Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mikita




Returned from a week long vacation with no internet access and spent a couple of hours (:) ) catching up on Lowetide's posts from the last seven days. One of them talked about a list of the top thirty six players of all time. Which brings us to Stan Mikita, my favourite player growing up.
Stan Mikita's list of accomplishments is lengthy. He won one Cup (the Blackhawks of the 60s and early 70s likely should have won four or five but invariable fell short). He averaged over a point a game for his career, falling short of that mark the last few seasons though he was still productive for a guy nearing forty who had back problems. He also produced nearly a point a game in the playoffs. When he retired he was third overall in career points, second in assists.
You can read a little more about Mikita here.
Numbers and awards tell a lot but Mikita is an interesting player for many reasons. He came to Canada from Czechoslovakia as a eight year old and had to endure taunts beacuse he was a DP (displaced person), one of many who came from central and eastern Europe after World War Two. He was adopted by an aunt and uncle while his parents remained behind the Iron Curtain. When he started school he was placed in the kindergarten for three weeks because he could not speak English at all.
Even as a junior he played with a huge chip on his shoulder. His last season he won the scoring title and the MVP award, while amassing nearly 200 minutes in penalties. With Ted Lindsay as a mentor during his rookie season, Mikita continued this style of play for years. He would run into anyone, including Gordie Howe, who knocked the youngster cold with an elbow after Mikita gave him a little stick in one game. After a few seasons in the league (including his Cup) he realized that he might help the team a little more if he spent less time in the box. He went from being one of the most penalized (and dirtiest) players in the league to winning the Lady Byng in two consecutive seasons. He also won the Ross and Hart those years as well.
The impressive thing about Mikita was that he was a complete player. He was primarily a playmaker but he scord thirty goals or more nine times. He was a terrific faceoff man and an excellent penalty killer. He had the anticipation, the hockey sense, that all of the great players have. And he could check.
I'm proud of the game afterwards. I'm on the ice for five of our goals, I've got a goal and three assists and they didn't score when I was out there. That's the idea of the game. Score if you can but make sure the other team doesn't. From his autobiography, talking about a 6-4 victory over the Rangers near the end of the 68-69 season.
One of the alltime greats and a guy whose career and skill set were pretty unique. The transformation from "Le Petit Diable" to Lady Byng winner. A guy who put up points but was regarded as a terrific two way player year after year. My Dad talks about Steve Yzerman as a comparable and while their careers were a little different Yzerman may be close. Except Mikita was a lot better.

17 comments:

Kyle said...

Plus he had one hell of a donut shop.

In all seriousness though, I wish I was around to see the guys in that era.

Black Dog said...

I never saw him in his prime Kyle - probably from about '73 on.

But you think about those numbers - third in scoring all time when he retired. And I don't think anyone would argue that Esposito was a better player then Mikita. Great goalscorer but Mikita could do it all. He put up the numbers but he was also a guy who did all of the little things right. A very special player.

Lowetide said...

He used to file his stick down, you could probably find a photo if you google it.

He was a very smart hockey player and if you look at his plus minus from some of the late 60s/early 70s teams he laps his own team.

In 68-69 the Hawks finished about 12 goals to the good at EV (I'm unable to find goal against while on the PP).

Bobby Hull was -7 on that team with 20 pp goals and 58-49-107 for the year. Mikita was 30-67-97, 7 goals on the PP, 2 on the PK and was +17.

I'm pretty confident that if we could go back and apply current math to those games Mikita's status would grow.

He pretty much broke in ALL the Hawks wingers from '67 until he retired. He just did.

He started on the Scooter Line with Ab McDonald and then Doug Mohns joined him (and Kenny Wharram) but when Wharram had his heart attack they just slotted in Cliff Koroll and didn't skip a beat. Same with John Marks and a bunch of other guys 67-80.

And they were a great team in '71 and would have won the Stanley if Tony O had stopped Lemaire's shot. Fricking Habs ALWAYS GOT THE BREAKS!

Black Dog said...

Yes they did, LT. Stupid Habs!

I read about the stick filing this morning on the subway - I retrieved his book from my bookshelf and am giving it my first read in years.

The book was written at the end of the 68/69 season. Wharram scored 30 that year, giving him 252 for his career. Mikita had a pile of foot injuries as well as a bad back - he still scored 97 points.

One anecdote I read about him years ago said it all - killing a penalty he first won the draw in his own zone leading to a clearance of the Hawks' zone. He followed this by blocking a shot later in the penalty. And finished it off by picking off a pass and leading a rush the other way that led to a shortie.

I really have a had time thinking of a comparable player to him, LT. One who was as prolific offensively yet was so proficient in his own end as well as a master of the little things - maybe Trottier?

Kyle said...

I really have a had time thinking of a comparable player to him, LT. One who was as prolific offensively yet was so proficient in his own end as well as a master of the little things - maybe Trottier?

I may be a little era-biased but like you mentioned in the article, that has Steve Yzerman written all over it. I don't know if he had the pure talent of Stevie Wonder but it sure sounds like he had the smarts and heart.

Black Dog said...

Hey Kyle - its definitely difficult to compare eras and they played for different teams. The Hawk teams when Mikita was in his prime were top heavy - Glenn Hall in net, Pierre Pilote and Moose Vasko on D, Bobby Hull and Mikita up front. They had some other very good players as well - they traded Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield in what turned out to be a killer. There was Dennis Hull and Pit Martin who they got in the aforementioned deal. And Wharram. But those Hawk teams weren't as good as the Wings' teams Yzerman played for (witness the Cups). Which I think helped Yzerman a lot. Generally Mikita was the guy opponents keyed on - he did not have a Federov.
Now Yzerman played in the dead puck era but he also played in the high scoring 80s. Mikita played in the 70s but had most of his best years against original 6.
I would say this I think - Yzerman became a complete player; Mikita was a complete player almost from day 1 with the exception of his discipline.
Also if you look at the few lists kicking about Mikita is a no doubt pick. Remember - # 3 all time when he retired. He is one of the greatest ever. Yzerman, while a great player, is probably near the bottom of that top 36, if not just outside it. Now, top 40 player of all time is obviously amazing but I think Mikita is probably top 20 to 25 without a doubt. 4 scoring titles, 2 MVPS and 5 first team centre all star selections (plus two seconds).

Kyle said...

Well like I said, I didn't get to see both guys, but when you talk about sacrificing on PK and then having the talent to score the shortie, plus being your team's captain...etc. And like you mentioned, Yzerman played through the lean years as well, during that time, Gretzky called him the best player in the game (about 1990, in Gretz's autobiography).

I'm not going to argue Yzerman's place in the overall ranking of hockey, imo it's impossible to compare players on a ranking like #3 all time scoring when there is 30 years difference between their playing times.

Black Dog said...

You're right of course although it is fun. I'll let it go with this last point - the fact that so many of Yzerman's peers have vaulted into the top twenty speaks I think to two things - first of all that there were some extraordinary players, of which Yzerman was one. Secondly however is that it is not as impressive a feat as Howe or Mikita - not sure if that makes sense. I guess what I am trying to say is the game is the game. Howie Morenz, King Clancy, Eddie Shore, Stan Mikita and so on and so would not be as effective these days - players are bigger, faster etc. I think if you put that talent level into a modern athlete they are still stars but as you say how do you compare.

My point is this - its like Babe Ruth. He would not be the greatest player ever if he played today but consider that one year he hit five times as many home runs as the next highest guy - the guy had plenty of ridiculous stats like that. Its when you think of a guy who is so far ahead of his peers that he can do that. Like the 50 in 50 that Richard scored. Like Gretzky scoring over 200 points or Orr's records. Thirty years ago the game will likely have developed so much that guys like Yzerman or Sakic may seem like dinosaurs, like Mikita is now. But you cannot diminish what they accomplished when they played.

And believe me too Kyle - when I talk up Mikita I in no way mean to diminish Stevie Yzerman. Definitely one of the alltime greats.

Now about Joe Primeau, Aurel Joliet, Dit Clapper and Cyclone Taylor ... :)

Kyle said...

Oh I didn't take it as you diminishing Yzerman at all, I'm just saying I think it's probably more sensible to compare within an era...actually I was going to bring up Taylor as an example ha ha.

Sometimes I can write a lot without getting my point across.

Lowetide said...

In regard to a Mikita comp, it's like Bill James always said: the more unique the player, the fewer available comps.

Mikita was really slick with the puck and undersized for his era, so in the way (as a guy with the puck) he resembled a Denis Savard or Paul Kariya (I'm talking type, not results).

But as a player, he was from the era of more complete centers. Every team had at least one, Keon in Toronto, Habs had three in Beliveau, Richard, Backstrom, they could all PK and PP and often did and they all forechecked and carried the puck plus dished it off.

He had a bad back in the early 70s btw. I remember lots of stories about him playing through pain.

This is beginning to resemble a Chuck Norris thread lol.

Black Dog said...

Kyle - I have that problem too :)

If you haven't you should check out the 72 Series DVD. First of all the players look both really small and really slow. Of course this was a time when conditioning and weight training was nonexistent. Watch the last game if you can. Its a tie with about three minutes left and a Canadian (Esposito maybe but I can't recall) tries to carry it out of his zone three times. The first two times he is stripped of the puck as he tries to deke a guy out.
Imagine someone doing that today even in a regular season game - nailed to the bench! And here it is the deciding game of the series in the waning moments. Different times.

LT - I think his first back problem was in the 68/69 season - he was wearing a brace that year at times and talking about it being difficult - still finished fourth in scoring though

Chuck Norris?

Lowetide said...

A "Chuck Norris" thread is one in which ridiculous claims are made about a certain person (inevitably it becomes Chuck Norris).

So it starts by you saying something legit about Mikita, kyle adds something good, then I come in and make a statement just a little too far for reality.

THEN we get crazy and Mikita is climbing up mountains to save cats and killing bears with his bare hands.

It's an hfboards thing, but they probably got it from somewhere else.

Mikita though, he covers the bet. One more thing: when I say he's a Kariya type, that's really only the way he appears with the puck. Even when I saw him a lot (after the conversion to Byng-style) he was a heady, physical player who played a very smart game without the puck. He was slick.

Black Dog said...

In the spirit of Chuck Norris then here are a couple more tidbits about our man.

He played halfback for a St. Catherines football team that won the provincial championship. Bobby Hull was also in the backfield.

He was a good enough ball player that both the white Sox and Phillies were prepared to invite him to their camps before he went with hockey.

Ted Lindsay was his left wing his first season in the NHL. I may have mentioned that already.

He was actually a RW coming up but his coach with the TeePees switched him to centre because the Hawks were lacking at that position. Two of their centres were near retirement and the other two were nothing special.

He once killed a bear with his bare hands.

Kyle said...

72 Series DVD

Own it. The style of play on it though wasn't nearly as shocking as the '87 Canada Cup. Dear lord, I almost feel guilty for winning.

(In regards to Phil, I think coaches were just starting to tire of that sort of thing...Cherry has stated one of the reasons he traded Phil was shift length, given how much of a dump fan Cherry is, I'm sure carrying it out of his own end is another reason).

I heard that if you say Stan Mikita's name in the mirror 3 times he will come into your house and body check you through a wall.

uni said...

Lord...don't start the Chuck Norris comps.

Oh and I heard when the Ulf Samuelsson goes to bed at night he checks his closet for Stan Mikita.

Black Dog said...

Kyle - why was the '87 Canada Cup style so shocking - just so wide open? I watched it but I honestly cannot recall. At the time that was the norm - I remember one playoff game where the Oilers beat Chicago 12-6.

Never ever ever feel guilty about beating the Soviets - those feckers! :) Imagine Canada having a program where the best players played together from childhood on, spending their entire year, year after year, practicing and playing together. How good do you think they would be? Amateurs! Bah!

In all seriousness though if Mikita played today he'd probably be good for only about 20 goals and 50 points.

Of course he is 67.

Kyle said...

Kyle - why was the '87 Canada Cup style so shocking - just so wide open? I watched it but I honestly cannot recall.

It'll blow your mind on what you thought was great hockey. Cross checks are called 'body checks,' tackling someone is called 'good defence' etc etc. The only one who was throwing real bodychecks was Sutter. I have the DVDs, it was really quite unreal to watch the whole thing. The skill level is comparatively low to today's game, especially on defence.

In all seriousness though if Mikita played today he'd probably be good for only about 20 goals and 50 points.

Of course he is 67.


You SOB that's an old Cyclone joke! Someday I suppose we'll be saying it about Sidney though...