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PostStan Mikita, Hockey Legend, 1940-2018 (David Duggan, USA, 08/11/18 3:09 pm)
Though WAISers are worried about land reform, Brexit, and the future of the universe under Donald J. Trump, I thought I'd note the passing of one, who though not of the Mandela-May-Merkel pantheon, at least provided sports fans with a measure of relief from their day-to-day concerns. I'm speaking of Stan Mikita, the legendary center on one of the greatest hockey teams ever assembled, the 1961 Chicago Blackhawks, with Bobby Hull, Glenn Hall, Eric Nesterenko, and Pierre Pilote, who won the Stanley Cup. He was 78 years old, and after surviving oral cancer, succumbed to Lewy body dementia this past Tuesday. Lewy body dementia is the same disease which Robin Williams suffered from when he terminated his life four years ago.
Mikita, a member of both the Slovakian Sports Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame, emigrated to Canada when he was 8, taking his aunt's and uncle's surname (he was born Guoth), and played in the Canadian minor leagues before being elevated to the bigs in 1959. He never wore another uniform than the Blackhawk red and black, and is the team's leading scorer. A scrappy 5'9," 165 lbs., Mikita was known for his non-pareil stick-handling, aided to some degree by his innovation with the curved stick. That banana weapon gave players a real advantage in shooting the puck: unparalleled accuracy with spin imparted. Imagine a curve ball you could actually locate as it crossed the plate.
Mikita took the NHL scoring title four times in the 1960s, and for a time led the league in penalty minutes. After his daughter wondered why he was sitting alone in the stands (the Hawks were broadcast on WGN back then), he altered his approach, and twice won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship. Though he had only one Stanley Cup trophy to his credit, after the Hawks let the Golden Jet Bobby Hull, and Phil Esposito get away, the team was particularly abysmal through most of the 1970s. The league ultimately limited his curved stick to a 1/2 inch deflection, limiting his particular stick-handling gift. He was one of the first to wear a helmet after having an ear sliced off, Van Gogh style. His was re-attached.
Not a one-trick pony, Mikita later became a golf pro at Chicagoland's Kemper Lakes course, site of several major championships (1989 Men's PGA, 2018 Women's PGA), and gave selflessly to several causes, including the Special Olympics and the hearing impaired. He earned a spot in the popular culture with an appearance in the otherwise forgettable Wayne's World movie (with Mike Myers and Dana Carvey), where he played a donut shop owner, a spoof on the Canadian Tim Horton chain, named after a Canadian player nowhere near as memorable as Stan the man.
Stan Mikita, RIP.
JE comments: Another legend gone. Thank you, David. See below. (The shop is Hollywood set magic.)