LOOKING BACK: Pat "Whitey" Stapleton

Back before I was even 5 years old, my dad dragged me up to the second balcony of the Stadium to see my first Hawks game. I could tell you I remember every detail, but I’d be completely full of shit – or at least more than I usually am.

We’re talking the 1966-67 season. Last year of the Original Six, Hull and Mikita in their heyday. Phil Esposito and Ken Hodge before they went to Boston to win Cups. Glenn Hall in net. They finished first in the NHL that year, ending the Curse of the Muldoon. They got smoked in the playoffs, prompting Phil Esposito to tell GM Tommy Ivan that the Hawks would never win as long as he and Billy Reay were running the team. That punched Espo’s ticket out of town, to Boston. Where he had to muddle through parking his sizable ass in the crease and tapping in 500 pucks or so after Bobby Orr dazzled everyone.

Of course, everything I just told you was from research or anecdotes. I don’t remember any of that. I remember a couple years later.

At that point, Esposito was gone, and Pit Martin was here. As a 7-year-old, I thought every player with a helmet was Pit Martin. My dad hated Pit Martin for the unforgivable sin of being part of the Esposito trade. Same thing with Martin’s linemates…hated Jimmy Pappin for being traded for Pierre Pilote, and hated Dennis Hull for not being Bobby. Then he hated Bobby for being a “fuckin’ wife beater”. In fact, my dad, bless his soul, always seemed to hate about 90% of the Blackhawks.

Now, given my age, you’d think I’d regale you here with tales of Hull or Mikita. Thing is, there’s really nothing I can tell you about them that you haven’t already heard. When I was old enough to start understanding what was going on in games, I had a guy I loved almost as much as I loved Mikita and Nesterenko…Pat “Whitey” Stapleton.

We went to a couple games a year, when my dad could get tickets off a co-worker. Same seats every time. Always against a shitty team, like the Seals or Penguins - I never saw Bobby Orr play other than on TV.

There was the same guy at every game, some big leather-lunged guy who looked more like Sgt. Carter than my dad did. And, goddamn…this guy hated Whitey. Every time Whitey skated the puck up the ice, “Don’t trip over the blueline, Patty.”  Every time he went with somebody into the corner, “Kiss him, Patty.” So I think part of my love of Whitey was defending a Blackhawk. Part of it was that he was actually a helluva player.

Whitey actually was the first NHL defenseman to rack up 50 assists in a season. Of course, the next season Orr started a run of 6 straight seasons where he never dropped below 70. But still, pretty damn good. Plus, he actually wore the “C” in the 1973 Stanley Cup Final.

The next season, he was the player/coach of the Chicago Cougars. Then he became player/coach/owner when the Kaiser brothers looked to unload the franchise. I still remember going to All-Sports on Addison (across from Wrigley Field) and getting a free Cougars poster that had Whitey, Nesterenko, Reg Fleming, and a couple other old Blackhawks.

The other thing Stapleton was known for was being a great practical joker. Whether it was stealing Bob Verdi's typewriter when he had a deadline due, or taping a sign on toupee-wearing Doug Mohns that read, "I'M WEARING A RUG".

Whitey deserves a nice welcome back to the United Center, right after the rest of us get ours.

 

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