SEATTLE – Wayne Hicks took a rather unorthodox route to becoming the only Washington-born hockey player to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.
He could soon have company, as forward T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals, born in Mount Vernon and raised in Everett and Stanwood, tries to replicate Hicks’ feat of 57 years ago.
Oshie’s team leads the Vegas Golden Knights 3-1 in the best-of-seven finals. For now, Hicks remains alone in this state’s hockey history books.
“I didn’t expect it, but that’s how these things often happen,” Hicks, now 81 and living in Scottsdale, Ariz., told me of his unusual Stanley Cup journey.
Born in Aberdeen to American parents, Hicks – for reasons he can’t remember much – moved to Canada with his family as a toddler and eventually was signed as a 16-year-old by the Chicago Blackhawks. He played six years of junior and minor professional hockey before making his NHL debut for a lone playoff game with Chicago in 1959-60. One year later, having played a single NHL regular-season game as well, Hicks got a playoff call-up at age 23 that changed his life.
The Blackhawks had upset the five-time-defending Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens in the semifinals and led 3-2 in their Stanley Cup championship series against the Detroit Red Wings. But Chicago had paid a hefty price in a Game 5 victory when star right wing Murray Balfour – of the famed Million Dollar Line alongside Bobby Hull and Bill Hay – broke his arm crashing into the net.
With Game 6 looming in Detroit, the Blackhawks phoned Hicks, who had completed his season with their Buffalo Bisons affiliate in the American Hockey League.
“I got the call, and my wife and I drove from Buffalo to Detroit for the game,” Hicks said of the seven-hour, 260-mile journey.
Walking into the Olympia Stadium arena in front of a hostile crowd was somewhat surreal.
“It was interesting,” he said. “There was a lot of tension.”
Detroit carried a 1-0 lead into intermission. Blackhawks coach Rudy Pilous then delivered an infamous dressing-room pep talk, in which he later recalled telling his players that “tonight’s game was worth $1,000 to the winner, and the loser gets nothing.”
From there, the Blackhawks took over, scoring a short-handed equalizer to silence the crowd. They went ahead soon after and never looked back, winning 5-1.
Hicks has since seen YouTube video of him celebrating with teammates after the final horn sounded. “It shows me with the Cup and the coach,” he said.
He soon learned anybody playing even one finals game gets engraved on the Cup – the oldest North American pro sports trophy at 125 years and the only one containing names of every championship team’s players, coaches and executives.
“My son’s got a big framed picture of it,” Hicks said. “You can do that. Get a big, blown-up Cup picture with all the teams’ names on it. And we’ve also got miniature Cups as well with the names on it.”
Hicks later became the first American-born player with the Philadelphia Flyers in a 115-game career that ended in 1967-68.
As obscure as his route from Washington to the Cup was, even players growing up in this state rarely reach the NHL the conventional way. Oshie is Washington’s most successful NHL player, notching 187 goals and 277 assists over 10 seasons.
But his more formative hockey years were in Minnesota after his parents separated, and he moved there with his father at age 15. Oshie’s cousin, a former NHL journeyman named Tim Boucha, mentored him, and he became a teenage standout in the nation’s biggest high-school-hockey hotbed.
There’s hope that if the NHL expands to Seattle, more rinks will be built locally and youngsters will see a clearer path to the pros. Oshie used to drive with his parents an hour each way from Stanwood to Mountlake Terrace for ice time.
Hicks has seen hockey grow in the Phoenix area since the Arizona Coyotes relocated from Winnipeg in 1996. His son, Alex, a former NHL player with Pittsburgh, is now an assistant coach with Arizona State’s fledgling NCAA Division I team.
Arizona has produced three NHL players since the Coyotes arrived, compared with one prior.
Hicks said few begrudged him getting his name on the Cup after just three NHL games. By comparison, Oshie played 665 regular-season games and his teammate, Alex Ovechkin, appeared in 1,003 before even making the finals.
The Blackhawks in 2011 invited Hicks to their 50th anniversary celebration of the 1960-61 title. He says they “treated him like royalty” for three days.
“Everybody just says ‘Holy crap! that just about never, ever happens,’ ” Hicks said. “You look at the teams now, there’s only like five of them that have won the last 20 years. It’s all based on timing.”
And for hockey in Washington, the timing finally might be right for some fresh Cup engravings now and for years down the road.
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