Mikita was a pioneer, innovator and one of greatest players ever
Tim Horton defends against Stan Mikita during the Chicago Blackhawks game against the Toronto Maple Leafs circa 1965.
Besides winning two Hart Trophies as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player and four Art Ross Trophies as the league’s leading scorer, Stan Mikita also won two Lady Byng Trophies as the NHL’s most gentlemanly player.
The Lady Byngs would have been a surprise to anyone who watched Mikita play in his first six full seasons in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks (1959-60 to 1964-65) when he averaged 114 penalty minutes per season. And that’s when the seasons were 70 games.
His emotions got the best him often in those days, but that changed in 1966 when his then-6-year-old daughter, Meg, asked Mikita a question.
“She said ‘Daddy, when that guy in the stripes blew the whistle, why did Uncle Bobby (Hull) go sit with his friends and you went all the way across the ice and sat by yourself?’ ” Mikita told Sportsnet’s Dave Zarum in 2012. “And I almost cried, because as a 6-year-old, she knew better than I did.”
So he stopped doing so many things that forced him to go sit by himself across the ice.
Mikita’s penalty minutes dropped to 58 in 1965-66, and 12 and 14, respectively in 1966-67 and 1967-68. He had already won two scoring titles while he spent a lot of time in the penalty box in 1963-64 and 1964-65, and then won two more in 1966-67 and 1967-68, both seasons in which he also won the Hart Trophy and the Lady Byng.
Mikita died on Tuesday at the age of 78.
He was diagnosed in 2015 with suspected dementia with Lewy bodies, a brain disorder that causes memory loss. Mikita had requested that his brain be donated for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) research after his death.
Mikita, a center who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, spent his entire career, 1958-to-1980, with the Blackhawks – whom he helped win the 1961 Stanley Cup – and is their all-time leader in games played with 1,396. Mikita’s 1,467 points (541 goals and 926 assists) ranks 14th in NHL history.
“Stan Mikita lived a remarkable life and was a wonderful man, respected and revered by so many,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “One of the greatest players in NHL history and a Chicago icon, he was a pioneer of the game in so many ways.”
Born in Sokolce, Czechoslovakia, as Stanislaus Guoth, Mikita lived there until he was 8 (1948), He then moved to St. Catharines, Ontario, and was adopted by his aunt and uncle, who gave him their surname.
Mikita was the first European-born NHL star, despite being only 5-9 and 160 pounds. But he made up for his lack of size with athletic ability, determination and aggressiveness – before his daughter asked him that question, anyway.
Because of the way he changed his game, Mikita is the only player with a 100 penalty-minute season ever to win a Lady Byng Trophy.
He was also one of the first players to use a severely curved stick. And he designed the helmet that he wore late in his career.
“Stan Mikita will be always remembered as a champion, an innovator and a master of the game,” Bettman said.
In 1992, 12 years after his retirement, Mikita was introduced to an entire new generation in the 1992 hit comedy movie, “Wayne’s World,” in which a statue of Mikita adorned “Stan Mikita’s Donuts,” a spoof of Tim Horton’s.
“Just a dream come true to have Stan Mikita be a part of it, part of my life,” said “Wayne’s World” star Mike Myers in an interview with Sports Illustrated in 2017. “He just looked like a hockey player, you know what I mean? Just an awesome, awesome hockey player.”