50 Years Ago in Hockey – 64-65 Post-Mortem: Black Hawks

The 1964-65 season for the Chicago Black Hawks was a study in contrasts.  The team started out well, fuelling the high hopes their fans had going into the season.  However, as time wore on, the glaring deficiencies that would eventually spell the demise of the team came to the fore.  They did make it to the Stanley Cup Final, but the Hawks were in no way in the same class as the Stanley Cup champ Canadiens.

Golden Jet the big story

For the first half of the year, the big story for the Black Hawks, indeed the big story in all of hockey, was the Golden Jet, Bobby Hull.  By the midpoint of the season, Hull appeared to be ready to completely re-write the NHL record book with a season like no other in history.

Bobby Hull was off to a record-setting year before being slowed by injuries.
Bobby Hull was off to a record-setting year before being slowed by injuries.

At the half-way mark of the season, Hull was leading the league in scoring, averaging nearly a goal per game.  The Hawks were winning, and the rest of the league was trying to figure out ways to somehow contain the runaway train that was Bobby Hull.

Injuries were Hull’s undoing

As it turned out, the league never did have to figure out how to deal with the Golden Jet.  Hull himself provided that solution, though not from anything he did or didn’t do.  Injuries began to take their toll on the Hawk superstar.  He began missing games with injuries to both knees and various other bumps and bruises.

Many observers felt that coach Billy Reay simply overplayed his main man to excess, and the constant pounding that Hull took every night couldn’t help but wear down the game’s top player.  Hull played at least 25 minutes every game, and on many nights, he exceeded 30, even reaching 40 minutes a couple of times.  Hull claimed to thrive on the heavy workload, but as the season wore on, the drop-off in his game was noticeable.

As Hull’s game slowed, so did the Hawks’ drive for first place.  Once again, the club faded down the stretch and was overtaken by the surprising Detroit Red Wings, who claimed first place in the last week of the season.

Forwards: Depth a problem

The Hawks and Red Wings tied for the NHL lead in goals with 224, so at first glance it would seem that the offence was not a problem for Chicago.  Centre Stan Mikita led the league in scoring with 87 points and if he were a more likeable sort, he might have been heralded as a stronger MVP and all-star candidate.  Mikita, however, has built himself a reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the NHL and gains little favour outside of Chicago with writers and fans alike.

Hull was second on the team, despite playing in only 61 games.  He managed 39 goals while adding 32 assists for 71 points.  The Hawks had two other 20-goal men, veteran Ken Wharram and young centre Phil Esposito, who spent most of the year centring for Hull.  Wharram scored 24 with Esposito netting 23.

Esposito is a tall, gangly centre who has skating issues and often gives the impression that he is coasting out there.  If he ever figures out how to perform at a consistently high level, he could be a star.  Some in the Hawks’ front office doubt that can ever happen, however.

Scooter Line was Hawks’ best unit

The Hawks’ top forward unit, despite Hull’s heroics, was the Scooter Line, made up of Mikita, Wharram and Doug Mohns.  Mohns had been acquired from the Boston Bruins in the summer and was converted to forward after spending the bulk of his career as a defenceman.  He fit in well, scoring 13 goals.

Hawks' Scooter Line.
Hawks’ Scooter Line.

The second line saw Chico Maki on the right side with Esposito and Hull. Maki scored 16 times and ended up with 40 points.  Beyond these players, the Hawks had very little to brag about.

Veteran Bill (Red) Hay, once the centre on the “Million Dollar Line” with Hull and the departed Murray Balfour, managed only 11 goals and spent more time on left wing than he did at centre.  Another veteran, Eric Nesterenko, counted 14 times, but was terribly inconsistent with his offence, although his defensive work was solid for the most part.

Youngsters not quite ready

Rookie Fred Stanfield was the most often-used third line centre.  While he showed promise, especially in the face-off circle, he managed a paltry seven goals, and will have to improve on that total.  Dennis Hull, younger brother to Bobby, did score 10 times, but needs to learn the NHL game before he can be counted on for regular duty.

Dennis Hull  scored 10 for the Hawks in mainly part-time duty.
Dennis Hull scored 10 for the Hawks in mainly part-time duty.

Two other youngsters who were counted on to provide offence, Doug Robinson and John Brenneman, were disappointing and ended up being traded to the Rangers in the deal that brought veteran sniper Camille Henry to Chicago.

The thought behind bringing in Henry was that he would take the heat off Hull and force teams to split their defensive coverage.  Henry was a disappointment, netting only five goals in the 22 games he played for Chicago.  In the playoffs, he was almost non-existent, scoring only once in 14 games, with limited ice time.

Defence: After Pilote and Vasko, little else

The Black Hawks boast the best defenceman in the NHL in Pierre Pilote.  The Kenogami, Quebec native not only led all NHL defencemen in scoring with 14 goals and 45 assists, his 59 points put him eighth in the entire league.  Paired with huge Elmer (Moose) Vasko, the two gave the Hawks an impressive first line defence unit.

Elmer Vasko.
Elmer Vasko.

Beyond those two, the Chicago defence corps was thin, at best.  Mohns was expected to offer depth and mobility, but he ended up on the forward line.  Veteran Al MacNeil put in lots of minutes, but his work left much to be desired.  Young Matt Ravlich, picked up from Boston in the Murray Balfour trade, was a pleasant surprise.  He suffered from inexperience at times, but showed enough potential to warrant full-time employment as the season went on.

Doug Jarrett
Doug Jarrett

The Hawks had another rookie blueliner in Doug Jarrett.  He also looks like he might turn into an NHL regular.  He has the size and skating ability required and just enough of a mean streak to make his way in the big league.  Like Ravlich, experience is the only attribute lacking in his game right now.

Goalkeeping:  Mr. Goalie still No. 1 (for now)

Glenn Hall, possibly the best ever to man the nets for Chicago, had another solid season and was outstanding in the playoffs.  He doesn’t play every regular season game any more, but then again, he doesn’t have to.  The Black Hawks have found not only a suitable back-up in young Denis DeJordy, but quite likely their goalie of the future.  The kid is that good.

Denis DeJordy will eventually take over for Glenn Hall.
Denis DeJordy will eventually take over for Glenn Hall.

Hall played 41 games and put up a 2.43 goals-against average.  DeJordy suited up 31 times, checking in with a 2.52 average.  Netminding wasn’t a problem and with Hall there to mentor the second-best (behind Detroit’s Roger Crozier) rookie goalie in the league, it shouldn’t be for a long while.

Management: No changes

General Manager Tommy Ivan and coach Billy Reay will return for another season.  Ivan has built the club into an offensive powerhouse, but must find a way to spread the wealth over three lines.  He has lined up some great young prospects who are with the team now (Stanfield, Ravlich, Jarrett and DeJordy).

Tommy Ivan, left, and Billy Reay.
Tommy Ivan, left, and Billy Reay.

There were, and continue to be, rumours that Reay’s days with Chicago are numbered.  Billy is a bit of a hands-off coach.  He prefers to let his stars play and doesn’t tinker to any great extent.  The late-season collapse that cost the team first place couldn’t be blamed on coaching, although some would say that he relies too much on his stars.  That may be a sign that depth is a problem.

Future Hawks?

The Hawks are looking good down on the farm.  Their prize prospect is hulking right-winger Kenny Hodge, who put up amazing numbers for St. Catharines in the OHA Junior A Series this season. Hodge scored 63 goals in 55 games and even made a one-game cameo appearance for the parent club.  He has already been tagged with the “cant-miss” label.

Ken Hodge - 63 goals in Jr. A.
Ken Hodge – 63 goals in Jr. A.

Others at the Junior A level who showed potential NHL talent include forwards Brian McDonald and Wayne Maki, younger brother of Chico.  Fred Stanfield’s younger brother Jim also played for the junior Black Hawks but he is a long way away from competing for an NHL spot.

Eighteen-year-old defenceman Tom Reid is another prospect who has a good shot at the big time.

The St. Louis Braves of the CPHL have several youngsters who look ready to make the jump.  Larry Mickey, a 20-year-old winger was up with Chicago for a game.  He scored 16 goals in 52 games for the Braves and spent time with the AHL Buffalo Bisons.  Alain “Boom Boom” Caron, who at 26 has been around the minors for a while, scored 46 goals in 60 games for the Braves and could inject some much-needed scoring depth into the Chicago lineup.

Larry Mickey
Larry Mickey

The AHL Buffalo Bisons were more of a veteran team, but there were a couple of younger players who bear watching.  Ray Cullen, younger brother of Barry and Brian, both former NHL’ers, went 28-36-64 with the Bisons and was their best rookie.  He’s only 22.

Ray Cullen
Ray Cullen

Cullen had a pair of 22-year-old linemates who also displayed some potential.  Oscar Gaudet and Jack Stanfield, another of the talented Stanfield clan, both aren’t quite as high on the skill chart as Cullen, but are young and seem eager to improve.  The Bisons’ best young defender was John Miszuk, who is 23.  He needs to improve his foot speed to make the jump to the next level.

Ivan will work hard to bring a little more depth to the forward line this summer.  He would be well-advised to add some veteran savvy to the blue line corps to bring along the promising kids like Jarrett and Ravlich.  It’s not likely the team will lose anyone in the draft they really want to keep, and they do have some room to claim any diamonds in the rough that might be exposed by one of the other six clubs.