- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
More than 17,000 fans were in Chicago Stadium on the night of April 12, 1938. Most had come to root for the Chicago Black Hawks, who, after winning only 14 games in 20 weeks of National Hockey League competition, suddenly had caught fire to take six games in less than three weeks of the Stanley Cup playoffs. And on this particular night these improbable Black Hawks needed only to beat Toronto to win the cup itself.
The coach of the Chicago Black Hawks, and the man most responsible for the team's unexpected Stanley Cup play, was 43-year-old William J. Stewart. Ironically, Stewart, who spent his summers umpiring baseball games in the National League, had been chief of National Hockey League referees the previous season. The owner and president of the Black Hawks, Frederic McLaughlin, had been impressed by the fiery manner in which Stewart did his officiating and felt that Stewart might be the man to instill some of the same spirit into the lackluster team. Stewart was given a two-year contract, assurance that the owner would not interfere and a club with a losing complex.
"It was a team," Bill Stewart said recently, "made up mostly of men who had played for several other clubs in the league. My boys had some bad playing habits—some could skate well to one side but not to the other, some would get trapped on the boards. We spent a lot of time working on these weaknesses. Sometimes I'd take a player and just the two of us would go out on the ice and work.
"When we were in Muskegon for preseason training I told everyone how I felt about conditioning and drinking. I told them they would have to get in shape and stay in shape if they wanted to win. I said I didn't mind if they had a few drinks, as long as it was not on the day of a game and not in public.
"We were like one big, happy family. I used to joke a lot with the boys and sometimes I'd wrestle or box with them in the locker room."
Stewart did more than get his players into condition, teach them fundamentals and create a relaxed atmosphere. Realizing he had no individual stars and little bench strength, he built his strategy around tightly integrated team play. To compensate for his squad's lack of depth, Stewart became a quick-change artist, installing and withdrawing entire five-man units after just two or three minutes' play. This maneuver was as successful as it was novel, for it helped keep the players fresh and enabled Stewart to develop two good offensive lines. This didn't show up in the Black Hawks' regular season record, for the 1937-38 team didn't win any more games than the hopeless 1936-37 team. However, by Stanley Cup time, Bill Stewart's hard work and sound strategy began to show results.
Still, few experts and fans had any high hopes for the Hawks in the Stanley Cup. The Chicago players themselves regarded their chances lightly. Defenseman Roger Jenkins bet Goalie Mike Karakas a wheelbarrow ride through Chicago that the Hawks wouldn't win the cup.
It looked like a good bet, too, after Chicago lost its first game in the playoffs to the Montreal Canadiens. One more loss and the team would be eliminated from further Stanley Cup play. But Karakas saved his bet, and the Black Hawks, by shutting out the Canadiens while his teammates scored four goals. Two nights later the Hawks won 3-2 in overtime and suddenly Chicago was in the semifinals, instead of the favored Canadiens.
The second game went through three regulation periods without either team scoring. As the overtime was about to start, Stewart took Earl Seibert, his all-star defenseman, aside, and said to him, "If Cully [Dahlstrom] gets the face-off, he'll pass to you. I want you to go into the left corner. They'll chase you. When they do that, you pass back to Cully, who'll be skating along slowly, and he'll try for the goal."