Sports Business

Q&A: NHL Great Stan Mikita Talks 'Hawks, Hull, Gretzky, Olympics

The 2011-12 NHL season is underway. That gave Big Lead Sports the excuse to speak with one of the game’s great stars of all-time, Stan Mikita.

Mikita set the standard during a career that lasted from 1958-1980, all with the Chicago Blackhawks. He was a two-time league MVP, four-time scoring leader and a member of the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup championship team in 1960-61.

He retired with regular season career totals of 541 goals and 926 assists. Mikita was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.

On Oct. 22, life-size statues of Mikita and former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Bobby Hull will be unveiled outside of  United Center, the home arena of the Blackhawks.

Mikita has just released his autobiography, Forever a Blackhawk (Triumph), written in conjunction with sports writing icon Bob Verdi. During the writing process, Mikita was diagnosed with Stage 1 oral cancer, which required intense radiation treatments that helped him to score another win: Doctors say he is now cancer-free.

Big Lead Sports spoke with “Stosh,” now 71, about the Chicago Blackhawks and the NHL of yesterday and today.

Big Lead Sports: What has the Blackhawks resurgence meant to you personally?

Stan Mikita: The biggest difference I have seen in regards to a resurgence is prior to 2009 when people would approach me they would say “What about YOUR Blackhawks?” in reference to the way the team was playing at that time. In the last couple of years it has turned into, “What about OUR Blackhawks.” It is a great turn around for not only the organization but the City of Chicago to have a strong, competitive hockey team. It has been fun to watch and certainly be a part of the Blackhawks again.

BLS: Is the relationship different between Blackhawks’ fans and the team as opposed to Chicago fans with other teams such as the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Bears?

SM: Chicago is a special town because the people are so friendly and welcoming. It was fun in “our day” to walk down the street and be appreciated by the fans. That has never changed. In regards to Cubs fans I would have to say that Chicago fans are very loyal. Whether a Cubs, Sox, Bulls, Bears, Fire or Hawks fan – the allegiance is strong and appreciated by the people who play the sport!

BLS: What can hockey do to keep growing nationally and, from your personal perspective, in the Midwest?

SM: Hockey has been growing in the Midwest for the last few years. I am sure the resurgence of the Hawks has certainly helped that cause. I know the Blackhawks have a wonderful youth program that promotes youth hockey as well as provides instruction and off- ice training. Hockey in the Midwest has come a long way.

BLS: Former teammate Bobby Hull left Chicago to go to Winnipeg and the WHA. Now the Winnipeg Jets have returned to the NHL via the relocated Atlanta franchise. How important is it for the NHL to re-estabish its ties in cities like Winnipeg and even Quebec City?

SM: When Bobby left Chicago for the WHA people called him a traitor. Bobby was doing what he thought was good for him and his family. I think people forget that Bobby “jumping ship” opened a lot of doors for other guys’ careers. It is great to see Winnipeg back in the NHL. Because of the economic times we are facing, [the NHL] needs to be careful as to not over-saturate the market and end up losing a team all together.

BLS: Bob Verdi, who worked on your book, recalled a classic line from Hull, who said that you were “tougher than a night in jail.” How would you compare Hull as a player to Wayne Gretzky in his prime or Mario Lemieux in his?

SM: Hull, Gretzky and Lemieux are three of the greatest names in hockey to have ever laced up skates. They each had their own style and impact on the game. The one thing they all do have in common is the fact that all three guys liked to have the puck at the “right” time which resulted in goals for their team.

BLS: Would the great players of your era play up to their level in the NHL of 2011-12?

SM: The biggest difference I have seen in the changes of the game is the size of the players.  The guys I played with in the ’60s and ’70s probably weren’t as big as today’s players. Denis Savard is the first player to come to mind as a player who has the attributes to play in today’s game. I know one thing and that is no matter what era of hockey you played in everyone had a love for the game!

BLS: What was your favorite place to play and why?

SM: Chicago Stadium did have a lot of character. It doesn’t compare to today’s arenas for obvious reasons. I played in many places throughout my career and have many fond memories. I would have to say Chicago Stadium was my favorite place to play hockey because it was close to home and I got to play in front of the best fans in the world.

BLS: Do you think that the Olympics with NHL players is a good or a bad situation?

SM: At the time I played, the Olympics only allowed amateur players to represent their country. Although the Russians were paid to play for their country back in the day!  I think being asked to play for your country is one of the highest honors – whether amateur or professional. I was able to play the Russians in the Team 72 series.  I was a Canadian citizen at the time. I eventually became a U.S. citizen.

BLS: What is the one thing you miss about hockey from your playing days? If you had a chance to do something over in your career what would it be?

SM: I had a wonderful career and if there is one thing I could do over I would say score more goals. In regards to missing hockey – I don’t miss it. It was a sport and profession I loved. The game has given me many wonderful opportunities, friendships and a fulfilling life. I am now able to travel when I want and play some golf. Life is good!!

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