Up until 1967, the NHL used to only consist of six teams: The Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, and Boston Bruins. From 1926 on the Chicago Blackhawks played in the six, sometimes seven, team National Hockey League. In all that time, with only six teams, the Blackhawks only won the Stanley Cup three times. The last Cup came in 1961. The Blackhawks have played for the Cup five times since (not including the current finals). But in 1961, the Blackhawks nucleus thought they would win many. That nucleus played for the cup four more time in the next twelve years (1962, 1965, 1971, 1973), falling short every time. But to many Blackhawks fans, that 1961 team is still the greatest Blackhawks team of all time.
In 1961, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita were respectively 22 and 20 years old. Not quite in their prime, the two youngsters were second and third on the team in scoring. The veterans, Pierre Pilote, Ken Wharram and Eric Nesterenko, all were in their prime. Goaltender Glen Hall was described by the Chicago Tribune as the “quiet, calm, nerveless knight of the nets”.
From the outset of the season, it was clear this was defenseman Pierre Pilote’s team. He controlled the puck, the pace, and flow of most games. Center Bill Hay led the team with 59 points and Bobby “The Golden Jet” Hull led the team with 31 goals. The Hawks were 29-24-17 in the regular season. In the six team league they finished third with 75 points. This put them in the playoffs against the mighty first place Montreal Canadiens.
The Blackhawks stunned the Canadiens four games to two. Goaltender Glen Hall shut out the “Habs” 3-0 in back to back games to clinch the series. During the regular season, the Canadiens had swept the Blackhawks four games to zero. Bobby Hull said:
”After that we didn’t care who was waiting for us. We knew we had won the Stanley Cup by beating the mighty Montreal Canadiens in the semifinals.”
Going into the Stanley Cup finals, the semifinal win had given the mix of veterans and youngsters enough confidence to defeat the Red Wings, which they did 4-2.
In comparing that team to the present, Bobby Hull said:
”The fact that Jonathan Toews is the leader of this team at 22 and Patrick Kane being one of the goal scorers they depend on, it was very much the same kind of deal in ’61 when we won the Cup. Mikita was young and a future Hall of Famer at that age. I was 22 and I could skate all night. They had to rope me down to stop me.”
The Blackhawks were a mix of veterans and youth and many thought 1961 would only be the beginning.In fact, it was the only one in Hull’s and Mikita’s tenure with the club.
‘I figured that [the 1961 Cup] was just going to be one of many that we were going to win during our span in the National Hockey League. I was too young to really appreciate how important it was to win that Cup. That’s what I’m trying to get across to the kids today — you are so close that if you don’t take advantage of this, you may regret it for years to come.”