Sports Hockey

Former 'Hawk remembers last Cup


In a house on a quiet street in Winnipeg a phone is ringing, and the voice that answers belongs to a 74-year old man who was the last great hero the last great time the Chicago Blackhawks were bequeathed Stanley Cup glory.

And never, then, would he have believed that his team would not win another Cup in his lifetime: 49 years now - the longest reigning drought in the NHL.

Little did he know that the time of 18:49 of the second period in the sixth game against the Red Wings at Olympia Stadium in Detroit on the 16th day of April 1961 would become historically hallowed, along with his name, as the precise moment he scored the winning goal.

Who will be the new Ab McDonald; who will be the player who scores the winning goal in 2010 should the Chicago Blackhawks defeat the Philadelphia Flyers for the Stanley Cup; and if they do, how long will it be before they sip from the coveted chalice once more?

"We did get back the next season," says McDonald, "but we lost four games to two to Toronto.

That's why it's so special to be in the final and especially to win because you never know if you'll ever experience it again. A lot of players don't. There've been many players, great players even, who've never got to the final in their careers."

McDonald was one of the luckier ones. The big left winger already had three Stanley Cup rings from the Montreal Canadiens before he was traded to the Hawks, the 1960-'61 season his first of four with them.

When he retired in 1974 after two seasons with the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA, he'd played with six NHL teams and, after the victory with Chicago, been to Stanley Cup-losing finals with three of them, his career games and goals 909 and 211 respectively.

The Hawks did make it to five Cup finals after their last triumph, losing them all, no return trip since 18 years ago against Pittsburgh.

On that April night 49 years ago, Detroit had to win to stay alive. They were ahead 1-0 in the first period and dominating the play when Hawks defenceman Reggie Fleming intercepted a pass from Len Lunde, broke in on goalie Hank Bassen, and scored a short-handed goal to tie the game.

Detroit sagged emotionally, but soon recouped their intensity, and late in the second period were battling furiously to break the tie.

"Bobby (Hull) broke up the ice with me trailing," says McDonald. "He shot from out front and Bassen made the save. I picked up the rebound and fired it in." And then, too modestly: "I guess I was in the right spot. I really didn't have to do that much."

Whether he did or not, he scored, that's all that mattered, his go-ahead goal immediately juiced the Hawks to a higher level of performance resulting in three more goals from Eric Nesterenko, Jack Evans, and Ken Wharram--but it was Ab McDonald's inspiring goal that got the winner label, and today holds the distinction of being the most famous goal scored by a Hawk since the team's Cup win in 1938--72 years ago.

The Chicago Blackhawks still possess the soul of Ab McDonald. He visits the city often. At the Hawks' expense, he and other alumni are flown in every summer for team charity golf tournaments and fan conventions (autograph, photo, question-and-answer sessions) that owner Rocky Wirtz started. Wirtz, a marketing and promotional whiz, assumed ownership from his father Bill who died three years ago.

"What Rocky and his people have done to turn that franchise around is incredible," says McDonald. "At those conventions, about 15,000 fans show up at the hotel over the weekend."

Do many people today know of his famous goal?

He chuckles. "When I first was introduced to Rocky (who is 57) I said 'You probably haven't heard of me, my name is Ab McDonald.' He said 'What are you talking about, of course I know who you are. My dad took me to the games as a kid and I watched you all the time.'"

Another chuckle: "Stan Mikita and I are good friends and at the fan forums Stan always says 'This is the guy who scored the winning goal when we last won the Cup.'"

Almost half a century ago. From the roster, Reggie Fleming is dead. Murray Balfour, dead. Moose Vasko, dead. Wayne Hillman, dead. Jack Evans, dead. Head coach Rudy Pilous, dead. Owners Arthur Wirtz and his son Bill, dead.

Today's generation has little knowledge, if any, of the members of that iconic roster who are not: Eddie Litzenberger, 77. Todd Sloan, 82. Bobby Hull, 71. Bill Hay, 74. Ken Wharram, 77. Wayne Hicks, 73. Eric Nesterenko, 77. Ron Murphy, 77. Chico Maki, 70. Earl Balfour, 77. Al Arbour, 77. Pierre Pilote, 78. Dollard St. Laurent, 81. Glenn Hall, 78. Denis Dejordy, 71. Stan Mikita, 70.

Ab McDonald, who every week plays pick-up hockey in Winnipeg, and predicts the Hawks will topple the Flyers: "I don't have the puck from that goal. In those days it wasn't thought of. But that's okay. I have a beautiful ring and I still have my memories."