The Chicago Blackhawks were founded on September 25, 1926, when the National Hockey League awarded a franchise to Major Frederic McLaughlin. McLaughlin was a Harvard educated coffee tycoon who was able to come up with the $12,000 entry fee required to join the league. In order to get players for the team, he bought the Portland Rose Buds for $200,000. The Rose Buds played in the dieing Western Hockey League. After bringing the Rose Buds to Chicago he decided to give the team a new name. The Major found his inspiration by looking in the past. During World War I, McLaughlin served as a commander in the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 85th Division of United States Army. Members of his division called themselves Blackhawks in honor of the Sauk Indian Chief who sided with the British in the War of 1812.
The Chicago Blackhawks played their debut game in front of 9,000 people at the Chicago Coliseum. They won the game against the Toronto St. Pats by a score of 4-1. In their first season the Hawks finished in third place in the NHLs old American Division. They ended the season with a record of 19-23-3. The team included future Hall-of-Famers Dick Irvin, Hugh Lehaman, Babe Dye, George Hay, and Mickey McKay.
Despite going through 14 coaches in 13 years, the Hawks enjoyed some early successes. They moved into the Chicago Stadium, then a state of the art showcase, and won the first game that they played in it. They beat the Pittsburgh Pirates on December 16, 1929 in front of 14,212 fans. At the time the Hawks also had one of the leagues best goalies, Charlie Gardner who joined the team in 1927. In the 1933-34 season Gardner led the hawks to their first Stanley Cup. Members of the team included, Doc Rmnes, Paul Tompson, Mush Marsh, Tommy Cook, Johnny Gottselig, Lionel Conacher, and Clarence Abel. Sadly though, less than two months after winning the cup, Gardner died at the age of 29. He died of a brain tumor at his home in Winnipeg.
During the 1937-38 season the hawks were lead by a new goalie, Mike Karakas. Due to a broken toe, Karakas missed 2 games out of the Stanley Cup finals, but returned for the final two games. The hawks both games and earned their second Stanley Cup.
After that Championship, however, the Hawks slipped into an era of consistent ineptitude that became even bleaker after McLaughlins death in 1944. During a 13-season span from 1946-47 through 1957-58, Chicago made the playoffs only once. For 15 years, from 1946-47 through 1959-60, the Hawks had losing regular-season records.
There were a few highlights during that era, however. The Hawks Pony Line, made up of Doug and Max Bentley and Bill Mosienko, was small but swift, and one of the most exciting forward trios of the day. Max Bentley, a 58, 158-pound center, was the Blackhawks first Hart Trophy winner as the Leagues MVP in 1945-46.
He also netted the Art Ross Trophy as the NHLs top scorer that year and again in 1946-47. Earlier, in 1942-43, Bentley captured the Lady Byng Trophy. Meanwhile, Mosienko, who won the Lady Byng in 1944-45, became famous for scoring three goals in 21 seconds in a game on March 23, 1952. Another Hawks Trophy winner of that era was Roy Conacher, who netted the Art Ross in 1948-49.
Although it didnt reflect in the standings for several years, the Hawks began their climb out of the cellar in 1953-54, when former Detroit Red Wings shareholders James D. Norris and Arthur Wirtz took control of the club. One of their first moves was to hire Tommy Ivan away from the Wings and install him as Chicagos General Manager. That year the Hawks finished again in last place, but at least goaltender Al Rollins was rewarded for facing a steady stream of pucks by winning the Art Ross Trophy as the leagues MVP.
Ivan made some deals, including acquiring 1955 Calder Trophy winner Ed Litzenberger from Montreal to help the Club immediately, but the Hawks required a long-term recovery plan. Supported by funds from the new owners, Ivan was able to rebuild the Blackhawks player development system. In those days that included sponsored junior teams as well a professional minor league club. Eventually Ivan built a system that groomed skaters such as Bobby and Dennis Hull, Stan Mikita, Ken Wharram, Pierre Pilote, and Elmer Moose Vasko.
In order to complete the overhaul, Ivan felt that he needed to improve the teams goaltending. In 1957-58, he swung a deal with the Detroit Red Wings that brought netminder Glenn Hall and Red Wings captain Ted Lindsay to Chicago.
So many players are hesitant to go to a team that isnt doing well, recalled Hall, who remained with the Hawks until being taken in the 1967 expansion draft by St. Louis. But we got a chance to lead a team out of the wilderness. We were probably at rock bottom when we got there.
The Hawks didnt stay down for long after Hall arrived. With Coach Rudy Pilous behind the bench and Hull, Mikita, Pilote, and company rounding into form on the ice, the team improved steadily.
In 1960-61, the Hawks set club records for wins (29) and points (75) and climbed over the .500 mark for the first time since 1946-47. In the playoffs, Chicago surprised defending champion Montreal in six games in the semifinals and then knocked off the Red Wings in six in the finals to win the Cup.
One of the highlights for me was winning the Stanley Cup that year, said Hall, who appeared in a record 502 consecutive games. I dont think we were supposed to win it then.
That launched an era of 14 years of consecutive sellouts at the Stadium. The Hawks were hot. And Hull, the Golden Jet, who cracked the 50-goal barrier for the first time in 1961-62, and Mikita, who netted his first Art Ross Trophy in 1963-64, became the talk of the town.
Hull, who led the NHL in goal scoring six times and in points for three seasons, was a prototypical scorer. But Mikitas game evolved. During his early years, he was known for his hot temper. In fact, when Mikita led the NHL with 89 points in 1963-64, he also topped the circuit with 149 penalty minutes.
Among the other Hawks making an impact during the renaissance were Pilote, who won the Norris Trophy as the Leagues best defenseman for three straight seasons (1963-65), and right winger Kenny Wharram, a steady point producer who is remembered as underrated by many of his peers.
The Hawks enjoyed a steady wave of talented players either developed within the organization or acquired by trades. Homegrown were Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, Dennis Hull, Fred Stanfield, Doug Jarrett, Cliff Koroll, and Keith Magnison. Arriving through deals were Jim Pappin, Pit Martin, Pat Stapleton, Bill White, and later, Tony Esposito.
The Hawks finally broke the Curse of Muldoon in 1966-67. They finished first overall in the six-team NHL -- the final season before the League doubled its size through its first expansion. The expansion draft cost the Hawks Hall and other key players. Chicago fell to fourth place in the East Division which contained all six established teams in 67-68. The Hawks landed in the cellar the following year.
But in 1969-70, they rebounded to first place, due largely to the play of Tony Esposito in his phenomenal rookie season. In winning the Calder Trophy, Tony-O, an acquisition from Montreal, was 38-17-8, had a 2.17 goals-against average, and posted a remarkable 15 shutouts.
In post-season play, the Hawks of the 1960s and early 1970s made the finals four times after winning the Cup in 1961, but each time they fell short. Most frustrating was a loss to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games in May 1971. Chicago had 2-0 and 3-2 leads in the series, but the Canadiens kept coming back. In Game Seven, at the Stadium, the Hawks had a 2-0 lead by 7:33 of the second period, but dropped the deciding game 3-2. I remember (Bobby) Hull hit the crossbar with a shot that would have made it 3-0, Reay said. Then (Jacques) Lemaire scored on a long shot to make it 2-1. I thought that was the year we were going to win it, but thats the way things go in hockey.
Although he wasnt around for that particular series, Glenn Hall offered some insight as to why the pre-Tony Esposito Hawks of the 1960s didnt collect more silverware. Still, Hall and the Hawks did skate away with the Leagues lowest team goal-against averages in 1963 and 1967.
After the late sixties, things really went down hill for the Hawks. Even today the team still struggles. Many people say that the Hawks are on their way to making a comeback. I sure do hope that a comeback is possible, not only for the team but for the city of Chicago and the rest of the state of Illinois.