Setting Free the Hawks

That’s Bill White making sure big Peter Stemkowski doesn’t get the puck. I’ve written about White before and in my memory banks he’s a perfect example of a defensive defenseman. He arrived in the NHL at age 28, after enduring something just this side of Papillon. He played the game with calm feet and he was an important part of two famous hockey teams: the early ’70s Blackhawks and the 1972 Team Canada.

He was a beauty.

In my lifetime it has happened exactly twice: 2 Stanley-calibre teams getting shutout at the same time. They are the 1970-74 Chicago Blackhawks (lost two finals and three semi’s in that span) and the 1971-74 New York Rangers (lost one final and three semi’s). Later, the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers of the 1980′s were also denied in similar fashion. The first two teams ran into the Bruins of Orr and the Habs of Dryden and all that defense; the second pair of teams ran into the Boys on the Bus.

This edition of the team looks more like the Dryden Habs or the Boys on the Bus. I think heartbreak may lie ahead for others this time around. The hockey Gods are just, it just takes them awhile.

I’m surprised no one has written anything about Tommy Ivan. Ivan was a coach for the Detroit Red Wings (won 3 Stanley’s there as coach) from 1947 to 1954. He then took over the Chicago Black Hawks as coach and GM, which at the time was like leaving the modern day Red Wings for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Ivan became hockey’s Branch Rickey, adding farm teams and procuring talent any way he could, and damned if Chicago didn’t win the Stanley Cup in 1961. He was the General Manager by that time (the fractious Rudy Pilous was the coach at the time) and although the Hawks didn’t win another Stanley under his watch they were always in the range (they were in five SCF’s 1961-1973) considering this was not one of the NHL’s lead franchises when he arrived in 1954 (they missed the playoffs 54-58).

Historically, Ivan has received much credit for the 1961 team but he also did a splendid job for the early 1970′s club. Many words have been written about his ill-fated trade of Phil Esposito to the Bruins, but the return (Pit Martin, who became an outstanding 2-way center in the Windy City, Gilles Marotte, who struggled but was sent away for Bill White, and Jack Norris, who was a journeyman goaltender) wasn’t completely unusable.

He grabbed Tony Esposito for nothing (from the Habs and Sam Pollock, which happened once in a blue moon); he picked up Jimmy Pappin one day when Punch Imlach was in a grumpy mood (which could have been any day now that I think about it) and he got the Hawks into the SCF the year AFTER Bobby Hull jumped to the WHA (1973). He also used the NCAA heavily, acquiring Keith Magnuson, Cliff Koroll and other quality players via that route when it was not a high priority for NHL clubs.

Someone should write something about Tommy Ivan. He was a helluva hockey man.

I don’t know who will win this Stanley Cup. I would like Chicago to win, but if the Flyers win the Stanley there are enough good people I know who are fans that it’ll be fine by me. I don’t think anyone can argue that these two franchises are due: one left a Stanley on the table in the early 1970′s, the other left at least one in the late 1980′s. I think my vote goes to the Bill White’s, who edge the Brian Propp’s by a decade and a little bit.

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