85 Years of Blood, Sweat and Cheers: Pierre Pilote
In this edition of the "85 Years" series, Hall of Famer Glenn Hall discusses one of the defensemen who protected his crease in Chicago: Pierre Pilote.
One word that really comes to mind when I think about Pierre Pilote is “tenacity.”
On November 17, 1926, the Chicago Black Hawks took the ice for the first time. 85 years later, the Blackhawks hold an important place in NHL history and Chicago sports.
In celebration of the Blackhawks’ 85th anniversary, Blackhawks Magazine and chicagoblackhawks.com will profile some of the greatest players to ever don the sweater, with essays written by the people who knew them best: teammates, rivals, broadcasters and other members of the NHL community.
Check chicagoblackhawks.com every Wednesday for another entry in the "85 Years" series.
Recent "85 Years" essays:
> Bobby Hull, by Pierre Pilote
> Patrick Kane, by Denis Savard
> Eddie Olczyk, by Pat Foley
> Stan Mikita, by Bob Verdi
> Doug Wilson, by Tony Esposito
> Eddie Belfour, by Darren Pang
> The Pony Line, by Harvey Wittenberg
Of course, when you first hear Pilote’s name, you think of his defense, and he was an extraordinary defenseman. The Norris Trophy speaks for itself: for my money, he’s the best Blackhawks defenseman of all-time.
When he teamed up with Elmer “Moose” Vasko, they became one of the best defensive pairs I ever saw; they really complemented each other. Moose would hold you up at the blue line, and if you somehow got past him, Pierre could hit you, and it was not a hit you’d soon forget. I saw him pop a few guys in our time together.
There’s not one game I remember because it happened so often. Moose would steer a forward into position, and Pilote would be at the end of the tunnel. And I don’t envy many of the players on the other end. They were great defensemen and conscious of goals-against, more so than the forwards.
Although it was great to know they were more into stopping the puck than scoring goals, I don’t know that Pierre really gets credit for his offense: he was absolutely great in the offensive zone. Pierre could really move the puck, and in many respects I consider him to be a forerunner of Bobby Orr, as much as he used to jump into the high slot and become a real offensive threat.
He was as intense as anyone on the ice, but away from it he showed nothing but respect for his teammates. So often our best friends were the guys in the dressing room and by the same token the wives’ best friends were the wives’ of our teammates, so it was pretty much family. We liked each other, and it showed on the ice, when we covered for each other and fought for every win as a team.
We had better teams than the one that won it all in 1961, but I’m not sure there was a tighter group of players. I think we just peaked at the right time. We had a bunch of good players; the top line was Murray Balfour, Bill Hay and Bobby Hull, and you can’t call it the top line, because we had the Scooter Line, which was absolutely excellent. And leading the charge so often was Pierre.
That postseason he was one of the best players on the team, and he tallied important points for us when we needed them. He was as vital to that team as any of us. We won as a team, and no one respected that dynamic more than Pierre did.
When he became captain the next season, it just intensified his desire and passion to win even more. But off the ice, I don’t really think he changed. He took to the role really well. He was proud to be the captain, and I think you have to be if you’re going to do a good job. He was a great leader; we all knew what kind of work we had to do, and we encouraged each other in the locker room prior to going on the ice. Pierre pulled for all of us to succeed.
There certainly have been a lot of great defensemen, but he was one of the greatest I’ve ever seen. You still come across players from our era who talk about the times they faced Pierre Pilote. That says more than the trophies and accolades ever could.