Bobby Hull has often joked that he loved wearing the Chicago Blackhawks jersey because its distinctive crest looked a lot like Pierre Pilote’s face. Pilote, who played from 1955 to ’69, became one of the best defencemen in National Hockey League history, winning the Stanley Cup in 1961, and the Norris Trophy as top blue-liner in three consecutive years, and being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975.
How he overcame many challenges to achieve these accomplishments is the subject of Heart of the Blackhawks, a comprehensive, though not entirely successful, look at Pilote’s NHL career. Authors L. Waxy Gregoire and David M. Dupuis write primarily in the third person, but it is Pilote’s own comments on his career that truly tell the story.
Although he retired in 1969, Pilote, at age 81, is still peeved at a trade that sent him to Toronto the season before, following 13 years with the Blackhawks. Pilote says he considered retiring to become a salesman for a copy-machine company, but changed his mind after listening to some records by a motivational speaker talking about life decisions. It’s a priceless little nugget you don’t have to be a hockey fan to appreciate.
Pilote’s journey from boyhood in small-town Quebec to teen phenom in Fort Erie, Ontario, and later with the powerhouse Junior ‘A’ St. Catharines TeePees, was not a smooth ride. He couldn’t speak English, which posed challenges on and off the ice. He learned to bridge Canada’s two solitudes, but also had to fight hard for a roster spot.
The coach in St. Catharines wanted to cut him following a tryout, but the team’s new general manager, Rudy Pilous, who scouted him, insisted Pilote be part of the team. Pilous, himself inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1994, subsequently fired the coach and assumed his duties. He and Pilote became intertwined when Pilous was appointed coach of the Hawks and celebrated the ’61 Stanley Cup win with his star defenceman as captain.
This book about overcoming challenges is a must for hockey fans who want to learn about a star from yesteryear, but readers will have to slog through a lot of detailed research to get to the meat of the story.