters.
On Sunday night, the 1961 team will be honored as a group with their Heritage Night. The differences between the last two championship teams are striking.
In 1961, the NHL was still only the Original Six, and those Blackhawks finished third. The playoffs back then included the top four of the six teams; those Hawks only needed to win two series to hoist the Cup.
The Hawks of 1961 are remembered as being loaded with great players, but none of them won a league-wide award. Goaltender Glenn Hall was the only netminder in the league to start all 70 games, and finished third in goals against average (2.51). He didn’t wear a mask at that point, and was in the midst of his NHL record 502 consecutive games played streak, which is still the standard between the pipes.
Pierre Pilote, eventually a Hall of Famer, did not win the Norris Trophy that season. It was his sixth season in the league, and he tallied 35 points (six goals, 29 assists) and 165 penalty minutes in 70 games.
That was Stan Mikita’s third season in the NHL, and it was really the first time that Mikita showed himself to be among the elite scorers in the game. He had posted only 26 points in 67 games in 1959-60, but exploded to 53 points (19 goals, 34 assists) in 66 games during the ’60-’61 season.
The opposite was true for Bobby Hull. “The Golden Jet” was in his fourth season in the league that year, and was coming off an 81 point, 39 goal campaign. His production fell off to only 56 points on the Cup winners, and he failed to rank among the top top ten in the league in scoring.
Of course all three of those skaters would join their netminder in the Hall of Fame.
Ab McDonald scored the Cup-winning goal in 1961, and wasn’t nearly as dramatic as Patrick Kane’s skate-off overtime winner was last year. It was in the second period of 5-1 win that McDonald scored the game-winner… after Hull ran over Detroit’s goalie and left the puck on the doorstep for a tap-in.
Ed Litzenberger was the captain that year, which would be his last with the Blackhawks. He scored 32 points in 62 games and was overshadowed by the other captain in the Finals that year, Detroit’s Gordie Howe.
Of course the world has evolved since 1961, and the Blackhawks organization has certainly seen it’s share of changes since then. Many of the legends from that team wouldn’t have dreamed of returning for an event like a Heritage Night while Bill Wirtz was still controlling the organization, but the the attendance of these icons is yet another testimony to the incredible work the current management group has done to repair ties with the former players.