Chicago Blackhawks History
The McLaughlin Years
The Chicago Blackhawks were founded on September 25, 1926, when the National Hockey League awarded a franchise to Major Frederic McLaughlin, a Harvard-educated local coffee tycoon who was able to come up with the $12,000 entry fee required to join the League.
Major Frederic McLaughlin
In an effort to secure players for the upcoming season, McLaughlin purchased the Portland Rosebuds of the floundering Western Hockey League for $200,000 and moved the nucleus of that team (players such as "Rabbit" McVeigh, George Hay, Percy Traub, Dick Irvin, and goalie Hugh Lehman) to Chicago.
After acquiring enough players to field a competitive team, the Major, never a big fan of the "Rose Buds" moniker, began to focus his energies on coming up with a new name for the hockey club.
Looking to the past, the Major found his inspiration.
During World War I, McLaughlin had served as a commander in the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Division of the U.S. Army. Members of his division called themselves Black Hawks in honor of the Sauk Indian chief who sided with the British in the War of 1812. Surely, the Major felt, it would be a fitting name for the newest entry into the National Hockey League.
On November 17, 1926, in front of 9,000 fans at the Chicago Coliseum, the Chicago Blackhawks made their debut, defeating the Toronto St. Pat's by a score of 4-1.
In their first season, the Hawks finished in third place in the NHL's old American Division with a record of 19-23-3 and made the playoffs. The team included future Hall-of-Famers Dick Irvin, whose 36 points were second best in the League that year, goalie Hugh Lehman, Babe Dye, George Hay, and Mickey McKay.
Unhappy with the team's elimination from the opening playoff round, Major McLaughlin dismissed head coach Pete Muldoon. Muldoon responded by "putting a curse" on the team, saying that it would never finish in first place. Over the next 13 years, McLaughlin hired and fired 14 coaches. One, Bill Tobin, came back for a second try.
Despite the coaching merry-go-round, the Hawks enjoyed some early successes. They moved into the Chicago Stadium, then a state-of-the-art showcase, and played their first game there - a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates - on December 16, 1929, before 14,212 fans. The Hawks also had one of the best and most flamboyant goaltenders of the era in Charlie Gardiner, who joined the club in 1927.
Gardiner not only enjoyed stopping pucks, but also talking about his job. He won the Vezina Trophy (then given to the goalie of the team with the lowest goals-against average) in 1932 and was named an All-Star, but McLaughlin rewarded him with a $500 pay cut the following season. When the story was later reported by the papers, the Major tried to avert any potential negative fallout by restoring Gardiner's salary to its previous level.
By 1933-34, Gardiner finally had a solid team in front of him. Captain of a squad that included the likes of Doc Romnes, Paul Thompson, Mush March, Tommy Cook, Johnny Gottselig, Lionel Conacher and Clarence "Taffy" Abel, Gardiner earned another Vezina Trophy while posting a 1.73 goals-against average and recording 10 shutouts. More importantly, he led the Hawks, who had finished in second place in the American Division, to their first Stanley Cup.
Sadly, less two months after leading the Blackhawks to the Championship, Gardner, 29, died of a massive brain tumor while at home in Winnipeg.
Rather than limit his search to a new netminder, McLaughlin kept tinkering with his team. The Hawks missed the playoffs in 1936-37, when the major decided to ice a team with all American players in the waning days of the season.
The Hawks barely made the playoffs that year, finishing third in the American division with a 14-25-9 record. But with solid play, especially from Karakas and Seibert, the Hawks upset the Montreal Canadiens in a best-of-three quarterfinal round after losing the opening game. Chicago then used the same script to knock off the New York Americans in the semifinals.
The Hawks squared off against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the best-of-five finals. Karakas would miss the first two games with a broken toe. But the Hawks, using minor leaguer Alfie Moore in nets, won the first game, 3-1, at Maple Leaf Gardens. In Game Two, the Hawks and another minor leaguer, Paul Goodman, didn't fare as well, losing 5-1 in Toronto.
Equipped with a steel-toed boot, Karakas returned to the lineup as the Hawks played in the Stadium before a then-record 18,497 fans. Chicago swept the next two contests, 2-1 and 4-1, to capture its second Stanley Cup.
From Cellar To Stanley Cup
After that Championship, however, the Hawks slipped into an era of consistent ineptitude that became even bleaker after McLaughlin's death in 1944. During a 13-season span from 1946-47 through 1957-58, Chicago made the playoffs only once. For 15 years, from 1946-47 through 1959-60, the Hawks had losing regular-season records.
There were a few highlights during that era, however. The Hawks "Pony Line," made up of Doug and Max Bentley and Bill Mosienko, was small but swift, and one of the most exciting forward trios of the day. Max Bentley, a 5'8", 158-pound center, was the Blackhawks' first Hart Trophy winner as the League's MVP in 1945-46.
He also netted the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's top scorer that year and again in 1946-47. Earlier, in 1942-43, Bentley captured the Lady Byng Trophy. Meanwhile, Mosienko, who won the Lady Byng in 1944-45, became famous for scoring three goals in 21 seconds in a game on March 23, 1952. Another Hawks Trophy winner of that era was Roy Conacher, who netted the Art Ross in 1948-49.
Although it didn't reflect in the standings for several years, the Hawks began their climb out of the cellar in 1953-54, when former Detroit Red Wings shareholders James D. Norris and Arthur Wirtz took control of the club. One of their first moves was to hire Tommy Ivan away from the Wings and install him as Chicago's General Manager. That year the Hawks finished again in last place, but at least goaltender Al Rollins was rewarded for facing a steady stream of pucks by winning the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP.
Ivan made some deals, including acquiring 1955 Calder Trophy winner Ed Litzenberger from Montreal to help the Club immediately, but the Hawks required a long-term recovery plan. Supported by funds from the new owners, Ivan was able to rebuild the Blackhawks player development system. In those days that included sponsored junior teams as well a professional minor league club. Eventually Ivan built a system that groomed skaters such as Bobby and Dennis Hull, Stan Mikita, Ken Wharram, Pierre Pilote, and Elmer "Moose" Vasko.
In order to complete the overhaul, Ivan felt that he needed to improve the team's goaltending. In 1957-58, he swung a deal with the Detroit Red Wings that brought netminder Glenn Hall and Red Wings' captain Ted Lindsay to Chicago.
"So many players are hesitant to go to a team that isn't doing well," recalled Hall, who remained with the Hawks until being taken in the 1967 expansion draft by St. Louis. "But we got a chance to lead a team out of the wilderness. We were probably at rock bottom when we got there."
The Hawks didn't stay down for long after Hall arrived. With Coach Rudy Pilous behind the bench and Hull, Mikita, Pilote, and company rounding into form on the ice, the team improved steadily.
In 1960-61, the Hawks set club records for wins (29) and points (75) and climbed over the .500 mark for the first time since 1946-47. In the playoffs, Chicago surprised defending champion Montreal in six games in the semifinals and then knocked off the Red Wings in six in the finals to win the Cup.
"One of the highlights for me was winning the Stanley Cup that year," said Hall, who appeared in a record 502 consecutive games. "I don't think we were supposed to win it then."
"I remember winning it in Detroit," he added. "We didn't parade around with the Cup the way players do today for TV, but there was a presentation and I'm sure we felt just as good about winning the Cup as players do today. There was an absolute great feeling in the dressing room and I'm sure that hasn't changed at all."
That launched an era of 14 years of consecutive sellouts at the Stadium. The Hawks were hot. And Hull, the Golden Jet, who cracked the 50-goal barrier for the first time in 1961-62, and Mikita, who netted his first Art Ross Trophy in 1963-64, became the talk of the town.
"When we got Bobby and Stan, we always knew we had a chance to win," Hall said. "Bobby could carry the puck and when he wound up it was real impressive. Stan would think through games, with great moves and then make a little pass to set something up."
Hull, who led the NHL in goal scoring six times and in points for three seasons, was a prototypical scorer. But Mikita's game evolved. During his early years, he was known for his hot temper. In fact, when Mikita led the NHL with 89 points in 1963-64, he also topped the circuit with 149 penalty minutes.
"Pilous had a talk with me and told me to take a look at the penalty minutes," Mikita recalled. "I realized most of the penalties were additions of 10 minutes - misconducts. I also tried to knuckle down and stop the stupid lazy penalties, the hooks, the trips and the holds. I also realized I couldn't talk the referees out of anything, so I just went to the penalty box if I was called for anything."
Among the other Hawks making an impact during the renaissance were Pilote, who won the Norris Trophy as the League's best defenseman for three straight seasons (1963-65), and right winger Kenny Wharram, a steady point producer who is remembered as "underrated" by many of his peers.
"We had so many highlights during that period," said Billy Reay, who replaced Pilous as coach in 1963-64 and remained behind the bench until 1976-77.
The Hawks enjoyed a steady wave of talented players either developed within the organization or acquired by trades. Homegrown were Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, Dennis Hull, Fred Stanfield, Doug Jarrett, Cliff Koroll, and Keith Magnuson Arriving through deals were Jim Pappin, Pit Martin, Pat Stapleton, Bill White, and later, Tony Esposito.
The Hawks finally broke the "Curse of Muldoon" in 1966-67. They finished first overall in the six-team NHL -- the final season before the League doubled its size through its first expansion. The expansion draft cost the Hawks Hall and other key players. Chicago fell to fourth place in the East Division - which contained all six established teams in â€˜67-68. The Hawks landed in the cellar the following year.
But in 1969-70, they rebounded to first place, due largely to the play of Tony Esposito in his phenomenal rookie season. In winning the Calder Trophy, "Tony-O," an acquisition from Montreal, was 38-17-8, had a 2.17 goals-against average, and posted a remarkable 15 shutouts.
In post-season play, the Hawks of the 1960s and early 1970s made the finals four times after winning the Cup in 1961, but each time they fell short. Most frustrating was a loss to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games in May 1971. Chicago had 2-0 and 3-2 leads in the series, but the Canadiens kept coming back. In Game Seven, at the Stadium, the Hawks had a 2-0 lead by 7:33 of the second period, but dropped the deciding game 3-2.
"I remember (Bobby) Hull hit the crossbar with a shot that would have made it 3-0," Reay said. "Then (Jacques) Lemaire scored on a long shot to make it 2-1. I thought that was the year we were going to win it, but that's the way things go in hockey."
Although he wasn't around for that particular series, Glenn Hall offered some insight as to why the pre-Tony Esposito Hawks of the 1960s didn't collect more silverware.
"A team like Montreal was maybe as good as us offensively, but they were better than us defensively," Hall explained. "We sacrificed defense for offense and it didn't work that way in the playoffs. We had good defensemen, but didn't have the total team commitment. When I was there (in Chicago) we weren't a team looking to win a Vezina Trophy. Montreal was."
Still, Hall and the Hawks did skate away with the League's lowest team goal-against averages in 1963 and 1967.
The Defensive ‘70’s, Rowdy ‘80’s, and Hardworking ‘90’s
Unlike the teams of the 1960s, the 1970's version of the Hawks did emphasize team defense. Esposito helped the club capture the Vezina in 1970 and 1972, and they tied for the honor with the Flyers and Bernie Parent in 1974.
In 1974-75, the NHL reorganized into four divisions, with the Hawks landing in the Smythe. Although Chicago won the division title four times, the team had slipped to around and sometimes below the .500 level. There were empty seats in the Stadium as many of the Hawks stars slowed down or were traded away. And while it didn't hurt the Hawks immediately in the standings, the loss of Bobby Hull, who jumped to the WHA Winnipeg Jets in 1972, may finally have had an effect.
"It's harder to lose someone in life than in death," said Hawks President Bill Wirtz. "That was the case with Bobby Hull. He was such an infectious star in this market."
A poor showing in 1976-77 cost Reay his job at mid-season. On an interim basis, he was replaced by Bill White. The following year, Bob Pulford arrived from the Los Angeles Kings and took over both behind the bench and as the team's player personnel boss. At the same time, a new generation of Blackhawk players, including such eventual stars as defensemen Doug Wilson and Bob Murray, were coming along.
The team took in more life in 1979-80 when the WHA was merged into the NHL and forwards Terry Ruskowski and Rich Preston were added. Also helping was center Tom Lysiak, whom Pulford had acquired in a multi-player deal with the Atlanta Flames late in '78-'79.
There was additional vitality and excitement in 1980-81 with the addition of Denis Savard via the NHL Entry Draft, Al Secord in a trade with Boston, and a hard-working winger named Darryl Sutter, who scored 40 goals. But despite the new blood, the Hawks still hovered around the .500 mark.
In 1981-82, the Blackhawks were just 30-38-12, but managed to upset the Minnesota North Stars in the opening round of the playoffs and advanced as far as the semifinals before falling to Vancouver. Even though the team wasn't putting up great numbers in the standings yet, the fans returned, packing the Stadium. Among the individual highlights that season, Doug Wilson won the Norris Trophy thanks in part to a 39-goal, 85-point season that still ranks as a team record for defensemen.
In 1982-83, Hawk tickets were even harder to come by as Chicago iced one of its most colorful teams ever.
Taking over behind the bench was Orval Tessier, a former Hawks minor league coach who eventually became known as "Mt. Orval" for his heated post-game criticism after losses. During that season the Hawks surged to a 47-23-10 record and a first place finish in the Norris Division.
Also that season, a right winger who had been a Tessier favorite in the American Hockey League, Steve Larmer, finally got a chance to play in the NHL. Larmer, a sleepy 11th-round draft pick, wasn't a flashy skater and didn't have overpowering skills, but he fit in perfectly on the starboard side of a line with center Savard and left winger Secord. The trio scored 132 goals that season and Larmer won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year.
"The type of players we were, we complimented each other so well," said Secord, who scored a career-high 54 goals that season while continuing to bang away and take on some of the league's heavyweights.
"We were so comfortable and so in sync with each other on the ice, we hardly had to discuss anything," he added. "If we did make changes, we'd do it with one or two words and that was it."
As personnel changed, so the Hawks were up and down in the regular season standings in the 1980s. The Stadium, however, became louder and crazier than ever. The frenzy in the old barn during the singing of the National Anthem became legendary. And the Hawks, who never missed the playoffs during the decade, managed a few decent post-season shows. They made it to the Conference Championships, (league semifinals) five times, in 1982, '83, '85, '89 and '90.
The thing I remember most was being lucky enough to play in front of the best fans in pro sports for 14 years," Wilson said. "Coming up the stairs (from the dressing room) to that kind of support with the people I played with was just unbelievable. The Stadium was the best building for a hockey player to play in and opposing teams knew how lucky we were to have it."
After Tessier was dismissed in 1984-85, the Hawks tried several coaches. Pulford returned to the bench for 1986-87 and Bob Murdoch took a turn in 1987-88. Then Mike Keenan, fresh from rebuilding the Philadelphia Flyers, brought his intense, authoritarian – some would say maniacal – style to Chicago for 1988-89.Love him or hate him, Keenan's teams were the best-conditioned and hardest-working in the NHL.
When Keenan, a wild wheeler-and-dealer, added the title of GM in 1990-91, player personnel moves were inevitable. Although some Hawk favorites, such as Savard, were sent packing, new help arrived in players such as defensemen Chris Chelios and Steve Smith and forwards Michel Goulet and Brent Sutter. Meanwhile, other Hawks, including Belfour, center Jeremy Roenick, and captain Dirk Graham, were growing into key roles with the club.
In 1992 the Hawks, propelled by an 11-game post-season winning streak, rolled all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before being overwhelmed by the Pittsburgh Penguins. After the run, Keenan remained GM, but gave up the coaching reins to Darryl Sutter. During games in early 1992-93, Keenan shuffled nervously around the press box. He wanted complete control and that didn't fit within the Hawks management team concept. So, in a typically Keenan-esque, tumultuous fashion, he left the Hawks in the middle of the '92-93 season and eventually landed with the New York Rangers.