Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita dead at 78

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Stan Mikita (Getty Images)

Stan Mikita, the Blackhawks legend and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, died Tuesday, the team announced. He was 78.

“He was surrounded by his loving family whom he fiercely loved,” the Mikita family said in a statement released through the Blackhawks. “Details of planned services will be released when they become available. We respectfully ask for privacy at this time.” 

NHL.com’s Dave Stubbs reported Mikita was suffering from a “lengthy illness” at the time of his death. He had been diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia, the Mikita family revealed in 2015.

Mikita, known for his offensive craft, is celebrated as one of the greatest Blackhawks of all time.

In a 22-year NHL career — all in Chicago — he set franchise records for games played (1,396), points (1,467) and assists (926), all of which stand today. His 541 goals rank second. He won two Hart Trophies for the NHL’s most valuable player, four Art Ross trophies as leading scorer, and two Lady Byngs, winning all three in back-to-back seasons (1967, 1968) — the only player in history to do so in the same year. He also helped the Blackhawks capture the Stanley Cup in 1961.

Mikita retired from the NHL following the 1979-80 season, one of eight players in history to play 1,300 games exclusively for a single franchise. 

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983.

“Stan Mikita will be always remembered as a champion, an innovator and a master of the game,” Blackhawks president John McDonough said in a statement. “He embodied the Chicago Blackhawks. His excellence is illustrated by the team records he still holds today. His passion for the game was proved by the longevity of his playing career.

“The impact he had on the franchise is proved by fact that Blackhawks fans still wear his jersey to the United Center. On behalf of the Chicago Blackhawks organization and our fans, we express our deepest condolences to the Mikita family and all who mourn Stan’s passing.” 

Mikita’s No. 21 hangs in the rafters at the United Center, and the franchise erected a statue in his honor outside the arena in 2011. It was around that time when family and friends began noticing changes in Mikita’s behavior and memory loss, as outlined in a 2017 Sports Illustrated profile.

The family later disclosed he had been suffering from dementia.

“His mind is completely gone,” Jill Mikita, his wife, told the Chicago Tribune in June 2015. “I don’t like to use that term, but there’s no other way to describe it.”

Mikita requested that his brain be donated for CTE research after his death.

 In recent years, Mikita worked as an ambassador for the Blackhawks before his health began deteriorating.