But you have to start somewhere, and the Scooter Line is as good a place as any. In a Boston hotel room on the night after an easy 5-2 victory Mikita was sitting at the head of his bed, shirt and shoes off and legs stretched out in front of him. Wharram, his roommate, sat down in a wooden rocking chair—a mistake that immediately inspired Mikita, who is 26, to call his 33-year-old right wing "the old man." There was a tub full of beer on a room-service tray near the bed, and every once in a while one of them would get up to open another round. With the next day off, they were unwinding from the evening's efforts.
"You know," said Mikita, "the funny thing is, everybody thinks we're magicians or something, when all we really do is make the obvious plays. We don't do anything unorthodox or surprising. We just keep skating, and each of us knows where the other guys will be."
It began to sound very simple. Just skate—it helps if you can skate as fast as Mikita, Wharram and Mohns—and pass to predetermined spots and then score. Oh, yes, you had better throw in a few thousand hours of practicing and talking about strategy and analyzing mistakes.
To locate one another in the right spots, the Scooters do a lot of yelling on the ice. This probably offers a dim form of comfort to their opponents, since it at least indicates that, for all their machinelike efficiency, they are human. But it also helps them score. As soon as one man gets free for a shot, he shouts the nickname of the man with the puck. Wharram is "Whip," Mikita is "Kita," Mohns is "Mohnsie." "If you shout once," says Wharram, "it means you think you have a little time. But if you're in a scramble you yell twice: 'Kita! Kita!' Then he knows he has to rush."
Their studied teamwork had been evident throughout that evening's game, and especially on one power play. Mohns had gone into the corner and slapped the puck out to Wharram. Wharram faked a pass to Mikita near the net, then slid it back to Hull at the point. Bobby gave it to Pilote, and Pilote finally got it to Mikita in front. End of overture. Mikita took over. He made one fake, then paused as Bruin Goalie Ed Johnston lunged forward. Another fake and Johnston was off balance. Then Mikita fired a shot under the goalie's legs into the net. "I think," Mikita admitted, "it was as good a goal as I've scored all year." It had been his 30th, and the 77th for members of his line.
The Scooters like to describe their success in terms of group effort—and that is certainly the main factor. But it also happens that these are three brilliant individual players. Mikita can do everything very well, and some things—stickhandling and playmaking—better than anyone else. He is also a fierce competitor and a leader. Now in his eighth full season with Chicago, he says, "I'm a better hockey player than I've ever been."
Wharram is not as smooth a stick-handler, but he is very fast and has a hard, accurate shot. Mohns, the most recent addition to the line, is the heaviest of the three—175 pounds compared to 163 for Wharram and 161 for Mikita—and adds checking power. Because he was a defenseman during most of the 11 years he played with Boston, people tend to think of him as a weak scorer. Weak scorer Mohns has already put in 23 goals and ranks among the league's top 10.
When he was traded to Chicago in 1964, Mohns was supposed to play defense. But he suffered several injuries, and when he was ready to play Reay was undecided where to use him. Mikita and Wharram suggested that Mohns join them. He began playing left wing, but he was still thinking defensively. "Sometimes we would rush up and make a pass to Mohnsie's side," says Wharram, "and he would be moving back. I'd ask why, and he'd say that we had left an opposing forward free and he wanted to back us up. He would be right, of course—but that's cautious hockey, the kind you see in Stanley Cup playoffs. It's not really our regular style."
Soon Mohns adjusted. "Playing with strange linemates," he says, "you tend to hesitate. You don't want to get caught out of position, and sometimes you have to forfeit scoring chances. But the more I get to know Stan and Whip, the more I sense their moves and go with them. Now my contribution to the line is less defensive, and I'm scoring more goals."
Mikita, although he is an exceptional forechecker, too, says, "We're not a checking line, we're a forcing line. We make the plays and let the other guys worry about checking us."