Legendary Blackhawks defenseman Pierre Pilote dies at 85

Blackhawks legend Pierre Pilote, a 1961 Stanley Cup champion who helped revolutionize the defenseman position with his hard-charging, attacking style, died Saturday. He was 85.

A three-time Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defenseman, the offensive-minded Pilote had 80 goals and 419 assists in 890 career games, all but 69 of them with the Hawks. He spent 13 seasons with the Hawks, seven as captain, before playing his last season with the Maple Leafs in 1968-69. Pilote won the Norris three consecutive times (1963-65), was a runner-up three other times and was an eight-time All-Star.

‘‘I always believed that if I had the puck, the other team didn’t have it,’’ Pilote told the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006. ‘‘My first instinct was always playing forward. . . . If I played strictly defense, I wouldn’t earn as much as if I played defense and offense. There weren’t many laurels just being a defensive player. If you can do both, why not?’’

Pilote famously didn’t play organized hockey till he was 17 years old and spent nearly four full seasons in the American Hockey League before joining the Hawks. He immediately became a mainstay, playing in all 70 games in his first five seasons.

Pierre Pilote speaks during a ceremony retiring his No. 3 before a game on Nov. 12, 2008. (Sun-Times File Photo)

‘‘Pierre was one of the most decorated defensemen in NHL history and was a valuable member of the 1961 Stanley Cup championship team,’’ the Hawks said in a statement. ‘‘He will be remembered for his toughness, leadership and reliability on the ice, as proven by his captaincy and streak of 376 consecutive games played.’’

Pilote’s No. 3 hangs in the rafters at the United Center.

‘‘We are saddened with the passing of our father, but our family will always remember the Blackhawks organization for providing us with so many special moments,’’ Pilote’s family said in a statement. ‘‘We are so proud of what our father accomplished in his professional career and thankful that his legacy will be preserved with the retirement of his [No. 3] by the team.’’

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

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