The Chicago Blackhawks have been in the National Hockey League (NHL) since 1926 and a team doesn’t last that long in a professional sports league without gaining some enemies. In their nine decades in the NHL, the Blackhawks have earned six Stanley Cups and countless foes. Some are of the past but that doesn’t mean that they’re not worth examining.
Here are the top three lost rivalries of the Blackhawks.
Detroit Red Wings
One of the most historic rivalries in the NHL began when the Hawks defeated the Red Wings in the 1934 Stanley Cup Final. It has existed on and off since then and dissolved after the 2013 NHL realignment. It was also perfect for its time, a less politically correct climate where heckling and fights were common.
The most dominant era was during the 1960s. The teams met in the playoffs four times from 1963 to 1966 with the Wings winning three of the four matchups. The most famous brawl was between Bobby Hull of the Hawks and Bryan “Bugsy” Watson of the Wings. According to detroitathletic.com, “Watson was banished seven times for infractions against Hull while Hull was penalized five times for misdeeds against Watson.”
Everyone loved the rivalry especially the players, as Ted Lindsay told The New York Times:
“As far back as I can remember, the Detroit fans loved to go to Chicago, and the Chicago fans loved to go to Detroit.” said the Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay, who played 13 seasons in the 1940s and 1950s with Detroit, then three with Chicago. “And back then, our cars didn’t go very fast.”
The clash of the two midwestern Original Six teams continued through the late decades of the twentieth century when Stu Grimson of the Hawks and Bob Probert of the Wings were two of the biggest enforcers of the 1980s. Probert tallied up 398 penalty minutes in the 1987-88 season alone and became beloved by Hawks fans when he was traded in 1995.
In the later years, the tone shifted from hatred to respect. Despite the rivalry dissolving after the realignment, it’s still close the hearts of the fans of both teams.
Another great enemy from the Original Six era was the Montreal Canadiens. The rivalry faded out in 1967 after the NHL expansion and the two teams have only met twice in the playoffs since then. Of their seventeen playoff series against each other, the Canadiens have won twelve.
Similar to the Wings, the most prominent decade of strife was in the 1960s. The two teams faced off in the 1961 Stanley Cup semifinals, where Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita got into a brawl with Bill Hicke of the Canadiens in Game 3. The brawl continued in the penalty box, as Mikita told Blackhawks Magazine in 2009:
“In the penalty box, we hadn’t even sat down when Hicke said something uncomplimentary to me,” Mikita says. “I answered him back, and we started swinging. It took a couple of minutes before the linesmen could separate us.”
The Hawks beat the Canadiens in the semifinals and went on to win the Stanley Cup that year. The two teams faced off again in the 1965 Stanley Cup Final. The Hawks lost to the Canadiens, as Pierre Pilote told Blackhawks Magazine:
“It was very hard for our team to shift gears in the postseason,” Pilote says. “We were a high-flying, hard-slap shot team. Every hockey fan loved our style. But in the playoffs, the game gets tighter and more defense-oriented. We were never able to make that transition fully.”
Although the rivalry has fizzled out, there is still tension between all of the Original Six teams. The Canadiens have the most championships with 24 Stanley Cups while the Hawks only have 6. Although the animosity on the ice between the two teams is nothing now compared to the 1960s, it’s something Hawks fans will never forget.
Minnesota North Stars
It was a battle every time the Hawks and North Stars met in the 1980s and early 1990s as Blackhawks legend Denis Savard told the Chicago Tribune:
“The truth is, we didn’t sleep very well the night before,” Savard said. “You knew that you were going to a game where it was going to be a war. You hope you’d survive it at the end of the day.”
Former Blackhawk Troy Murray agrees with Savard:
“It was wicked, it was intense, and there was a true hatred between the two teams. There was mutual respect but also a really true hatred. It was the ‘Chuck Norris Division’ and intimidation was a big part of it.”
North Stars alumni Dino Ciccarelli also chimed in:
“They ask me to compare the fans, and I say (Detroit’s) Joe Louis is a beer-drinking crowd. When you go to Chicago Stadium, they drink whiskey. So they’re into it, and that stadium had such passionate fans.”
The clash came about from constantly meeting in the playoffs. The North Stars and Hawks met six times in ten seasons, including four in a row from 1982-85. The rivalry dissolved in 1993 when the North Stars moved to Dallas, but it will always be remembered by Hawks fans. The fight continues with the Minnesota Wild, but it’s not as intense as it was with the North Stars.
From the Original Six era to today, the Hawks have developed some of the most legendary foes in NHL history. Some of the best are in the past but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of great rivalries today and more to come in the future.
Illinois State University graduate and lifelong Chicago Blackhawks fan. I also write for The Odyssey at Illinois State and Fans Talk Sports. Other than hockey, I love to write historical fiction and nonfiction.