Since it formed in 1917, the National Hockey League® had seen many teams come and go. In 1942, the disbanding of the Brooklyn (formerly New York) Americans brought the number of teams to six. The Boston Bruins®, Chicago Black Hawks®, Detroit Red Wings®, Montreal Canadiens®, New York Rangers® and Toronto Maple Leafs® would become known as the Original Six™ teams, and remained stable opponents for a quarter century until the NHL® doubled in size in 1967.
In this quarter century, lasting legends were born. Toronto and Montréal built hockey dynasties: the Leafs won the Stanley Cup® nine times, the last time in 1967; the Canadiens won 10, including five consecutive titles between 1956 and 1960.
These were the golden years of the players on bubble-gum scented cards in every schoolboy’s pocket – Maurice “the Rocket” Richard, Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau, Bobby Orr, Jacques Plante, and so many others. As television sets replaced radios, Foster Hewitt brought games to life on Hockey Night in Canada in English-speaking homes with the expression “He shoots ... he scores!” In French Canada, “Et c’est le but!” became a familiar expression thanks to René Lecavalier, the host of La Soirée du hockey.
When fans of the Original Six era called for “-DEE-fence, DEE-fence,” their wish was answered by six Canadian superstars who are featured in our 2014 issue of Original Six defencemen: Tim Horton, Doug Harvey, Bobby Orr, Harry Howell, Pierre Pilote and Red Kelly. Their story – and that of the six teams in what some call the greatest hockey era ever – is told through these stamps.
With this special issue, imagine yourself in the legendary Maple Leaf Gardens or the storied Montreal Forum. Picture your seat in Chicago’s “Madhouse on Madison,” Detroit’s “Old Red Barn,” or New York’s Madison Square Garden. Dream of watching Bobby Orr score a championship-winning goal at the Boston “Gahden.” These six blue-line heroes take to the ice again as we present another chapter of the history of the NHL.
Born in Kénogami, Quebec, and raised in Fort Erie, Ontario, Pierre Pilote learned to skate at a young age. As a teenager, Pilote had nowhere to play locally: his rink had burned down. Luckily, he was invited to play with the St. Catharines Teepees and then the Buffalo Bisons, a farm team for the then-named Chicago Black Hawks.
Pilote made it to the NHL for the 1955-56 season with the Black Hawks, where he was a reliable defenceman, playing through many injuries. He could be a tough guy – a reputation well-earned in a tussle when he defeated both Henri and Maurice Richard of the Montreal Canadiens. The versatile Pilote made a virtue of learning from other players, giving himself the nickname “Mr. Xerox.”
Paired with Elmer (Moose) Vasko, Pilote was key to the Black Hawks’ Stanley Cup Championship in 1961. He was named the team’s captain, leading such legends as Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. For seven consecutive years from 1960 to 1967, Pilote earned spots on NHL All-Star teams. His success as a defenceman earned him the Norris Trophy three times, from 1963 to 1965.