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Chicago's sports scene hasn't always been this bleak. This week, as a reminder, we take a look back at happier days for the home teams.
The best came first for the Blackhawks in the 1960s.
The golden era of hockey in Chicago began with the ultimate on April 16, 1961. The Hawks defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-1 to win the Stanley Cup in six games. The young team would go on to thrill hockey fans for nearly two decades, reaching the finals four more times. But there wouldn't be another Stanley Cup. Forty-three years later, the Hawks still are waiting for their next title.
General manager Tommy Ivan was brought in to rebuild the team during the 1950s. He made a few astute trades, acquiring "Mr. Goalie," Glenn Hall, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career in Chicago. But mostly he hit the jackpot with his farm system. The 1960-61 team featured a 21-year-old flash named Bobby Hull and a 20-year-old wizard named Stan Mikita. Along with Pierre Pilote, Elmer "Moose" Vasko, Bill "Red" Hay, Kenny Wharram and Reggie Fleming, they were poised for greatness.
The biggest hurdle
The Hawks struggled early but came on strong to finish third in the six-team NHL. That earned them an opening-round date with Montreal, the five-time defending Cup champion. The Hawks denied the Canadiens a sixth title, winning in six games. Hall led the upset, shutting out the potent Canadiens twice in the series.
On to the Cup
In the finals, the Hawks faced a sub-.500 Detroit team that had upset Toronto in the first round. Still, the Red Wings featured Gordie Howe and the great goalie Terry Sawchuk.
The Hawks were supposed to be the host for the first two games, but Fleming recalled Game 2 being moved to the Detroit Olympia because an ice show was booked for the Chicago Stadium. Some things never change.
The teams split the first four games. Then the Hawks took over in Game 5. Mikita scored twice in a 6-3 victory. That set up the clincher in Detroit.
Fleming tied the game at 1-1 with a short-handed goal. That sparked the Hawks, who again shined behind the goaltending of Hall. The players lifted the goalie on their shoulders after the 5-1 win, celebrating the team's first Stanley Cup since 1938.
Afterward, a freak snowstorm prevented the Hawks from returning to Chicago. So owners Jim Norris and Arthur Wirtz bought champagne and held a victory party at the team's hotel.
What they said
Wrote Tribune reporter Ted Damata: Heading this multiple generation of stars was Glenn Hall, aptly named "Mr. Goalie." Tonight he was "Mr. Hockey." This quiet, calm, nerveless knight of the nets twice reached back into the goal to steal scores from the Wings in a second period that bred frustration in the enemy.
Of Hull and Mikita, Damata wrote: What about Stan Mikita, the clutch man of the series? Bobby Hull, the dynamic blond bomber who reached hockey maturity in the big series with powerful drives and unsuspected defensive abilities that smothered Gordie Howe.
What they said later
Fleming, a rookie on that team: "Beating Montreal was huge. They had such a good club. To beat them in six games was quite a thrill for us."
"We had a happy-go-lucky team. We used to take trains. The guys were always together. After the games (in Chicago), we were always told we had to meet someplace. We were a close team. We enjoyed playing together. Why the team didn't win again:
"I thought we'd win it the next year," Fleming said. "The chemistry wasn't there. We had won it once. We weren't as hungry."
In perspective: 1961
President Kennedy establishes the Peace Corps. The Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba ends in disaster. Alan Shepard is the first American in space. U.S. helicopters arrive in Saigon as the Vietnam War begins to escalate. Bob Dylan begins his career.