Monday January 10th, 2011

Members of the 1961 Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks (left to right) Rob Crawford, Eric Nesterenko, Bill Hay, Stan Mikita, Glenn Hall, Bobby Hull, Ab McDonald, Pierre Pilote, and Wayne Hicks were honored by team chairman Rocky Wirtz and president John McDonough in a pregame ceremony on Sunday. (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

Among the major team sports, only baseball rivals hockey when it comes to celebrating the past, and in our disposable culture of planned obsolescence, it's always heartening when clubs maintain their connection with fans by saluting the players who have brought honor to the sweater and team crest.

The Blackhawks paid tribute to their 1961 championship team on Sunday night, marking the 50th anniversary of Chicago's third Stanley Cup, before a 5-0 shutout of the Islanders and you don't have to be a Blackhawks fan to appreciate the significance of this franchise's gesture to its history and its fans.

It wasn't that long ago when the Blackhawks regularly played to a half-full United Center, having alienated a big chunk of their fan base. But when Rocky Wirtz took control of the club following his father's death and hired John McDonough to be president, they began the process of repairing the rift in good measure by looking to the franchise's past as much as its present and future.

Putting a winning product on the ice and home games on TV didn't hurt, but reconnecting with the fans who walked away in disgust at Bill Wirtz's outdated practices did just as much to begin the healing.

And even now that each Hawks game at the UC is sold out and the Stanley Cup has returned to Chicago, the club has not abandoned its reverence for history. So in addition to honoring the '61 champs, the team also announced that it would place statues of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, perhaps the two greatest Blackhawks of all time, outside the building next season, next to one of the NBA Bulls' Michael Jordan.

‘‘‘I don’t know how to explain the euphoria,’’ Mikita told reporters shortly after learning of the statues. ‘‘It’s just a grand gesture...Now I know how Michael felt out there.

"‘I want to know where the birds are,’’ Mikita joked. ‘‘I’ll tell them Bobby is over there -- go get him.’’

"Stan may joke, but he's joking, he's talking out of the other side of his mouth," Hull said after laughing upon hearing Mikita's jab. "And he'll be so proud of him and I being up there that it won't be funny."

Longtime Chicago sportswriter Bill Verdi, who is now the team's historian, has a regular column on the Blackhawks website. He offered his recollections on the '61 team here. He also has a piece on Glenn Hall, the goalie who probably would have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP that year had the award been in existence. Verdi asks Hawks executive Scotty Bowman about Hall, who Bowman coached in St. Louis later in the 1960s. Hall won the Smythe playing for Bowman's St. Louis Blues in 1968.

Here's video of Sunday's night's proceedings. The montage that opened the program...

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...was followed by the introduction of the players:

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Here are Stan Mikita's remarks to the media after learning of the statue to be erected in his honor outside the United Center...

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...and Bobby Hull's remarks:

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Current Blackhawks goalies,Marty Turco and Cory Crawford (whose shutout on Sunday night was the first of his career), got a chance to speak with the man Chicagoans called "Mr. Goalie," Glenn Hall. Here's Turco's account of that discussion:

[vodpod id=Video.5303479&w=425&h=350&]

And Sunday's tribute also brought together a couple of historic Hawks: Ab McDonald, who scored the Cup-winning goal in '61, and Patrick Kane who scored the winner in 2010. They hadn't had a chance to speak when these interviews were done, but they did get together over the summer at the Blackhawks convention and, McDonald says, have their photograph taken together. [vodpod id=Video.5303503&w=425&h=350&]

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