November 02, 2010

Ed Litzenberger Passes Away

Ed Litzenberger has passed away at the age of 78.

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.


Bruce said...

Outstanding post, Joe. I knew we could count on you.

One add, that Litzenberger's career (and life) was profoundly changed in January of 1960 when he was involved in a car accident which claimed the life of his wife while injuring Ed himself. Searching the internet for the date of that I found a couple of references that alcohol may have been a factor, which would be complicating on a number of fronts. Litzenberger was pretty banged up, and was never the player after his return as he had been until then (top 6 NHL scorers the three previous seasons). Still, he went on to captain the Hawks in '61, then become a useful waiver pick-up and general utility player for the dynasty Leafs. He was just 31 when he played his last NHL game.

What strikes me as odd is how that traumatic event in 1960 is the exact dividing point in his career from individual success to team success. It's really quite extraordinary.

Anonymous said...

Great story - great player - great man. I'm pretty sure Al Arbour won the same six cups Litzenberger won. I know he won the two in Rochester with him and the one in Chicago. Pretty sure about the three in Toronto also.

Anonymous said...

One of the NHL's hidden treasures.
He played 73 games in 54/55 season,a record that held until the nhl expanded to 80gm season. He also held the American legue playoff record for most pts until just a few yrs ago. The Double Rinks Sat morning hockey boyz will dearly miss Coach Eddie. Rest in Peace Eddie. Your biggest Fan DD#27

Anonymous said...

One other interesting fact is that Ed won the Calder trophy in his rookie year and because he was traded from Montreal to Chicago, he is the only Calder winner to play for two teams his rookie year.

Anonymous said...

Eddie Litzenberger, what a guy we had plenty of laughs and was always intrigued by his stories and his passion for the game of hockey. I had the great pleasure of knowning him and talking to him for hours and spending some time with him. Well now he can again play hockey with all his friends and share hours of stories with his friends. Eddie you will be missed may you rest in peace have fun your family and friends will miss you. Great memories Eddie always.

Anonymous said...

I was stunned and sad to read of the passing of our "Captain" of the Hawks 1961 Stanley Cup Champions. If I remember correctly he scored the last goal that year and scored the winning goal for the dreaded Leafs versus our Hawks in 1961 that eliminated Chicago.
I remember him as a Canadien too. He was very good and showed promise. I became a Hawk fan when my favorite Canadien Dick Gamble went to the Hawks just before Ed. I stayed with the Hawks until 1992 when the Sens joined the league but the Hawks are my second team now. I watch most of their games and am a Jonathan Toews fan. My condolences to to the family. He was a great team player, an excellent player and an even greater man. I will miss him though we never met.