One of the most clever and successful forwards in league history, Stan "Stosh" Mikita won awards in numbers not seen again until Wayne Gretzky arrived in the NHL. A slick playmaker with a gifted scoring touch, Mikita had a career that spanned four decades, from the late 1950s until 1980. His longevity and consistency were nearly as impressive as his raw talent and left him near the top of a number of NHL categories when he retired after 22 seasons.
Born Stanislaus Guoth in Sokolce, Slovakia, Mikita emigrated to Canada in 1948 as an eight-year-old with his aunt and uncle and took their family name of Mikita. They settled in St. Catharines, south of Toronto on Lake Ontario. He learned to play hockey in the Niagara Peninsula and quickly became known locally as a noteworthy talent.
The Chicago Black Hawks moved quickly to sign the promising youngster and put him on their top junior affiliate, the St. Catharines Teepees, in 1956-57. He responded with 47 points as an OHA rookie. During his last season as an amateur, he led the OHA with 59 assists and 97 points.
Mikita earned a three-game NHL tryout in 1958-59. The youngster competed well in his first full NHL season in 1959-60, scoring 26 points. Along with Bobby Hull, Mikita provided the impetus for the on-ice improvement of a Hawks franchise that had been dismal for many years and lost a host of supporters. During his sophomore season in 1960-61, he more than doubled his point total to 53. In the post-season, he led all goal scorers with six and was a key reason behind the franchise's first Stanley Cup win since 1938.
By 1961-62, Mikita was in the upper echelon of NHL skaters and was teamed by coach Rudy Pilous with Ken Wharram and Ab McDonald on the original Scooter Line. That year he scored 77 points and was voted onto the NHL First All-Star Team. Although the Hawks failed to repeat as Cup champs when Toronto beat them in the finals, Mikita enjoyed an outstanding post-season with 21 points in 12 games. In 1963-64, he won his first Art Ross Trophy with 89 points and duplicated the feat the next year with 87 points. By this time, Doug Mohns had replaced McDonald on the Scooter Line and helped the unit attain even greater heights. In 1964-65, the team also reached its third Stanley Cup finals of the decade but lost to the Montreal Canadiens.
The scoring exploits of Stosh reached new heights in 1966-67, when he won the Art Ross Trophy after scoring a personal best of 97 points. In addition, he was presented the Hart and Lady Byng trophies. The latter of these two awards is of interest since it was the culmination of a dramatic change in Mikita's style of play.
During his first seven NHL seasons, he was considered a "chippy" player. Mikita's habit of winding up in the penalty box frustrated his coaches, who preferred to see his immense talent remain on the ice. He recorded more than 100 penalty minutes four times and seemed far from ever winning the Lady Byng Trophy. But after his daughter questioned his style of play, Mikita vowed to clean up his act and did just that by registering only six minor penalties in 1966-67. Consequently, he became the first player in NHL history to win the Art Ross, Hart and Lady Byng trophies in the same season.
Mikita enjoyed another stellar year in 1967-68 and repeated his unprecedented trophy haul. During the late 1960s, he continued to work well with Mohns and with Wharram before Wharram suffered a career-ending heart attack prior to the 1969-70 season. A serious back injury midway through the 1968-69 season hampered Mikita's play to varying extents through the remainder of his career. In 1970-71, he scored 18 points in as many games while helping the Hawks reach the finals for the first time in six years. There they lost in a tough seven-game series to the Montreal Canadiens.
Mikita's exploits in the NHL didn't go unnoticed in his country of birth. He played a solid role on Team Canada when they defeated the Soviets in the unforgettable Summit Series in September 1972. The day after the dramatic win in Moscow, the Canadians arrived in Prague to fulfill a commitment to play the Czech national team. While most of the Canadians were exhausted after a long series and the post-victory celebrations, this exhibition game marked an emotional homecoming for Mikita. The tied score was immaterial when compared to the welcome given the Canadian hero during the player introductions and on the streets of the Czech capital city.
The Hawks and Mikita enjoyed a fine season in 1972-73. He scored 83 points despite missing a quarter of the season through injury and the team reached the Stanley Cup finals, where they lost again to the Habs. After this season, the team remained competitive but was never again a Stanley Cup threat.
After suffering a concussion, Mikita designed a helmet according to his own specifications to protect his head. This turned into a lucrative business, as the "Stan Mikita style" of helmet became increasingly popular in the amateur and pro ranks during the 1970s.
Mikita's contribution to the Hawks and the betterment of hockey in the United States was recognized when he received the Lester Patrick Trophy in 1976. Mikita continued to work hard on behalf of the Hawks and served as interim captain twice before retiring in 1979-80.
The skillful forward left the NHL as one of most popular stars and all-time leading scorers with 541 goals and nearly 1,500 points.
Mikita was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983 along with former teammate Bobby Hull.