Litzenberger was a National Hockey League player of significant repute in the 1950s and 1960s. Litzenberger was a rangy center who also played some right wing, known for his consistency and leadership abilities, much like Trevor Linden as a modern day comparable. At 6'3" and 195lbs, Litzenberger was a giant player in his era. He never played with a lot of snarl though. Litzenberger was known throughout the league as a gentlemanly figure on and off the ice who had everyone's great respect.
Litzenberger was a junior standout with the Regina Pats (twice helping the WHL team reach the Memorial Cup tournament). He was invited to the Montreal Canadiens training camp in 1952, although he certainly did not plan on a NHL career.
"I was supposed to be an engineer," he told Frank Pagnucco in the book Heroes: Stars of Hockey's Golden Era. "I went down to the University of Colorado and registered. Then I went to the Montreal training camp and they offered me a contract and I kind of forsook my college degree."
Litzenberger would play a couple of seasons with the senior league Montreal Royals while making a couple of call ups to the Canadiens. It was a big adjustment for the kid from Nedorf, Saskatchewan.
"It was a matter of growing up," Litzenberger continued. "When you're a big fish in a little pond and all of a sudden you're a little fish and there's an awful lot of big fish, you become confused. I found out in a week that I had grown up and that I was not only good but better than most of the guys."
Despite his promise, the Canadiens mysteriously "sold" Litzenberger's playing rights to the floundering Chicago Black Hawks. It was the "Help The Hawks Plan" as Litzenberger described it, a deliberate attempt by the NHL to stock the Chicago team with good players to rescue them from their terrible struggles.
"I cried real tears," said Litzenberger of the trade to Chicago. The night before he had scored the game winning goal for Montreal, and then his world was turned upside down. "You become a little bit of an instrument but I look back with affection. It gave me a chance to learn what (life) was all about."
Litzenberger was a significant factor in the Black Hawks resurgence, leading the way with class and distinction, not to mention goals.
Despite the mid-season trade Litzenberger would earn the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year, scoring 40 points in the final 40 games. Gangly but deceptive, he would go on to become a regular linemate of Bobby Hull (with Lorne Ferguson), a 6 time All Star Game participant and score 32 or more goals in three consecutive seasons.
Perhaps most importantly, he was the leader of the Hawks, named team captain, and he led by example with hard work and pure class. Though his scoring had dried up, he helped complete the Black Hawks return to glory by leading the team to the Stanley Cup championship in 1961!
Litzenberger had to overcome personal tragedy to enjoy that championship. A year earlier he and his wife were in a serious car accident, hitting a viaduct on icy roads. His wife, who was driving, died while he suffered cracked ribs, contusions of the liver, and a bad concussion.
After the Cup win, Litzenberger remarried but he was never the same player on the ice. The Hawks traded off their team captain after that Stanley Cup championship. Litzenberger briefly went to Detroit (playing in 32 games) before find a home in Toronto. It could not have been better timing for Litzenberger. His veteran presence helped secure the rise of the Toronto Maple Leafs dynasty. Litzenberger and the Leafs won the next three Stanley Cups - in 1962, 1963 and 1964!
By the third championship Litzenberger had become a bit player with the Leafs. He continued to play in a mentoring role with the Leafs farm teams in Rochester, where he would win two Calder Trophy championships in 1965 and 1966. Imagine that - Litzenberger is the only player who won a league championship title in six consecutive seasons!
Litzenberger sensed it was time to leave the ice in 1966. He retired with 178 goals and had 238 assists in 618 regular season games. In the playoffs he scored 5 goals and had 13 assists in 40 games.