- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Recently the Hawks faced the last series of games that could possibly be considered a challenge to their right to first place. They played four in five nights, one with the second-place New York Rangers, one with lowly Boston and then two with the Maple Leafs, who were undefeated in nine straight and at that time the most dangerous opponent in the league. Chicago led the league by 11 points going into the week and could have lost a few without worrying much. But losses would have stirred up the annual suspicions. Were they tiring? Choking? Or—patently ridiculous but often whispered—were Mikita and Hull resentful of one another? Was the team jealous of Hull? Could the best team in hockey manage to collapse once more?
The questions never came up. The Black Hawks beat New York 6-1 as Hull scored three goals. They routed the Bruins. They played badly in Toronto and lost 3-0, but they came back the following night to defeat the Leafs 5-2 in one of their best games of the year.
"This first-place business has been like a monkey on our back," sighed Pilote. "Every year people accuse us of being the best team and losing. Well, maybe we weren't the best team then. Maybe we didn't have the balance or all-round ability to finish first. But now we are the best, and we're finally proving to everybody that we can win a championship. It feels good to get it over with."
It feels especially good to Tommy Ivan, the general manager who came to Chicago in 1954, when the Hawks were buried in last place, and began building the farm system that has produced Hull, Mikita and most of the other members of the present club. It took four years before the results were visible and the Black Hawks finally made the playoffs. But since then the Hawks, who finished as high as fourth only once in the previous 12 years, have been in the playoffs eight straight times, winning one Stanley Cup. "There is nothing like bringing up your players through your own system so they know what you expect of them," Ivan says. The few times Ivan has ventured outside his organization, he has traded for men like Hall and Mohns. And this year as the Hawks finally achieved the one goal that had always eluded them, Ivan has made smart moves.
As the season opened, Chicago appeared to have two weaknesses. One was the third line, where Dennis Hull, Bobby's strong but inexperienced younger brother, and the venerable Eric Nesterenko needed a top center to play between them. The other was in goal, where the master, Glenn Hall, had retired, and the newcomer, Denis DeJordy, was rated as very good, but perhaps not quite good enough for a championship club.
Ivan solved the center problem by luring Bill Hay out of retirement. Hay, an educated young man with a good job in Calgary, had quit hockey last spring at age 30. But after 12 weeks of this season he was back in Chicago. What made him change his mind? "First place," he said, and broke into a grin. "No, actually, the club was just very persistent, and I was able to get a leave from my job. Now that I am back I really do enjoy finishing first." Hay, a good skater and stickhandler, has rounded out the solid third line that the Black Hawks lacked in the past, and Dennis Hull has scored 18 goals with the powerful shot that is modeled after Bobby's.
It was probably more difficult—and certainly more expensive—to induce Hall to make a comeback. But Ivan did it, and now he has the best and the most unusual goaltending combination of all. Hall, 35, has the perpetually sour expression of a menial office worker who hates his job; actually he is a brilliant hockey player who hates his job. "Enjoy this?" he says. "Are you kidding? I'm around here for one reason and that's the money." He gets sick before each game and occasionally wakes up from naps to find himself kicking out at imaginary flying pucks. But now that he plays only half as much, he is even better than before.
DeJordy, who takes care of the other half, is a smiling, witty 28-year-old with a round face and crew cut in the Gump Worsley style. Last year he and Reay had a disagreement about his future. "I was sitting on the bench here, and my value was standing still," he says. "Nobody saw me. So I asked to be sent down to St. Louis. The bosses thought it was a mistake, but I insisted. I don't know how much I improved at St. Louis last year, but at least I was sure that NHL people wouldn't forget what I can do." DeJordy can do almost everything Hall does, and since he is younger and more enthusiastic, he will undoubtedly be the goalie the Hawks protect this year in the expansion draft.
From the goal out to Mikita and Hull, from Ivan down to Sockeye Uren, the Hawks have it all. And when they put it all together—as they did in the win over Toronto that virtually wrapped up the title—it is hard to imagine them finishing anywhere but first for the next few years. On one play in the third period Mikita carried the puck into Toronto's zone. The Leafs, as is their custom, held and jostled every Hawk that came near them. Ron Ellis clutched Mikita; Stan slipped away. Wharram took the puck and was cross-checked by Brian Conacher. ' "Whip, Whip," yelled Mikita, and Wharram fed him the puck. Allan Stanley creamed Stan, and a penalty finally was called. But the whistle wouldn't stop the action until the Leafs broke up the play—and the Scooter Line wasn't about to let the play end. For 45 seconds they controlled the puck, slapping it tantalizingly along the boards. Finally, Mikita fired the puck to Bobby Hull, who had come on the ice when the penalty was signaled. From directly in front, Hull drilled in a low shot for one of the finest goals a team could produce.
After the victory Reay chortled,' 'We're in now." Outside his office the locker-room scene was typically boisterous. Stapleton and Pilote needled Van Impe, who had hurt his knee in the game but did not want to be carried out on any stretcher. Jarrett and Dennis Hull exchanged Tarzan yells. A few players declined Esposito's invitation to join him in a pheasant hunt. "I don't know why," Esposito said. "I'm a very good hunter. As soon as something moves I shoot."