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2010 Black Hawks like the 1961 Black Hawks?

The Chicago Black Hawks, on the heels of their four-game San Jose Sharks walkover, are poised to win their first Stanley Cup since 1961.

While the Flyers play with a lot of heart and are built around the rugged Chris Pronger on defense, all things being equal Chicago simply has too much talent and depth, one would think.

As Leaf fans know, the 1960s is a long time to go back without having won a Cup. Leaf fans have endured mush sorrow because of consistently poor performance since the last Cup in 1967, but unlike the Leafs the Hawks have actually been painfully close to another Cup a number of times since that ’61 championship. (We've included a game-action picture above from the 1961-'62 season.  You can see Glenn Hall sprawled in goal. Elmer Vasko is number 4, Jack "Tex" Evans has the "A" on his jersey.  Bob Turner is number 2.  He was with Montreal the season before when the Hawks won, but Vasko, Evans and Hall were all part of the Cup team.  The photo also includes Montreal Hall-of-Famers Dickie Moore and Jean Beliveau.)

How does their frustration compare with what the Leafs have been through? Well, the Maple Leafs have been “close” exactly once, and that was 1993, when they lost, as we all well remember, in 7 games to Gretzky and the Kings in the semi-finals. That would have set up a great rematch of the ’67 showdown with the Habs but it wasn’t meant to be, apparently.

The Hawks on the other hand have been to the finals a number of times since they last hoisted Lord Stanley’s mug. They lost to the Leafs in 1962, the year after they won the Cup, in six games. Then in 1965, in seven games against Montreal. Then again in 1971- also against Montreal in seven games. (I’ll write about that series later this week.) In 1973, the Canadiens beat the Hawks again, this time in six games.

Then there was 1991-’92, against Mario Lemieux, Jagr, Ron Francis and that solid Penguin team, when Chicago lost in four straight.

So while they’ve had down periods in the modern era, it’s been nothing like what the Leaf franchise has brought upon itself. The Hawks have at least come very close to a championship many times.

As I look back at the 1961 team, it’s natural to want to draw comparisons to what we’re seeing with this talented young Chicago group. The most obvious surface comparison is that Kane and Toews are having a huge impact, at a very young age, similar to Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita who were maybe 22 and 21 when they won the Cup in 1961. They were the cornerstone of the Hawk offense, as Toews and Kane are now.

I don’t recall anyone on the old Hawk team like Byfuglien. He is playing now like a combination of a young Probert and Bertuzzi in their prime. He’s a load in front of the net and a guy who can apparently finish, too and score big goals—though I do recall that ex-Hab Ab McDonald was a good-sized forward (for the time) and brought some of that to the ’61 team.

The old Hawks had depth up front, just as the current Hawks have in Bolland and veteran role guys like Madden and Eager who are indispensible at this time of year. The ’61 Hawks had guys like “Red” Hay, Murray Balfour, Eric Nesterenko and Ron Murphy who weren’t big “stars” but were outstanding in their roles. Captain Eddie Litzenberger and ex-Leaf Tod Sloan were key as was rugged winger Reggie Fleming.

I see some similarities on the back end, too. These Hawks have Seabrook, Keith and Brian Campbell for starters, just as the ’61 Hawks had the outstanding Pierre Pilote, “Moose” Vasko (see above) and key veteran (and another ex-Montrealer) Dollar St. Laurent on the blueline. Al Arbour (later a Hall-of-Fame coach with the Islanders) was the Brent Sopel of his day, a great shot-blocker.

The big difference is that the Hawks had a an “in his prime” future Hall-of-Famer in Glenn Hall in net, who shut out the then five-time defending champion Canadiens the last two games of the semi-finals then led Chicago over the Red Wings in six games in the Cup final.

Niemi doesn’t have to be a Hall-of-Famer, he just has to play like one for one more series for Chicago to win for the first time in 50 years.
Toronto Maple Leafs hockey blog

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