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Blackhawks' greats want to see team seize moment

Monday, 05.24.2010 / 9:58 AM / Features
By Dan Rosen  - NHL.com senior writer
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Blackhawks\' greats want to see team seize moment
Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Tony Esposito all lifted the Stanley Cup during their careers, but each expected more.<\/o:p>
Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito are eagerly watching the current Blackhawks' playoff run.


CHICAGO
-- They still bicker like old friends.

First, Stan Mikita starts describing the play, but Bobby Hull busts in and says,"Stanley, you're losing your mind."

"OK," Mikita says, "give us your version then."

"The Golden Jet" proceeds to tell his story of how and why the Chicago Blackhawks really lost Game 7 of the 1971 Stanley Cup Final to Montreal.

"We were at even strength, but he (coach Billy Reay) puts (Eric) Nesterenko and (Lou) Angotti out there, the play goes into the Montreal zone and Angotti goes in, turns and picks up Mahovlich coming up the right side," Hull starts explaining out of nowhere. "Where does Nesterenko go? Behind Billy White, back at our blue line. Now Billy White doesn't know whether to stand up or bite his nails. (Jacques) Lemaire comes around, picks up the puck …"

At this point, Tony Esposito can't sit quietly anymore. He has to chime in.

"You're talking about Lemaire's long shot," "Tony O" screams. "That was my fault."

No way, says the Jet.

"It should never have happened," he blurts out. "Nesterenko should have picked up Lemaire, he would have thrown it back to their defense and Billy White and Patty Stapleton could have stayed up and it wouldn't have been a problem. I remember it. I remember every second of it."

They all do, and there's a message built into this argument, which took place during an exclusive interview between NHL.com and the three Hall of Famers prior to Sunday's game inside a conference room at United Center.

"I want to say this to these kids," Hull said. "If they want a feeling that's going to be with them for the rest of their life, win the Stanley Cup because you may never, ever win it again."

Hull never did after 1961, his fourth professional season. Neither did Mikita, a second-year pro in '61. Esposito won it only as a backup goalie with Montreal in 1969, mere months before he came to Chicago, where he played until 1984.

"I was 20-years-old," Mikita said. "We thought this was forever."
 
"If we could have won that one in '71, I would have been satisfied," added Hull.

They didn't, but Mikita, Hull and Esposito are pinning their new Stanley Cup dreams on a bunch of guys named Toews, Kane, Byfuglien, Keith, Seabrook, Campbell and Niemi.

As much as this run to the Stanley Cup Final means to the current Blackhawks, to guys like the three Hall of Famers it may mean so much more. They are reliving their youth by watching this great, young, confident and brash team steamroll through the playoffs.

"Just to be a part of another Stanley Cup, all of a sudden it would be two, not just one, that would be the one that is missing, that we missed coming up through the 60s and 70s," Hull said. "That would help me out. We should have won more than one."

Like Mikita, Hull doesn't ever remember enjoying the Cup they won in 1961.

"I was 22 and I thought, 'Ah hell, this is just one of many, one of many,' " he said. "And I regret the time during that year when we won the Cup that I didn't even take a drink of champagne out of the Cup."

The only time he took a drink out of the Cup was at Chris Chelios' golf outing several years ago when Chelios and Brett Hull filled up the bowl with some beer and held it up for Bobby to take a swig.

"I didn't realize back then in '61 that that was going to be the only time we won the Cup," Hull said. "We had guys that played over 20 years and never won the Stanley Cup. Guys played for the New York Rangers for 20 years and never won the Stanley Cup."

They had their chances.

With Hull and Mikita together (and eventually Esposito), the Blackhawks made it back to the Stanley Cup Final in '62, '65 and '71. They got there again in '73, the year Hull left for Winnipeg and the WHA.

"In 1967 we won the Prince of Wales Trophy and we were ahead of everybody by about as far as a farm boy could throw a big red apple, and we got beat out in the first round," Hull said. "We were the bridesmaids and never the brides."

They fear the same thing happening to the present-day Blackhawks, and that's why they're all so adamant about the boys making the most of this rare opportunity, about not taking this trip to the Stanley Cup Final for granted, and about celebrating and enjoying every single second along the way.

"That's how important this is," Hull said. "That's the message. I don't care how young they say they are; they have to win at least one because it may never happen again."

And if the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup this year?

"Oh my God," Hull said. "If they ever invited me to drink out of that Cup, I'd jump through the rim of my own butt and hang myself just to get another drink out of it."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Columnist