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Building the 1961 championship: Ivan's chemistry experiment

Thursday, 01.06.2011 / 10:32 AM / Features
By Harvey Wittenberg  - Web Contributor
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Building the 1961 championship: Ivan\'s chemistry experiment

Because of his size, Blackhawks General Manager Tommy Ivan never played in the NHL, but after coaching Detroit to six straight first place finishes and three Stanley Cups (1950, 1954, 1956), he knew what it took to put together a winner.

As mentioned earlier, Ivan knew the importance of establishing a minor league team (Buffalo) and a junior team (St. Catherines). Bringing up Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Moose Vasko from the juniors, plus Pierre Pilote and Ken Wharram from Buffalo, gave the Hawks building blocks.

From the usual Cup champion, talent-laden Canadiens, Ivan added Ed Litzenberger, Dollard St. Laurent, Murray Balfour and Earl Balfour, in addition to Reg Fleming and Ab McDonald, who scored key goals in the Cup-clinching game. Knowing the Detroit talent, Ivan obtained goalie Glenn Hall and defenseman Al Arbour from his 1950 Red Wing Cup squad.

Ivan always liked hard-nosed blue liner Jack Evans, who was on New York’s team when the Wings beat the Rangers in 1950 in a seven-game series. Winger Ron Murphy was also picked up from the New Yorkers.

Rounding out the 1961 champions was veteran center Tod Sloan, who played on the Cup-winning Maple Leafs in 1951. The other Maple Leaf gem was Eric Nesterenko who started out as a part-timer while he was taking college courses. Nester teamed up with Bill Hay to form one of the top penalty killing duos in the league.

With the series tied 2-2 and the unusual situation of alternating home games instead of the traditional 2-2-1-1-1, the Hawks had home ice advantage for the crucial Game 5. In most NHL playoff situations, the team that wins Game 5 usually takes the series. (Just recall last year: In the opening round of the Nashville series, Patrick Kane’s shorthanded goal tied the game in the final 13 seconds of regulation, and Marian Hossa came of the penalty box for the winner in overtime.)

Both teams exchanged two goals in the opening period and in the second, Murray Balfour snuck in his second goal of the game, but Detroit matched it as the period ended 3-all. The final period saw Ivan's homegrown talent provide the winning tallies as Mikita scored twice and Pilote added another. Glenn Hall shut the door for the 6-3 victory.

Heading back to the Olympia in Detroit for Game 6, the desperate Wings began the scoring in the opening period. In the second, Reg Fleming tallied his first career playoff goal to tie the game, and Ab McDonald scored what proved to be the winner late in the stanza.

Going into the final period, the Hawks stepped up their hard-checking style. Nesterenko, Wharram and then Evans got the only playoff goal of his Blackhawks career as Chicago prevailed 5-2 to bring home Lord Stanley's hardware.

The Blackhawks will honor the 1961 Stanley Cup champions with a Heritage Night on January 9, 2011.