Blackhawks legend Pierre Pilote has passed away. Pilote, a former defenseman who was instrumental in the Stanley Cup-winning team in 1961, was 85.
“The Chicago Blackhawks offer our sincere condolences to the family of Pierre Pilote as we mourn his passing,” the Blackhawks organization said in a statement they released Sunday morning. “Pierre was one of the most decorated defenseman in NHL history and was a valuable member of the 1961 Stanley Cup championship team. He will be remembered for his toughness, leadership and reliability on the ice—as proven by his captaincy and streak of 376 consecutive games played. We will forever be grateful for his incredible contribution to the Blackhawks and the game of hockey.”
Pilote actually started his career in the NHL as a centerman. He eventually incorporated aspects of his game as a center into a career as a offensive defenseman. Pilote finished his career with 80 goals and 418 assists, playing 890 career games in a span of 14 seasons, 13 with Chicago and one with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Pilote played in the minor leagues for 4 years, until he broke into the Blackhawks’ roster during the 1955-56 season, playing 20 games that year. He would go on to play 376 consecutive games for the Indian Head, mostly alongside his frequent blue line partner, Elmer “Moose” Vasko. A dislocated shoulder ended the streak during the 1961-62 season. Pilote was also known for his truculence on the ice, banking a total of 1,251 career penalty minutes, including a career-high of 165 during the Cup year of 1960-61. During those playoffs, Pilote’s 15 points (2 goals, 13 assists) led the Blackhawks pass Gordie Howe and the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals, the last Cup the franchise will win until 2010.
That off-season, the Blackhawks traded their captain Ed Litzenberger to the the Red Wings, naming Pilote captain, a distinction he held until he was traded to Toronto after the 1967-68 season. It was said that Pilote did not learn about the trade from management, but from a reporter. Pilote reportedly never forgave the Blackhawks organization, only coming back to the fold after Blackhawks chairman and owner Rocky Wirtz reached out to him. His #3 was retired by the Blackhawks, along with Keith Magnusson’s, in 2008.
Pilote, who didnt start playing any form of professional hockey until the age of 17, helped paved the way for offensive-minded defensemen like Bobby Orr. “Some nice people have said I was like Orr before Orr,” Pilote said in an interview in 2014. “I don’t know about that. I do know that I could skate pretty well, and it was difficult for guys to get around me. Pilote was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007, alongside Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Scott Stevens, Al McInnis and Jim Gregory.
“We are saddened with the passing of our father, but our family will always remember the Blackhawks organization for providing us with so many special moments,” the Pilote family said in a statement. “We are so proud of what our father accomplished in his professional career and thankful that his legacy will be preserved with the retirement of his No. 3 by the team.”
Pilote is survived by four children; Denise, Pierre Jr., Renée and David. He is also survived by his partner, June. He was preceded in death by his wife, Annie.