Keith Magnuson is still one of the most beloved Blackhawks to ever wear the Indian Head sweater. In the Blackhawks' long and storied history there are only seven players to have their names hanging from the rafters of the United Center and Magnuson is one of them. He only scored 139 points (14 G, 125 A) in 589 career games while playing for Chicago. He is not remembered for being an offensive threat. His 1442 career penalty minutes helps show what type of player Maggie was. He was the enforcer for the Blackhawks in 1970's, much like Al Secord was in the 1980's. If anyone even looked funny at Stan Mikita or Bobby Hull, Magnuson was there to set them straight.
I never got to see Keith Magnuson play in person, but he was one of the mythical figures I heard about as a child. The stories of his fights and toughness have become folklore in the city of Chicago. I was lucky enough to be at the United Center, back in November of 2008, when the Blackhawks retired the number 3 in honor of Magnuson and Pierre Pilote. You could tell how special Magnuson was by how many of his former teammates showed up and how fondly they spoke of him.
I recently picked up a copy of Keith Magnuson : The Inspiring Life and Times of a Beloved Blackhawk by Doug Feldmann. This is a terrific read with plenty of insight from his teammates and friends. Magnuson touched so many people during his playing days and long after he walked away from the rink.
One of my favorite stories in the book involves Magnuson trying to be more than a one dimensional player after leading the league with 213 penalty minutes in his rookie season.
After a brief rest in Canada following his training at Johnny Coulon's gym, Magnuson returned to Chicago for his second camp with the Black Hawks in September 1970. Whether it was from witnessing Bobby Orr's spectacular rushes with the puck or some other reason, Keith was suddenly worried that other parts of his game were beginning to suffer. He thought he needed to be more of an offensive-minded player instead of relying on his on his brute force all the time. When he experimented in displaying this new persona at the team's first few workouts, one of his veteran teammates on defense had a different and simpler idea for him.
"Pat Stapleton came up to me and said, "Maggie, we need you to hit," Keith recalled. Magnuson never looked back from this directive, now finally convinced of not only what his role should be, but that his teammates had confidence in him to fulfill it.
Magnuson had a larger than life persona and it carried over into his professional life after hockey. He became an executive for Coca-Cola and always made time for various charity functions. No matter how successful he became away from the ice, he never forgot where he came from.
Tirelessly working on behalf of others, yet another of Magnuson's post-hockey passions would be to assist the ranks of the NHL's retired players, helping to secure more stable futures for those who played the game. It was a project that culminated in his founding and presidency of the Blackhawks' Alumni Association, with help from Koroll and Hawks front office man Jack Fitzsimmons. [Dale] Tallon also assisted in organizing the luncheons for the Association. "When Maggie was a the microphone at the luncheon," Tallon said, "he wanted to thank everyone in the room personally. Everyone knew that the luncheon would the go from an hour to three and a half hours. But everyone loved Maggie, so nobody would mind.
Cliff Koroll, one of Magnuson's childhood friends and teammate on the Blackhawks, wrote a terrific forward for the book. He wrapped up the forward with a few perfect words to describe his dearly departed friend.
That his number is now in the rafters of the United Center is a tribute to Maggie as a player, but even more so to him as a person. He wasn't the greatest player to hit the ice, though he certainly served his purpose and showed his hard work and dedication. It's the off the ice stuff-all the people he touched, from the little kids to senior citizens-that's the thing most people remember about him.
I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this book. Whether you watched play or recently became a Blackhawks fan, the story of Keith Magnuson is one every hockey fan needs to hear.