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Former Blackhawk of the Week: Dirk Graham

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A mustache for the ages. And a pretty good two-way forward as well.

If you’re going to win games in Chicago, you need a mustache. Just ask Joel Quenneville (or his mustache). Ask Phil Jackson. Ask Mike Ditka. Ask Ozzie Guillen. Ask Joe Maddon (eh, close enough on the baseball guys).

So it should be no surprise that, when the Chicago Blackhawks put together one of the better teams in the league during the late 80s and early 90s, its captain had a mustache strong enough to serve as the foundation for a house in Dirk Graham.

Look at that thing! It’d probably snap a razor blade in two if it dare approach the upper lip on Graham’s face. But there was also one heck of a hockey player behind that ‘stache.

Graham was selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the fifth round (89th overall) of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, although he didn’t debut with that team: he signed with the Minnesota North Stars in 1983 and broke into the league that winter. On January 4, 1988, he was traded to the Blackhawks for Curt Fraser. Then, in the 1988-89 season, Graham had the best season of his career, scoring 33 goals with 45 assists while playing in all 80 games for a Chicago team that reached the Western Conference final before losing in five games to the Calgary Flames. During that season, he was named the Blackhawks captain, replacing Denis Savard, becoming the first player of African descent to be named an NHL captain.

Graham scored double-digit goals in six of his seven seasons with Chicago, and eclipsed the 20-goal mark four times. In the 1990-91 season, he won the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward. Not only was Graham proficient in shutting down opposing power plays, he often turned those situations into scoring chances: he remains the Blackhawks’ all-time shorthanded goals leader with 26 (Patrick Sharp is the highest-ranked active player with 16).

Chicago made the playoffs in every season that Graham wore the “C”, peaking in the 1991-92 season when the Blackhawks made it to the Stanley Cup Final but ran into the buzzsaw that was the Mario Lemieux-led Pittsburgh Penguins, losing all four games of that series. Graham stayed with the hawks until the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, retiring that summer. Graham’s 6.5-season run as the Hawks captain is the third-longest in team history, just behind Pierre Pilote’s seven-season run in the 1960s and Jonathan Toews’ current stretch.

He then moved to a coaching role, serving as an assistant under Craig Hartsburg and then taking later over the head coach role for 59 games during a forgettable 1998-99 season. Graham currently serves as a pro scout for the San Jose Sharks.