The December 11, 1971 game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs aired in black and white. Even with all of the great acclamations for the talent of Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Tony Esposito, I didn’t think that I would enjoy the latest Chicago Blackhawks Classics game on CSN Chicago because it was in black and white.
I was wrong.
I’d heard it wasn’t as fast or as physical, that it was a different game back then. I somehow translated that to mean less skill.
I was really wrong.
It was exciting, it was fast, it was physical. It was a demonstration of how the dynamics of the game changed with new technology and new rules. And it was just a hint of the skill and talent displayed by legends in Blackhawks history. Here are a few of my observations from that game played over 40 years ago.
I didn’t always notice when Mikita and Hull were on the ice. They weren’t wearing names on the back of their jerseys, so numbers provided the only clue on who the players were. Mikita was the faceoff master and Hull had fancy moves that allowed him to maneuver the puck around anybody. But goaltender Esposito was obvious even without a name tag. And awe-some!
How about that goaltending! Goalie pads were tiny in ’71, and that was still some of the best goaltending I’ve ever seen! I don’t know if the lighter equipment made it easier to move, but Esposito was flashy and focused and didn’t let any of his mistakes cost them that night.
Ever wonder what it’s like to race up and down the ice with your head fully exposed to collisions and stray pucks? Ask those guys. Even though the game wasn’t played with the same speed and physicality that it is today, they were still flying around the rink and shooting a chunk of rubber at high speeds! The helmets that a few did wear were not extremely protective as Mikita demonstrated in the third period by taking a puck to the face. But that’s been known to happen today too. Now the debate over visors and the future of head protection is in much better context for newer fans like me.
People dressed up to go to hockey games! From the faint glimpses of the fans, it looked like many of them (minus the guy in the Mickey Mouse T-shirt) thought hockey was a reason to look nice. Not that I want to put on my Sunday best every time I go to a game, but it did make hockey seem a little classier back then. Or maybe that was a benefit of black and white television.
During this Blackhawks flashback, I also flashed forward to the future thinking about Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp giving their own interviews 40 years from now, when the NHL is in the middle of its 13th lockout. But what game will they talk about? How many times will they have been Blackhawks Stanley Cup Champions? That history is yet to be written, but I can only imagine that it will be great to remember as a fan!
What do you think of how the Blackhawks have changed since 1971 and where they will go in the future?