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The Verdict: Bill White was a defensive stalwart, prankster

Wednesday, 12.22.2010 / 1:00 AM / The Verdict
By Bob Verdi  - Blackhawks Team Historian
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The Verdict: Bill White was a defensive stalwart, prankster



At just about this juncture in the 1976-77 season, the Blackhawks were struggling to such a degree that management took drastic action. Billy Reay, who had coached since 1963, was dismissed and replaced by Bill White, a veteran defenseman idled by an injury. White felt uncomfortable with the timing, on the cusp of Christmas Eve, and the crass manner by which Reay was informed—a note under his office door at the Stadium. But when asked about his plans to resurrect the team as interim coach, White pulled himself together.

“The first thing I’m going to do,” he said, “is take all my doors of their hinges.”

White will leave his Toronto home to bring his wit and wisdom to the United Center Dec. 22, when he will sign autographs at the Ferrara Pan alumni booth before and during the game against the Nashville Predators.

THE VERDICT

Team historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. Verdi authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001.

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His tenure behind the Blackhawks bench with assistants Stan Mikita and Bobby Orr was brief, but long-time fans will remember White as a stalwart who participated in six All-Star Games and was thrice selected as a second-team NHL All-Star.

White first arrived in Chicago shortly before the 1970 trade deadline, when the Blackhawks were building a dream season but were missing Pat Stapleton, another experienced rear guard fighting an ailing knee. General Manager Tommy Ivan executed one of his all-time best maneuvers, acquiring White from the Los Angeles Kings in a six-player deal. When Stapleton healed, he joined White to form a tandem that was instrumental in a historic turnaround—the Blackhawks, who finished last in 1968-69, won the East (Original Six) Division on the final night of the regular schedule in 1969-70.

“Pat and I just seemed to click right away,” White recalled. “I was more of a stay-at-home type, and Pat liked to rush the puck. It was like we always knew what each other was thinking and was going to do.”

White was tall and lean; Stapleton was more pear-shaped. Yet  it appeared they had been separated at birth on another count: They were relentless pranksters, preying repeatedly on rookies such as Keith Magnuson. After practice White and Stapleton frequently would huddle along the locker room row of defensemen, whispering while Magnuson strained to get wind of the latest gossip. White and Stapleton dwelled in fiction over fact, but Magnuson invariably took the bait.

“I don’t know how many times we told Maggie he was being traded,” said White, who also tormented his roommate, No. 1 draftee Dan Maloney, during the next fall’s training camp.

White and Stapleton convinced Maloney that Jim Pappin, a Blackhawks winger, was an accomplished musician able to handle the Stadium’s massive Barton organ. Between practices one day, Pappin climbed to the loft, sat down, and made music while his hands danced across the keyboard. Maloney was flabbergasted, unaware that White and Stapleton had arranged the ruse—an electrician in the bowels of the building played one of maestro Al Melgard’s tapes on the PA system.

“Then out of nowhere Melgard showed up at the Stadium and he was furious,” White said. So was Bill Friday, the referee whose skates White and Stapleton pilfered on a commercial flight.

“We were going to paint them white, but decided against it,” White went on. “At least Bill got his skates back just before the game. That’s one rule Pat and I always had. We never kept anything. You should know. You got your typewriter back after we stole it from you on the plane to Vancouver, didn’t you?”

White caught the eye of Ivan during the early ‘60s when White was spending five seasons in the minors with the Springfield Indians, owned and operated by obsessive Eddie Shore, who demanded high prices for his chattels. Eventually, White escaped to Jack Kent Cooke’s expansion Kings. White praises Shore as a teacher, but he was overdue for the NHL.

“I enjoyed LA, but was really excited about going to Chicago,” White said. “The Stadium was an electric place. I loved playing there as a visitor. We had some great players there with the Blackhawks and a lot of characters like Dennis Hull and the original beatnik, Eric Nesterenko. Lots of laughs.

“I was really excited about going to Chicago. I loved playing there. The Stadium was an electric place. We had some great players there with the Blackhawks and a lot of characters like Dennis Hull and the original beatnik, Eric Nesterenko. Lots of laughs. - Bill White

"But the coaching thing wasn’t for me. We didn’t have a traveling secretary or anything like that. l did it all myself. One time we went on a long trip and I had to hand out the per diem meal money. I walk on the plane with $16,000 in cash. Could have painted everybody’s car with that. Pat and I almost did that with Pappin’s Cadillac. It was green. But we couldn’t decide on a color, so we backed off.”

White and Stapleton were so good together that Team Canada leaned on them during the epic 1972 eight-game summit series against the Soviet Union. Canada, down early in the tournament, won the clincher in Moscow on Paul Henderson’s goal with 34 seconds remaining. All of Canada rejoiced, but to this day, the location of that precious puck is a mystery. Except to White.

“Pat and I were on the ice when Henderson scored and until the game ended,” he said. “Look at the tape. When it’s over, Pat circles around and takes the puck. He’s never really admitted it. In fact, he tells people I have it. I still get calls from reporters asking me why I don’t donate the puck or sell it to the Hockey Hall of Fame. And I tell them, 'I don’t have it. Pat Stapleton has it. Call him'.”

Shortly after succeeding Reay, White did make one declaration that had a lasting effect on the Blackhawks. He named a captain, Magnuson, who cherished the honor.

“A wonderful man, Maggie, with great spirit,” White said. “I called him and asked to have dinner with Keith and his wife, Cindy. We had a nice meal, then I told Keith I wanted him to be our captain. He deserved it. He was very happy about it, I think. Then I got up and left him with the check. Why shouldn’t he pay for dinner? He’s our captain, right?”