Canadian hockey player
Playing his entire career (1959-80) with the Chicago Blackhawks, Stan Mikita was a complete player on the ice, a team leader, and multiple award winner for his playing accomplishments. Often overshadowed by his more flamboyant, goal scoring teammate Bobby Hull , Mikita was nonetheless known for his outstanding abilities as a scorer, stickhandler, and passer, as well as on defense. As Stan and Shirley Fischler wrote in Fischler's Hockey Encyclopedia, "If any single player can be described as the guts of a hockey team, Stan Mikita, the shifty Chicago Black Hawk center, is precisely that man." After overcoming a penchant for fighting and penalties in his early career—a feisty attitude which earned him the nickname "Le Petit Diable" ("The Little Devil")—Mikita began playing intelligent hockey and using his skills. He went on to be the first player to win the Lady Byng Trophy (for gentlemanly play), the Ross Trophy (as the leading scorer in the National Hockey League (NHL)), and the Hart Trophy as most valuable player in one season (1966-67). He repeated the feat the following season. Mikita was also an innovator in hockey equipment, among the first to use a curved stick as well as an early wearer of a helmet, donned after a head injury. Mikita also was active in the teaching of hockey to hearing impaired young people, which led to the founding of the U.S. National Deaf Hockey Team.
Mikita was born Stanislas Gvoth in Sokolce, Czechoslovakia, on May 20, 1940. His father, also named Stanislas, was a textile factory worker, while his mother worked in the fields. Soon after the end of World War II,
Czechoslovakia was taken over by the Communists. To give their middle child, Mikita, a better life away from the Communists, they allowed him to be adopted by a childless aunt and uncle, Joe and Anna Mikita, who had lived in Canada for the past 20 years.
When Mikita was eight years old, the Mikitas took him to their home in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. The young Mikita did not want to leave his parents and home behind, going so far as to plot how he was going to throw himself off the train that was taking him out of the country and run back. However, Mikita was foiled and he arrived in Canada just before Christmas in December 1948. When Mikita came to his new country, he did not speak any English and knew nothing about hockey.
Introduction to Hockey
During the first days in Canada, Mikita saw some boys in the street playing hockey, and began playing with them. Though he hit one of the boys with his stick, he soon began playing the game. The first words he learned in English were related to hockey: "push, stick, and goal." But the language and cultural adjustments remained hard. Before hockey, Mikita thought about joining the Air Force so he could steal a plane and go back home to Czechoslovakia.
Mikita was put in third grade in the local public school, but because he did not speak English, he was put in a kindergarten class to help with the language adjustments. It took several years before Mikita was comfortable in his new country and language. His foreign background also lead to Mikita being teased and ethnically slurred by classmates and others. He would use his fists to defend himself, and became something of a street fighter. He also stole and was involved in petty larceny.
But by the time Mikita was nine years old, hockey became a focus. Playing this sport and others made him feel like he belonged in North America and gave him a way of relating to his peers. When he was nine, Mikita lied about his age and joined a team of 12 year olds. He was dedicated to practicing from an early age, going to practice at 5 or 5:30 a.m. before school. Mikita's athletic skills were not limited to hockey. He also played basketball, football, lacrosse, soccer and baseball. He was so good in baseball as a catcher that he was offered major league tryouts as a teenager. But hockey was his game, and he later credited it with saving his life.
Mikita played junior A hockey in St. Catharines. Beginning in 1956, he was a player on the St. Catharines Teepees of the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA). This was the leading junior farm team for the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL, used to develop talent for the perpetually underachieving team. While Mikita was already overshadowed by future teammate Bobby Hull, he did regularly lead his team in scoring. When he was 16, he was named the OHA's most valuable player, and soon dropped out of high school to devote all his attention to hockey.
|1940||Born Stanislas Gvorth in Sokolce, Czechoslovakia|
|1948||In December, is adopted by an aunt and uncle in Canada and moves to North America; begins playing hockey|
|1959||Joins the Chicago Blackhawks|
|c. 1963||Begins experimenting with a curved blade|
|1969||Suffers back injury which would plague him for the rest of his career|
|1974||Founds the American Hearing Impaired Association; Plays for Team Canada in the Summit Series|
|1974||Leads Blackhawks in scoring|
|1979||On November 30 plays in his last game|
|1980||Retires from professional hockey on April 14|
|1987||Founds a plastics and corrugated box business with former teammate Glen Skov|
Joined the Blackhawks
At the end of the 1958-59 season, Mikita joined the Blackhawks for three games, and the following season jointed the Blackhawks full time. In his first years in the NHL, Mikita played an antagonistic style of hockey. He tried to make up for his small stature (only 5'9" and 165 lbs.) and lack of scoring output in his first full season (only eight goals) by fighting, tripping, and hooking all the time. In his first full season with Chicago, Mikita had 119 penalty minutes. He was soon given the nickname "La Petite Diable" ("The Little Devil") for his belligerent personality on the ice.
Mikita was not the only Blackhawk who played like that. The team had a reputation for using physical force to make up for lack of scoring. But the team was on the rise, improving because of their farm system, good trades, and a skilled general manager in Tommy Ivan. Though Mikita had a problem with penalties, as he matured in his game he showed he was a passionate competitor who wanted to win and inspired his teammates. He played on the so-called "Scooter Line" with Ken Wharram and Ab McDonald, a checking line that could score, for nearly ten years. Mikita also used his brain. As William Barry Furlong wrote in Sports Illustrated in 1962, "Not as burly as Montreal's big Center Jean Beliveau, not as fast as Montreal's little Center Henri Richard, Mikita brilliantly compensates with terror, wit and perception.… Mikita not only thinks well but well ahead." With Bobby Hull, Mikita was responsible for reviving the undistinguished franchise.
Won Stanley Cup
During Mikita's true rookie season, it was only the second season in many years in which Chicago made the playoffs. The following year, the 1960-61 season, Mikita played with two broken toes and racked up 100 penalty minutes in the regular season. But in the playoffs, Mikita was a leading offensive force. The Black-hawks had momentum going into the playoffs, and defeated five-time defending champions the Montreal Canadiens. In the finals, the Blackhawks faced the Detroit Red Wings, lead by Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe . Chicago won in six games to capture their first Stanley Cup since the late 1930s.
At the time, it was believed that Mikita and the Blackhawks would be winning several more Cups with their lineup. The team did make the finals in 1962, but lost in six games to the Toronto Maple Leafs. This series showed their vulnerability on defense. But Mikita still made big plays and set a playoff scoring record with 21 points (six goals and 15 assists). Chicago's playoff performance went downhill from there, losing in the semifinals in 1963, then the first round in 1964.
Used Curved Blade
Though the Blackhawks' post-season fortunes were not great despite quality players, Mikita had his best years in the mid to late 1960s. In about 1963, Mikita made a discovery that added to his scoring prowess. Mikita claimed that he cracked an old blade and did not want to get another one from the dressing room during a practice. He saw that the puck reacted differently, and he and Hull began experimenting with curves on their blades. The puck would be like a knuckleball in baseball—moving unexpectedly, fooling the goalie. Though Andy Bathgate of the New York Rangers claimed to be the first to use a curved blade, credit was generally given to Mikita. Despite the fact that Mikita scored much because of it, he later claimed it was an error because backhands were essentially eliminated.
Won Numerous NHL Awards
In 1963-64, Mikita began competing with teammate Hull for the league's scoring title. Mikita won the Ross Trophy by scoring 39 goals and 50 assists, while Hull had 43 goals but fewer assists. The following season, Mikita led the league in scoring again with 87 points, but also had 154 penalty minutes. Mikita added 53 additional penalty minutes in the playoffs. He changed his penalty-prone attitude after the 1965-66 season when his four-year-old daughter Meg (one of four children he had with wife Jill) asked why he had to got to the penalty box away from his teammates all the time. In this and the six seasons before it, he led the league in penalty minutes for centers. But Mikita realized as more players were bigger that could not fight everyone, but he could be more effective as a scorer.
In the 1966-67 season, Mikita set a league record with 62 assists, and tied Hull's record of 97 total points in a season. His biggest number was his smallest: he had only 12 penalty minutes on the year. Though opponents tried to goad him into fighting and taking other dumb penalties, Mikita resisted. For his restrained on-ice attitude, Mikita was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy, given for gentlemanly play. He also won the Ross Trophy, for winning the scoring title, and the Hart Trophy for most valuable player. This marked the first time a player had won all three. He repeated his triple crown in 1967-68, though he had 52 penalty minutes.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1961||Won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks|
|1962||All-Star First Team|
|1963||All-Star First Team|
|1964||Won the Ross Trophy for leading scoring in the NHL; All-Star First Team|
|1965||Won the Ross Trophy as leading scoring in the NHL; also lead the league in penalty minutes for the 1964-65 season; All-Star (Second Team)|
|1966||All-Star First Team|
|1967||Won the Lady Byng Trophy, Ross Trophy, and Hart Trophy; All-Star First Team|
|1968||Won the Lady Byng Trophy, Ross Trophy, and Hart Trophy; All-Star First Team|
|1970||All-Star Second Team|
|1976||Won the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding contributions to hockey in the United States|
|1983||Inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame|
|1990||Named Honorary Captain for the 42nd National Hockey League All-Star Game|
Despite these kind of numbers and awards, Mikita always played second fiddle to Bobby Hull in terms of publicity, money, recognition, and from fans. But Mikita maintained the pair did not feud personally. A more important issue was the fact that Blackhawks could not win another championship despite having such quality players. The team as a whole was seen as choking.
Injuries Plague the Last Decade of His Career
While Mikita again scored 97 points in 1968-69, he finished fourth in the league in scoring behind Phil Esposito , Howe, and Hull. Mikita suffered a severe back injury in 1969 and had to wear a back brace for much of the rest of his career. A few years later, Mikita suffered a bad head injury and had a suspension helmet specially designed for him by an engineer. This led to his involvement in the helmet manufacturing business. Mikita correctly predicted that the NHL would someday make helmets mandatory, though it was only after a player, Bill Masterson, was killed in a game.
Though Mikita was slowed by his injuries, he remained a consistent scorer and team leader during a tumultuous time. A rival to the NHL, the World Hockey Association (WHA), formed in the early 1970s and paid huge salaries to lure such stars as Hull, Pat Stapleton, and Ralph Back-strom away. Though Mikita also received offers, he was not tempted to jump to the WHA because of his family and his belief that money was not everything. Mikita was dedicated to the concept of being a Blackhawk for life.
Played for Canada
In 1972, Mikita played a marginal role in the Summit Series, which pitted Team Canada against the strong Soviet team in Russia. Though Mikita played in only two of the eight games in the series because Canada had so much depth at center, the trip had more meaning to Mikita who was finally able to play hockey in front of his birth family. After the Summit Series ended, the Canadian team played an exhibition against the Czechoslovakian national team in Prague. For the game, Mikita was named team captain, though he did not score in the game.
Returning to the Blackhawks, Mikita was frustrated by the team's struggles in the mid-1970s and considered retiring. Still, in 1973-74, he lead his team in scoring with 80 points (30 goals and 50 assists), but the team lost to Boston in the semi-finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Blackhawks showed its appreciation for Mikita's long tenure by having a Mikita night at Black Hawks' Stadium in February 1974. Mikita did not want any gifts for himself as were usually given at such events. Instead, he wanted the funds to go into a scholarship fund at Illinois' Elmhurst College. He also gave back to the community in other ways. After being approached by the father of a deaf player in 1974, Mikita was the co-founder of the American Impaired Hearing Association and Stan Mikita Hockey School for the Hearing Impaired. These groups taught hockey to deaf and hearing impaired youngsters and started a deaf hockey movement in the United States and Canada. In 1976, Mikita's contributions to the game in the United States led his being awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy.
|Chicago: Chicago Blackhawks.|
Stan Mikita Hockey School for the Hearing Impaired
In 1974, Mikita was approached by Chicago businessman Irv Tiahnybik in a restaurant one night and convinced the hockey star to help teach hearing impaired children how to play hockey. Tiahnybik's young son Lex had played the game for several years, but had recently had a bad experience with a coach who did not want to deal with the young deaf player. Together they founded the American Impaired Hearing Association for deaf and hard of hearing youth, and its related Stan Mikita Hockey School for the Hearing Impaired. The school held an annual summer camp to teach the game to young deaf players, and give them a way to relate to the hearing world. At first, Mikita was unsure how to deal with his students because he had no experience with the hearing impaired. Mikita told Brad Herzog of the Sports Illustrated, that when he moved to Canada and knew no English, "I could hear the words, but I had no idea what they meant. Although I wasn't shut out by the hearing world, I was basically being shut out by my peers." Mikita and a host of other NHL professionals, college coaches and players, and others have taught the young hockey players how to play the game and host a tournament every summer in Chicago. Though the camp's focus is hockey, it is also about supporting its young players by providing hearing aids, speech therapies, counseling, and financial support for families. By 1995, over 80 campers were there; in 1997, over 100. The annual camp has lead to the formation of the U.S. National Deaf Hockey Team which won the silver medal at the Winter Games for the Deaf in 1991, gold in 1995, and silver in 1999.
The last few years of Mikita's career were marked by a new attitude in the Blackhawks organization. By the 1977-78 season, the team was taken over by Bob Pulford as coach. Pulford turned them into division champions, and Mikita started to have fun again. Mikita was still a force on the Blackhawks, regularly winning face-offs which were always a strong point for him.
Retired from Professional Hockey
Chronic back problems ended Mikita's career on November 30, 1979, though he did not formally retire until April 14, 1980, at the end of the season. Over the course of his career, Mikita played in 1394 regular season games, scoring 541 goals and 926 assists. He also played in 155 playoff games, with 59 goals and 91 assists. In October 1980, the team retired his No. 21 jersey, the first Black-hawks jersey to be retired. After retiring, Mikita turned to another sport, and became a golf pro at the Kemper Lakes Golf Club outside of Chicago for seven years. He also continued to work with deaf hockey players, and later founded his own business. In 1983, Mikita was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He later received an honorary doctorate from St. Catherine's Brock University.
Though Mikita was not the flashiest player, his steadfast play and loyalty to his team showed the true definition of his character. A Blackhawk to the end, Mikita contributed to the franchise's only Stanley Cup since the 1930s and lead his team by his example of tough, smart play. While goalies may not have liked seeing shots from the curved blade he helped popularize, this innovation changed the game, adding a new dimension to scoring. Mikita also brought the game to a new audience, the hearing impaired, with whom he identified after coming to Canada as a non-English speaking eight year old. Mikita's own evolution from a thug type scorer to Lady Byng winner was an example for hockey players to come. As Stan Fischler wrote in The All-New Hockey's 100, "it was hard to think of any one player who was able to combine all his skills and achieve such a level of proficiency as Mikita. He was the embodiment of the consummate hockey player."
Where Is He Now?
After retiring from hockey, Mikita worked as a golf professional, and while he left that position in 1987, he continued to play the game. He also continued to run Stan Mikita Enterprises, a business that manufactured corrugated boxes, cartons, containers, and other packaging. Mikita maintained ties to hockey, working at his annual summer camp for hearing impaired hockey players and serving on the Selection Committee of the Hockey Hall of Fame as well as the board of directors of the Blackhawk Alumni board. In 1991, Mikita had a cameo role in the Mike Myers' comedy movie Wayne's World, which had featured the fictional Stan Mikita's Donuts. Mikita has also had some health problems, including surgery to fix an aneurysm in 2000 and a paralyzed vocal cord.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY MIKITA:
I Play to Win, 1969.
Beddoes, Richard, Stan Fischler, and Ira Gitler. Hockey! The Story of the World's Fastest Sport. New York: Macmillan, 1973.
Diamond, Dan, and Joseph Romain. Hockey Hall of Fame: The Official History of the Game and Its Greatest Stars. New York: Doubleday, 1988.
Fischler, Stan. The All-New Hockey's 100: A Personal Ranking of the Best Players in Hockey History. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd., 1988.
Fischler, Stan. Golden Ice: The Greatest Teams in Hockey History. New York: Wynwood Press, 1990.
Fischler, Stan and Shirley. Fischlers'Hockey Encyclopedia. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1975.
Fischler, Stan, and Shirley Walton Fischler. The Hockey Encyclopedia: The Complete Record of Professional Ice Hockey. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1983.
Hickok, Ralph. A Who's Who of Sports Champions: Their Stories and Records. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995.
Kariher, Harry C. Who's Who in Hockey. New Rochelle: Arlington House, 1973.
"Beliveau, Mikita Honored," The Record (October 16, 1990): C4.
Cherner, Reid. "Check out Mikita in Wayne's movie," The Record (September 19, 1991): 2C.
Dupont, Kevin Paul. "Communicating hockey skills; US deaf players deliver message to a world forum," Boston Globe (March 1, 1995): 37.
Fachet, Robert. "Capitals Face 'Hungry' Mikita," Washington Post (March 22, 1978): C2.
Furlong, William Barry. "'A couple of hi-hos and here we go'," Sports Illustrated (April 30, 1962): 58.
Herzog, Brad. "Breaking the Silence," Sports Illustrated (August 24, 1992): 6.
"Hotheaded Hawk," Newsweek (February 4, 1963): 55.
Leggett, William. "The Black Hawks' No. 2 Tries Harder," Sports Illustrated (January 31, 1966): 35.
"Mikita gets health scare," The Toronto Star (January 8, 2000).
"Mikita's Number Retired," New York Times (October 20, 1980): C6.
Oberhelman, David. "Hockey star replays mentors by teaching Mikita camp for deaf finishes its 26th year," Daily Herald (June 24, 1999): 1.
Pruner, Larry. "Mikita: From Scrapper to Scorer," Vancouver Sun (January 17, 1998): E3.
Rappoport, Ken. "Hats off to Stan? Not on your life," Associated Press (February 23, 1997).
Rosen, Byron. "Mikita Ends 21 Years in the NHL, Becomes Golf Pro," Washington Post (April 15, 1980): D5.
Salter, David. "Bathgate Claims He's Father of Curved Stick," Hockey News (February 5, 1999): 4.
"Stan the Man recovering well," Calgary Herald (January 8, 2000): E3.
Wahl, Grant. "Catching up with … Blackhawks' center Stan Mikita," Sports Illustrated (May 26, 1997): 5.
"Canada vs. Czechoslovakia: Sept. 29, 1972 at Prague: Team Canada 3-Czechoslovakia 3." 1972 Summit Series: A September to Remember. http://www.1972summitseries.com/czechoslovakia.html (September 26, 2002).
"Hockey Legend." http://www.stanmikita.com/hockeylegend.html (October 7, 2002).
"Induction Showcase." Legends of Hockey—Induction Showcase-Selection Committee. http://www.legendsofhockey.net/html/indselect.htm (September 26, 2002).
"Stan Mikita." http://www.hockeysandwich.com/mikita.html (September 26, 2002).
"Stan Mikita: Team Canada # 21." The Summit in 1972: Players Info. http://www22.brinkster.com/chidlovski/h_playersca.asp?fname-Sta (September 26, 2002).
"#21 Stan Mikita." 1972 Summit Series: A September to Remember. http://www.1972summitseries.com/mikita.html (September 26, 2002).
Sketch by A. Petruso