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‘Must-Have’ Blackhawks Books

The history of the Chicago Blackhawks has all the color and brashness of their Indian Head jersey. Founded by American coffee tycoon Major Frederic McLaughlin in 1926, the team was named for the World War One battalion he commanded.

Hockey is both physique and mystique: its legends, folk tales, heroic deeds, mischief and tragedies amplify the events on and off the ice. The Blackhawks’ mystique exceeds their Championship status. With just three Stanley Cups since the franchise’s entry into the league, the mere compilation of winning statistics would not explain the passion and devotion Hawks fans have for their favorite team.  These ‘must-have’ books, all about that mystique, will stoke their passion and stimulate their Hawkey talk.

 

Authored by one of the most qualified observers of Chicago’s NHL team, Harvey Wittenberg’s Tales from the Chicago Blackhawks is a time capsule no Hawks fan will want to be without.

The jacket notes have a simplicity and substance that mirror the contents: “A collection of stories that come straight from the source-players, coaches, and managers, to name a just a few. Intended to be informative and, above all, entertaining, these tales are not only for fans of the Blackhawks, but for all fans of hockey.”

Harvey Wittenberg has been covering the Blackhawks since 1959, when he was sports director for Chicago radio station WLS-AM, becoming second-string public address announcer at the old Chicago Stadium that fall,  and radio color commentary for the Hawks the following March. Radio gave Wittenberg the chance to paint vocal pictures, and his skill earned him status as full time public address announcer in 1961. His tenure lasted 40 seasons.

The view offered by Harvey Wittenberg is one of whimsy, nostalgia and eccentricity: hockey as a sport where the comical exists alongside the confrontational.

His album of memories is a read that moves as swiftly as the Hawks teams he portrays. From the infamous “Curse of the Muldoon” to the pipe organ of Chicago Stadium exhorting the throng to cheer their Hawks, the book is a deep dish of flavors simmered for decades.

Amusing tales abound: forward Cliff Koroll, deciding he was due a $500 raise on an $8000 salary, being rebuffed by GM Tommy Ivan with, “If you don’t like what I’m offering you, go out and get a job!”; coach ‘Iron Mike’ Keenan punishing his defensive stars Chris Chelios and Steve Smith who broke curfew in Montreal by forcing them to play forty minutes virtually without a chance to catch their breath; defenseman Doug Wilson, his jaw broken, being fed beer and pizza from a blender; Dennis Hull, ‘The Silver Jet’, whose magic tricks and jokes played with teammate Doug Jarrett earned them the nickname “Gold Dust Twins”; and many more.

The chapters are brief, yet filled with information, with electric titles like “The Strangest Goal Ever at Chicago Stadium” and “Remember the Roar”, and a sprinkling of photos that highlight Wittenberg’s text.

While Wittenberg’s book takes us up to the end of the 2002-2003 season, he continues to write about the Hawks. His columns appear on the NHL’s website, and his commentary embellishes another of the books on our list.

He knows the pride of those who wore the Indian Head, and the passion of those who have followed them. The book reprises his final speech to the audience during the last game at Chicago Stadium in April, 1994. He evokes every ounce of that pride in all of Black Hawk Nation: “Remember your favorite players whether they are Bobby Hull, Jeremy Roenick. Tony Esposito, Eddie Belfour, Stan Mikita, Denis Savard, Keith Magnuson, and Chris Chelios—remember the feeling you have, right now!”

The Chicago Stadium is gone. It is almost half a century since the Blackhawks’ last Stanley Cup. But “Tales from the Chicago Blackhawks” roars with remembrance, and keeps Hawk hope alive.

Hockey is my game—and it sure has been good to me.” Thus Robert Marvin “Bobby” Hull, ‘The Golden Jet’, the first player to equal and break Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard’s then seemingly unbreakable single-season goal scoring record; the first hockey player to earn a million dollars a year; perhaps the most famous hockey player ever, begins his 1967 biography.

While out of print for many years, editions like the original Longmans Canada hardcover can still be found online at Amazon and Alibris, by the assiduous hockey book hound.

It is worth the search. Hull’s book startles the reader with an elegant, gracious style that contrasts with the magnum force of his play. It is not difficult to hear Bobby’s voice in the words, as he tells the story of his rise to the NHL. The book predates his eventual decision to abandon it for the unknown quantity that was the World Hockey Association. 

Hull’s prose is as direct, and often as powerful, as his legendary slap shot. “I expect to be paid adequately for the services I perform, and I expect to be clobbered by both club and fans if I let either down.”

Hockey’s first million-dollar man, Hull is candid about his motivation.  “People kept forgetting that hockey is also a big business. I’m not biting the hand that feeds me by suggesting there is nothing spiritual about hockey. I have a beautiful wife, three kids, a couple of farms stocked with the best cattle, two homes, cars, boats, and interests in a half-dozen business enterprises. I might have gotten all of this one way or another, but playing hockey enabled me to get it while doing something I love.”

Forty-two years after its publication, the absence of pretense in Bobby Hull’s story is still refreshing. His recollections, analysis of his profession both as business and sport make this a book not only for Hawks fans, but all hockey fans. And the photographic instructions of how to shoot the puck like Hull, and play the way he did, both on offense and defense, “Hockey Is My Game” will make you lace up your skates and take to the ice.

The tenacity and talent of Stan Mikita are brought to life when reading his 1969 autobiography, “I Play To Win”, and in the revered Stan Fischler’s portrait, “Stan Mikita: The Turbulent Career of a Hockey Superstar”, also published in 1969.
Given the dichotomies that mark Mikita’s life, it is perhaps fitting these biographies appeared almost simultaneously.

Born Stanislaus Gvoth in 1940, in what would become the Czecho-Slovak Soviet Socialist Republic, the seven year old Stan was put on a train by his parents and sent to join his foster family, the Mikitas, in St. Catherines, Ontario.

A pugnacious boy whose first words in English included ‘stick’ and ‘puck’, his innate sense for the game translated into an athletic eloquence few matched on the ice.

Small of stature, his belligerence and intelligence allowed him to master the game; and his fortuitous invention of the curved stick blade transformed it. From one of the most penalized players in the league during his early years, Mikita became a multiple Lady Byng trophy winner as an example of hockey sportsmanship—along with his collection of Hart and Art Ross trophies.  A member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Stan Mikita remains the only player in NHL history to win those three trophies in the same season; and did so in consecutive seasons, in 1966–67 and 1967–68.

Along with fellow HHOFer Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita may be the most iconic of all Blackhawks stars. He was, and is, possibly the most intense competitor ever to wear the Indian Head. “If you plan to win as I do,” he is quoted, “the game never ends.”

A member of the last team to capture Stanley’s silver, Mikita is one of the Hawks’ most respected ambassadors today. One wonders if the arrival of the only other Slovak-born hockey star to have gone to the Cup Finals in successive years, Marian Hossa, will see Chicago reach the summit once again.

Like Hull, Mikita’s autobiography mixes recollections of his personal life, hockey stories, views on his contemporaries and tips on his technique with photos from his album and career.  Unlike the publicly personable Hull, Mikita could seem abrasive, but he makes no apologies. “That’s the way he is, and that’s the way I am. I just can’t bear to stand around trying to be nice when that’s not the way I feel inside.”

 

When Stan Fischler approached Mikita to do the tape recorded interviews that would make up his book, “Stan Mikita: The Turbulent Career of A Hockey Superstar”, Fischler was already recognized as one of the pre-eminent writers in the field. But Fischler had a more personal view, being of Slovak descent, and he hoped their collaboration would meld his own deft wordsmithing with the flair of Mikita’s game.

The tale of two Stans is a success: a tome that crackles with prose as pointed and precise as Mikita’s play.

The introduction by Rudy Pilous, Mikita’s long time coach who led the Hawks to their last Stanley Cup in 1961, is a moving letter. “It was my privilege to coach Stan in his formative years, from sixteen to twenty two. If I have played some small role in his development, it is a reward I will treasure in this high-pressure business of professional hockey.”

Thereby lays the distinction between the two books: whereas Mikita’ own tale tends to reflect the efficiency of his hockey persona, Fischler digs more deeply, imbuing his book with an intimacy and sincerity rarely found in hockey writing today.  In many ways, this book transcends the genre.

Fischler never shies away from the controversial, and reading about Mikita’s vendettas with other players, and his uncompromising attitude towards excellence, is as exciting as watching Stan The Man himself.

 

Hawks fans who remember the powerhouse team of the late sixties and early seventies will be delighted by Fischler’s large format “Chicago’s Black Hawks”, with its copious collection of action photos.

This 1972 hardcover focuses on the Billy Reay-coached group that included Mikita, Tony Esposito, Keith Magnuson, Bobby –right before he jumped to the World Hockey Association—and Dennis Hull, Jim Pappin, Pat Stapleton, Bill White, and Doug Jarrett among others. During those years, the Hawks were a dominant club, bested only by the Montreal Canadiens.

The text is vintage Fischler. Bobby Hull “has all the playing virtues of the ideal hockey star”;  Tony Esposito is “the larcenous lord of the crease”; Keith Magnuson is “Mr. Vigor”; Stan Mikita is “the thinking man’s playmaker”; Jim Pappin is “cool and cagey”; Pat Stapleton “gets set to unload a hard rubber rocket”. 

Written in an era when hockey scribes did more than recycle clichés, “Chicago’s Black Hawks” is as rugged as the action it covers, and enshrines a time of dramatic transformation as the NHL expanded from six to twelve teams in a gargantuan leap that still sparks debate today.

Hard to find, though available online, this Blackhawk book will reward the seeker for their diligence.

 

Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years” is pure luxury for the Hawks fan. Produced as a 75th Anniversary Commemorative Edition, this is a coffee table volume of the first order.

Starting with a magnificent gold foil stamped dust jacket, the book oozes with color and pedigree. The text by Chicago Tribune veteran Bob Verdi is supported by exhaustive research, statistics, photographs and illustrations that walk the reader down the path of Black Hawk Nation, from the origins of the club through the spectacular Anniversary celebration as the New Millennium began.  It even has the music and lyrics for the team’s jazzy theme song: “Here Come The Hawks” on the endpapers.

With introductions by Billy Reay, the most successful coach in Blackhawk history, and Chicago native, movie and TV star Jim Belushi, “Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years” is high-octane nostalgia.

The images of Hawks stars, memorabilia, programs and uniforms, are a garden of Hawkey lore where enthusiasts can get lost for hours and hours. This is THE book that Hawks fans will refer to again and again, using it as fodder for banter with friends and foes alike. It is a virtual museum exhibit, that reveals new dimensions each time its covers are opened and its pages turned.

Hawks legend Denis Savard sums it up in his jacket notes: “This book will allow fans and players alike to relive all the great moments in Chicago Blackhawks history.”

Again, finding it requires initiative, but with online prices well below its original $40 (US/$58 CAD) retail price, the ardent Hawks fan will acquire a true treasure for their library.

 


One Goal: Chicago’s Resurgent Blackhawks” proclaims itself as an “Official Commemorative Edition”.  To be frank, it is actually the evidence of current Hawks President John McDonough’s marketing moxie. This slick, trade-paperback format album, published in 2008, does not credit an author, but is graced by forewords from Bobby Hull and long-time Hawks television announcer Pat Foley.

In this respect, it is really an advertorial publication, designed to advance the “One Goal” agenda that McDonough champions for the organization. That agenda means monetizing the mystique, and framing Hawks stars, past, present and future in what marketing mavens like to call ‘cross-platform synergy’. Building the Blackhawk brand is McDonough’s goal, and to his credit, “One Goal” does it capably.

Timed to help sell The 2009 Winter Classic game at Wrigley Field, the book is essentially the ultimate game program, prefacing the profiles of the 2008-09 team with snapshots of Hawks icons. Harvey Wittenberg was recruited to give the book historical credibility, and Hawks fans will not be disappointed with his contributions.

The ‘Fan Q&A’ segments with Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito, which are transcripts of the ‘Hawk Cast’ Internet chats with fans, are notable. The big glossy photos of the current Hawk squad are complimented by those of the legends who since been honored at Hawks Heritage Nights, including Hull, Mikita, Esposito, Pierre Pilote, Glenn Hall, Steve Larmer, Tony Amonte and Bob Probert.

Giving McDonough his due for his role in the revival of a moribund franchise and the Hawks becoming an enormously profitable sports enterprise, “One Goal” is, in effect, a textbook for hockey marketing success.

And these days, when an Original Six club like the Chicago Blackhawks is as successful a team as it is an enterprise, can Hawkey fans complain?

—DM


Tales from the Chicago Blackhawks, by Harvey Wittenberg, hardcover, 189pp, illustrated with photographs; Sports Publishing LLC, 2003; cover price $19.95 US. Available from Amazon.


Hockey Is My Game, by Bobby Hull, hardcover, 222pp, illustrated with photographs; Longmans Canada, 1967; prices will vary according to condition. Available from Amazon and Alibris.


I Play To Win, by Stan Mikita, paperback, 177pp, illustrated with photographs; Pocket Books, 1970 (hardcover edition, William Morrow & Company, 1969). Prices will vary according to condition. Available from Amazon and Alibris.

Stan Mikita: The Turbulent Career of a Hockey Superstar, by Stan Fischler, hardcover, 206 pp, illustrated with photographs; Cowles, 1969.  Prices will vary according to condition. Available from Amazon and Alibris.

Chicago’s Black Hawks, by Stan Fischler, hardcover, 144pp, illustrated with photographs; Stuart L. Daniels/Prentice-Hall, 1972. Prices will vary according to condition. Available from Amazon and Alibris.

Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years, by Bob Verdi, hardcover, 180pp, with illustrations and photographs; Tehabi Books, 2000. Prices will vary according to condition. Available from Amazon and Alibris.

One Goal: The Resurgent Chicago Blackhawks, trade paperback, 128pp, illustrated with photographs; Triumph Books, 2008. Cover price $14.95 US. Available from Amazon.

Portions of this article originally appeared in Chicago Sports Then & Now.

 

Filed in: NHL Teams, Chicago Blackhawks, | KK Hockey | Permalink
 

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

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