August 07, 2018
Stan Mikita: High Flying Hawk
Born in Sokolce, Czechoslovakia, Stan Mikita was the first Czechoslovakian-born player in the NHL. Born Stanislaus Gvoth, he was adopted by his aunt and uncle and he moved with them to Canada at the age of 8 in order to escape poverty and the growing communist movement.
Stan, as he became known in Canada, knew nothing of hockey when he came over to Canada, but he became intrigued when saw some neighborhood kids playing on a local pond and on the streets. Although he didn't know much English or how to skate, he soon fell in love with the game.
He would soon join organized hockey and develop into one of the top prospects in the game. As a teenager he would join Chicago's junior team in St. Catherines. Following an outstanding junior career with Tee Pees, Mikita would star in the NHL for 22 seasons as a center for the Hawks from 1958 to 1980.
Described as hockey's ultimate playmaker, his skill and finesse game was often overlooked by his vicious stick work and aggression. Hall of Fame defenseman Bill Gadsby once described Mikita as "a miserable little pain in the butt. He'd cross-check you, he'd spear you in the belly. You'd be going around the back of the net, and he'd spear you in the calf. Down you'd go."
Despite that reputation, never doubt just how a great of player he was.
His coach, Billy Reay, was understandably a big fan of Mikita.
"I have to say that I have never seen a better center. Maybe some could do one thing better than Stan, like skating faster or shooting harder. But none of them could do all the things that a center has to do as well as Stan does. And very few of them came close to being as smart as he is. He's about the brightest hockey player I've ever seen. He's a hard nosed hockey player. One of his biggest assets is that he has got a lot of pride."
Mikita didn't exactly set the league on fire in his first two seasons in the NHL, but did show nice creativity with Bobby Hull as the Hawks emerged from their decade long doldrums in the early 1960s. By the playoffs of 1961, Mikita led all goal scorers with six and was a key reason behind the franchise's first Stanley Cup win since 1938.
The following season Mikita emerged as an elite NHL skater as he joined new linemates Ken Wharram and Ab McDonald on the original Scooter Line. That year he scored 77 points and was voted onto the NHL First All-Star Team. Mikita enjoyed an outstanding post-season with 21 points in 12 games, however the Hawks failed to repeat as Cup champs when Toronto beat them in the finals.
In 1963-64, he won his first Art Ross Trophy with 89 points and duplicated the feat the next year with 87 points despite accumulating a career high 154 PIMs. By this time, Doug Mohns had replaced McDonald on the Scooter Line and helped the unit attain even greater heights. In 1964-65, the team also reached its third Stanley Cup finals of the decade but the Hawks lost to the Montreal Canadiens.
Mikita would soon prove his greatness. Playing in his 8th NHL season, Stan Mikita turned in one of the greatest seasons in NHL history in 1966-67, becoming the first player to capture three major individual trophies. Not only did he win his third league scoring title, tying the then-NHL single season record of 97 points and setting a new high mark with 62 assists, he also captured the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. Unexpectedly, at least prior to the start of the season, Mikita, one of the NHL's top hatchet men, won the Lady Byng trophy for gentlemanly play and sportsmanship. Straddled with a well deserved reputation for dirty play, "Stosh" had always been among the league leaders in penalty minutes, registering four 100 PIM seasons. But Mikita vowed to change his ways when his young daughter could not understand why he played that way.
While some pundits of the day championed Mikita's amazing season as the most dominant in NHL history, many simply couldn't fathom what he had accomplished. Mikita proved his season was no fluke, repeating the same trophy hat trick in 1967-68. Mikita's scoring title was his 4th in 5 seasons.
An 8 time all star, Mikita is the Blackhawks all time leading scorer with 541 goals, 926 assists and 1467 points in 1394 games. A serious back injury in 1969 would hamper Mikita's play for the remainder of his career, but he was always capable of a spectacular night.
One of his favorite memories in hockey would have to be the 1972 Summit Series. Though the cagey veteran would get into only two games against the Soviets, he had his own unforgettable moment two days after Paul Henderson's famous goal. After leaving Moscow Canada was slated to play an exhibition game in Prague against the Czechoslovakian national team. Named captain for the game, Mikita enjoyed an emotional homecoming. For the first time in his long career he was able to play before his parents and siblings. He had visited his family several times once he could afford the expensive trip thanks to professional hockey, but had never performed in front of his family.
In retirement, Mikita started the Stan Mikita Hockey School for the Hearing Impaired.