Born during World War II to Stanislav and Amelia Gvoth, Stanislav Gvoth spent his first five years under Nazi rule in Sokolce, Czechoslovakia. In 1948, the Communist took over his country and his parents looked for an opportunity to get him out. The moment happened when Stan was eight, his Uncle Joe and Aunt Anna Mikita were visiting from Canada. The Gvoth’s made their fateful decision. Stan would leave with his Aunt and Uncle and move to St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. It wasn’t until years later that Stan realized the sacrifice his parents made, “I go in to see my little daughter at night as she sleeps in bed, and I think what agony my mother and father must have gone through.” Not being able to speak English, he quickly melted into the Canadian culture. His first three English words were “puck”, “stick”, and “goal” .
An all-around athlete he excelled at both lacrosse and football, but his first love was hockey. At 9 he was on a little league hockey team for 12-14-year-olds. At 16 he joined the St. Catharines Teepees of the Ontario Hockey League. He joined a team whose star player was “The Golden Jet” himself, 17-year-old Bobby Hull. Bobby was the center with Stan being his right winger. Hull realized what needed to be done. “Stan was too smart to be a right wing and I was too dumb to be a center,” Hull said. After three years with the Teepees, Stan followed Hull again as a member of the Chicago Black Hawks where Bobby Hull now was on the wing and Stan Mikita at the center.
When Hull and Mikita joined other young talents like Ken Wharram, Pierre Pilote, and Glenn Hall the Hawks moved from being the NHL’s doormats to a legitimate contender. Finishing 3rd in the 6-team league in 1961 the Black Hawks shocked the hockey world by eliminating the 5-time defending champions Montreal Canadiens in round one, then capturing the Stanley Cup with a 6-game triumph in the Stanley Cup Finals over the Gordie Howe led Detroit Red Wings. Mikita contributed six goals and five assists to the playoff run, including taking over in the 3rd period of the crucial Game 5. With the scored tied 3-3 Mikita scored two goals and assisted on the third in Chicago’s 6-3 win.
The center on the famous Scooter Line, alongside Ken Wharram on the right wing and Ab Mcdonald the left, Mikita began a run as the premier center in the league (Doug Mohns replaced McDonald in the mid-60s). In 1962 the Black Hawks again finished 3rd in the regular season, and again met the 1stplace Montreal Canadiens in the opening round. After falling behind two games to none, they again knocked out the mighty Canadiens by winning four straight games. Mikita was the best player on the ice, scoring 3 goals and assisting on 11 others. The Black Hawks did lose the finals to the Toronto Maple Leafs, ending the Hawks reign as Stanley Cup Champions, but Mikita set the record for most playoff points in a single year with 21.
Mikita began a run as probably the best player in the league (It was either him or teammate Bobby Hull). He was the best player in hockey taking face-offs, he was also a terror on the defensive end. He won the Art Ross Trophy as leading scorer in the league in 1964, 1965, 1967 and 1968. He tied the record for most points in a season with 97 in 1967. He was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s MVP in 1967 and 1968. When he retired in 1980 he was the third leading scorer in NHL history (behind Gordie Howe and Phil Esposito).
Penalized often in his early years, Mikita changed immediately after being informed by his wife of a conversation she had with their daughter Meg while watching a Black Hawks game; “Mommy why does Daddy spend so much time sitting down?” He cut his penalty minutes from 154 to 12 in a two-year period, earning the Lady Byng trophy for sportsmanship in 1967 and 1968. He won the Hockey Triple Crown two years in a row, the Hart Trophy, the Ross Trophy and the Lady Byng Trophy in the same year.
Mikita and Hull were the first to use a curved stick, allowing them more control on the stick and much more power behind their shots. Stan was also one of the first players to wear a helmet full time.
Despite being a key member of one of the elite teams of the 1960s, for the rest of his career, the Black Hawks would ultimately disappoint their fans. They only made the Stanley Cup Finals one more time, losing to the Canadiens in a tight 7-game series in 1965. The other years they would have a stellar regular season only to go out early in the playoffs. Stan spent his entire 19-year career in Chicago. There have been only two hockey statues erected in the Blackhawks new home, the United Center, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.
Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, Mikita became a golf pro at Kemper Lakes Golf Club, along with many business ventures. Not bad for a kid born under Nazi Rule during World War II, raised until eight behind the Iron Curtain of the brutal communist regime of the Soviet Union. One wonders how his parents felt about sending him away to be raised by his Aunt and Uncle. Stan was always very thankful; “I was always happy about the whole thing.” But he never forgot the sacrifice made by his birth parents in Czechoslovakia, thanking them emotionally at the unveiling of his statue at the United Center.
Stan married a Chicago girl (Jill) during his time with the Blackhawks. They raised four children in Chicago and still call it home. After a 30-year estrangement from the Black Hawks, Mikita became a good will ambassador in 2010. Health problems began plaguing Stan in 2011 when he was diagnosed with Oral Cancer. He would later fall victim to advanced dementia. At this time, he has no memory of his hockey exploits. Let us hope the Sport’s World never forgets.