Stan Mikita walks in his sleep, which sometimes panics his wife, Jill or his usual road-trip roommate, Cliff Koroll.After 1,303 National Hockey League games, he could probably skate in his sleep, too, and play a better game than most of his compatriots.
Mikita will be skating at Capital Centre tonight when the Chicago Black Hawks complete their season series with the Washington Capitals. Chicago has earned two victories and a tie so far, and the 37-year-old Mikita has demonstrated that he can still show the kids a few moves.
In a 3-1 Chicago victory, Mikita dominated the faceoffs to such an extent that Washington Coach Tom McVie was exaggerating only slightly when he said, "I think Mikita won every faceoff he was involved with."
In a 5-2 Black Hawk success, Mikita Koroll. After 1,303 National Hockey recorded a goal and three assists, figures that contributed to career totals of 517 goals, 878 assists and 1,395 points. Only Gordie Howe has more assists, and only Howe and Phil Esposito more points.
Mikita held the NHL records for points in a season, 97, and points in a playoff year, 21, until expansion produced longer schedules and less hindrance to rolling up the score.In both the last year of six-team hockey, 1967, and the first year of expansion hockey, 1968, Mikita won the Art Ross Trophy as league-leading scorer, the Hart Trophy as most valuable player and the Lady Byng Trophy as most gentlemanly player.
He has received only one prize since, but it was a big one. In 1976, Mikita was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.
Born in Sokolce, Czechoslovakia, Mikita was brought to Canada by an aunt and uncle in 1948, at age 8. His introduction to hockey was not especially pleasant, but indirectly it planted the roots of that Patrick Trophy presentation.
"Kids can be pretty mean," Mikita said. "I found out when I came to Canada this was true. It was because of my Czechoslovakian accent. Kids made fun of it. Lots of times, I would see other kids whispering around me or calling me things I didn't understand."
For years, Mikita has been deeply involved in teaching hockey to deaf children and, through the Special Olympics program, to the mentally handicapped. He compares the kids' problems to his youthful difficulties.
"I didn't know what the other kids were saying and it was like I was deaf," Mikita said. "So I can identify with these kids. I know what it was to be an outcast, to be pushed into a corner by the so-called normal people. All you have to do is show these kids that you care. It's all so simple, and yet it means so much to them."
Mikita soon gained the respect of his young Canadian teammates, partly by his acquired skills and partly by the use of his fists and stick. When he entered the NHL, late in the 1959 season, he became one of the chippiest rookies in the league.
In 1964 and 1965, Nikita won NHL scoring championships with a two-year penalty total of 300 minutes. In 1967 and 1968, he was still the point leader, but his penalty figures were 12 and 14 minutes, respectively, and he was Lady Byng material.
"The players kept getting bigger and bigger," Mita said, "and I kept looking smaller and smaller. I realized somewhere along the line that at 160 pounds I couldn't continue trying to beat everybody up. It was taking more out of me than the guys I was trying to abuse."
The clincher to the change in attitude came from his daughter, Meg, now 14.
"One night I came home from a road game," Mikita recalled, "and Meg said to me, "Daddy how come on TV you always sit alone while the other men are playing hockey?" She was pretty observant. She watched the game and I was in the penalty box all night. That drove a point home."
Another point has been driven home by Bob Pulford, the man who took over the Black Hawks last summer and changed them from a ragtag group of unabashed losers into a disciplined division champion.
"It used to be that they'd send somebody from the other team out to check me," Mikita said. "Now they send me out to check somebody from the other team.
"But I'm really having fun again. The attitude is completely better and I feel like I'm still hungry. I thought a lot about retiring the last few years, when it was becoming a chore." get add three
The chore now falls to the opposition, to the player who tries to get around Mikita's deftly handled stick. There have been complaints about his hooking and holding, but a penalty total of 31 minutes indicates he must be fooling somebody.
He's certainly fooling people on faceoffs, the important but often neglected phase of hockey that sets up so many goals. Washington's Guy Charron is one who is not looking forward to tonight's draws.
"The odd time he'll let you win one and you think you've figured him out," Charron said, "but he'll change something. He's always been one of the best. He doesn't beat you with strength, he beats you with finesse, what he's learned all those years."