They year’s 1961. It was back in the days of the Original Six of the NHL, when the two Canadian teams dominated the NHL for years. Before the tradition of clapping during the National Anthem. Before the Chicago Blackhawks played at the United Center. And before the time of most Blackhawk fans today.
It was the year the Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup. A year where the ‘Hawks ended a 23 championship drought in a league that only had six teams, leaving you with roughly a 17% chance of winning the Stanley Cup compared to today’s 3.3%. Chicago was a dormant team for a long time, but the addition of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikta, and Glenn Hall(all now Hall of Fame Inductees) the team was ready end their drought.
Montreal,once again, dominated the league, taking the first seed. Montreal had reached the finals 10 years straight, winning the last five Stanley Cup finals.
The Blackhawks and Canadiens met each other, again, in the semi-finals. Many had the Canadiens over the Blackhawks, but a tough, defense-oriented, led by all-time great, Pierre Pilote,’Hawk team brought wear and tear to the Canadians who couldn’t keep up with the toughness displayed by Chicago.
The teams split the first games, but two straight shutouts in the last two games of the series by Blackhawk goalie, Glenn Hall, the ‘Hawks shocked the league and won the series.
With the Canadians out of the way, the ‘Hawks now faced the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. The series was a highly contested one, with both teams exploiting each other’s weaknesses.
After five games of play, the ‘Hawks had a 3-2 series lead, heading into Detroit and into the Olympia. Detroit’s goaltender, Terry Sawchuk, injured himself in game five, leaving the net to back-up goaltender, Hank Bassen. Bassen was no joke goaltender, and was well capable of leading his team in net.
Things went very well for the Red Wings at first. They took an early lead and kept it until the second period. Midway into the second period, penalty killer specialist, Reg Fleming, stole the puck, skated down the ice, and light the red lamp.
It was Fleming’s biggest goal of his career and one that completely changed the entire game. After the goal the Detroit fans and players felt the momentum shift, realizing how important that goal was, and that it could possibly change the nature of the series.
The ‘Hawks took the momentum and never looked back.
After the Hawks took a 3-1 lead, it “brought about almost a hush in Olympia Stadium and everybody knew for sure that they were watching the world champions put on the finishing touch to an obstinate foe,” Tribune reporter Ted Damata wrote.
Four goals and about 20 minutes later the series was over. Chicago five, Detroit one.
It was April 16th, 1961 and the Chicago Blackhawks were champions again.
Back at Chicago, winds were reaching 45 mph, causing 10 foot snowdrifts that closed schools and whole highways. But written on the front page of the Chicago Tribune the next day was “Hawks bring Stanley Cup to Chicago.”
It was a great way to start the new decade. The ‘Hawks had a team that would compete the whole 10 years and hopefully win some more championships. But the next championship never came. Bobby Hull was scoring 50+ goals a season, but the Cup evaded the ‘Hawks, and they soon slipped into another drought.
The ’60s Blackhawks were one and done, but their achievements are not forgotten. Chicago has welcomed back Bobby Hull, Stan Mikta, and Pierre Pilot back to the organization where they hold ambassador positions.
Now more than ever the ’61 Championship team is held high regards in Chicago, a city where the love of hockey is returning and a new dynasty is beginning.