Stan Mikita

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Study shows hockey great Stan Mikita suffered from CTE

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CHICAGO — A posthumous study of Stan Mikita’s brain shows the hockey Hall of Famer suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy at the time of his death a year ago.

Dr. Ann McKee, the director of the BU CTE Center, announced the findings during the Concussion Legacy Foundation’s Chicago Honors Dinner on Friday night at the request of Mikita’s family.

CTE is a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head. It is known to cause memory loss, violent moods and other cognitive difficulties. It can only be diagnosed after death.

Mikita is the eighth former NHL player diagnosed with CTE at the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, a list that also includes Derek Boogaard, Bob Probert and Reggie Fleming.

”The NHL is nowhere on this,” McKee said. ”They have completely denied a link. They have denied any responsibility, and it’s clear that they are just protecting the bottom line.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has consistently denied there is a conclusive link between repeated blows to the head and CTE. A message was left late Friday night seeking comment from the league about Mikita’s diagnosis.

The NHL formed a concussion study group in 1997, cracked down on certain hits after the 2004-05 lockout, instituted a formal protocol and a rule against head contact in 2010, and added spotters in 2015.

McKee said she feels the concussion spotters are being too lax in having players examined.

”They need to really, really just be very conservative about what represents a hit,” she said, ”because what looks like a minor hit to you or me when we’re looking at it can be a devastating hit to the player, and we need to keep these players safe. That’s how these leagues got to be what they are.”

Mikita, who helped Chicago to the 1961 Stanley Cup title, died last August at age 78. He had been in poor health after being diagnosed with Lewy body dementia – a progressive disease that causes problems with thinking, movement, behavior and mood.

McKee said Mikita had Stage III CTE and Lewy Body Disease.

”What was interesting was he didn’t just have CTE, which we know is associated with contact sports,” she said, ”but we’re finding out that there are other neurodegenerative diseases, in particular Lewy Body Disease, which is a Parkinson’s sort of disease that spreads through your brain, believe it or not, that’s associated with contact sports.”

Mikita spent his entire career with the Blackhawks, beginning with his NHL debut in 1959 and running through his retirement after playing 17 games in the 1979-80 season. He is the franchise’s career leader for assists (926), points (1,467) and games played (1,394), and is second to Bobby Hull with 541 goals.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983. He also was the first player to have his jersey retired by the Blackhawks in 1980.

Mikita’s family declined to speak with the media at the dinner. Mikita’s daughter, Jane, accepted the 2019 Courage Award on behalf of the family.

”While my dad’s professional hockey accomplishments were many, we are most proud of his legacy of giving back and caring for others,” Jane said during her speech.

Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita dies at 78

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Sad news in the hockey world on Tuesday as the Chicago Blackhawks announced that Hockey Hall of Famer Stan Mikita has died at the age of 78.

From Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz:

“There are no words to describe our sadness over Stan’s passing. He meant so much to the Chicago Blackhawks, to the game of hockey, and to all of Chicago. He left an imprint that will forever be etched in the hearts of fans – past, present and future. Stan made everyone he touched a better person. My wife Marilyn and I, joined by the entire Wirtz family, extend our prayers and thoughts to Jill and the Mikita family. ‘Stosh’ will be deeply missed, but never, ever forgotten.”

Mikita was born in Czechoslovakia and moved to Ontario, Canada when he was eight years old. He would join the Blackhawks during the 1958-59 NHL season and spent his entire 22-year NHL career with the franchise, helping them capture the 1961 Stanley Cup. Along with teammate Bobby Hull, he would be one of the first players to curve his stick.

His career would come to an end in 1980 after 1,396 NHL games. Mikita finished with 541 goals and 1,467 points making him the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Along with one Cup, he also won the Art Ross Trophy four times, the Lady Byng Trophy twice and the Hart Trophy in 1967 and 1968. He remains the only player to win the Art Ross, Hart and Byng in the same season — something he did twice.

During his playing days, Mikita partnered with a Chicago businessman to create the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association to help those deaf and hard-of-hearing build confidence and enjoy the game. The AHIHA is still going 45 years later.

The Blackhawks would retire his No. 21 months after he hung up his skates and the Hockey Hall of Fame came calling in 1983. In 2011, a statue was installed outside of United Center. During All-Star Weekend in 2017 he was named on the list of the NHL’s 100 greatest players.

Mikita’s name entered the pop culture world in 1992 when the big hang out spot for Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar in the movie “Wayne’s World” was named Stan Mikita’s Donuts.

“I put in 22 years as a pro athlete and they remembered me from a doughnut shop in a movie,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1997.

In 2015, when he was 75 years old, news came out that Mikita had been diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, a brain disorder that affects the memory and can cause hallucinations and sleep disorders. “Whatever world he is in, he’s content,” his daughter Jane told the Chicago Tribune.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.