CHICAGO – A long line of fans snaked around the United Center Sunday as they waited to pay their respects to Blackhawks great Stan Mikita.
Mikita died from dementia Tuesday, Aug. 7 at the age of 78.
In the stadium's atrium, Mikita’s coffin was draped with his sweater and a large arrangement of flowers honoring his number. Longtime fans said they wanted to let Mikita’s family, especially his wife Jill, know that he was loved and adored.
A ticket holder since 1959, Carl Miller says he fondly remembers seeing the man on and off the ice.
"He was always a nice guy and when you would talk to him he would talk to anybody just like a regular fan," Miller said.
Mikita was with the Blackhawks for 22 years and is the franchise leader in points (1,467) and games played (1,394). A four-time Art Ross Trophy winner as the NHL's leading scorer, the forward was named the Hart Trophy winner for league MVP in the 1966-1967 along with the 1967-1968 seasons. In those same years, Mikita was also named the Lady Byng Trophy winner for sportsmanlike conduct.
After his retirement in 1980, the Blackhawks retired his No. 21 in October of that year, and then was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983. He served as an ambassador for the team starting in 2008.
In 2015, Mikita's family announced that he was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, an illness that took away the memories of his prestigious playing career along with most of his life.
Stan’s grandson Billy plays as a forward on his own hockey team, the Huskies out of Romeoville, and his teammates came out to support him while honoring Mikita and his legacy.
"We just wanted to make sure he wasn’t too sad or anything. We just wanted to make him happy," teammate Matthew Molnar said.
In lieu of flowers, the Mikita family asks donations be made to one of four charities. They include the Illinois chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association.