Tuesday

Cliff Koroll

One of the most consistent wingers during the 1970s, Cliff Koroll held a special relationship with the much more famous Chicago teammate Keith Magnuson.

Koroll and Magnuson had been best friends since youth hockey. Though both dreamed of playing in the NHL, they skipped junior hockey for the NHL road much less travelled at that time. The duo attended the University of Denver, leading the school to the NCAA title in their senior year.

In 1969-70 both players cracked the Chicago Blackhawks lineup, and would become mainstays through the 1970s. Magnuson, with his great looks and ultra-aggressive style of play, became an instant fan favorite. Koroll went about his work much in a much more unheralded fashion.

Koroll was brought in to replace Kenny Wharram, who had to retire in 1969 with heart problems. After scoring an early season hat trick, Koroll permanently took over Wharram's spot on Stan Mikita's right wing.

Mikita would play a pivotal role in Koroll's career.

"Mikita was my road roomie for 20 years. "Stosh" taught me how to play on the ice and how to live off of it."

Mikita had nothing but praise for the young Koroll, too.

"I had a bad back for most of the time Cliff was breaking in. He knew this and did more of the dirty work in the corners than anyone realizes. And he listens and learns and works hard, harder than most people believe. He practices longer than many and never stops trying to improve his shot and other phases of the game.

To Koroll's own admission, the hard work paid off.

"I think I was the type of player that could do a lot of things. I was an offensive player. I scored quite a few goals in college. But I think the strong point was the defensive play which was taught to us by (University of Denver coach) Murray Armstrong. I think that really helped me make it in the National Hockey League. I always played the power play and I killed penalties all the time so I was sort of an all-around type player. I wasn't going to be a 50 goal scorer by any means, but I certainly had some great years. Thirty three goals was the highest I had the one year (1972-73). But I had several 20-plus seasons.

"As my career went on, I got into more of a defensive mode, our line having to play the top lines on other teams, becoming a checking line so to speak, and spending a lot of time penalty kill. So the goal production dropped off because of more emphasis on stopping the opposition as opposed to doing all the scoring."

One of Koroll's admirers was Vic Hadfield, the New York Rangers sniper who had to fend off the tenacious checking of Koroll whenever the Rangers played Chicago.

"I will tell you what he reminds me of," Hadfield told The Hockey News in January, 1976. "You know those big table hockey games where you pull the knob and the players just go up and down the wing? Well that's Cliff Koroll. Up and down, never strays, always there, nothing flashy."

Koroll went on to score a quiet 208 goals and 462 points in 814 games. Twice helped lead the Hawks to the Stanley Cup finals, in 1971 and 1973. Both times they lost to the Montreal Canadiens, but the '71 loss was the toughest to take.

"We were ahead 2-0 in the Chicago Stadium, but they won 3-2. I still have nightmares over that. It's the one void in my life."

After retiring, Koroll became an assistant coach with the Hawks for another seven season. He would also work in the front office before leaving to become an executive with Cargill, the major supplier to McDonald's fast food restaurants.

Though he was very successful off the ice and raised a wonderful family, his off ice devotion became the Chicago Blackhawks Alumni Association. The Alumni was the baby of Magnuson, but Koroll took it upon himself to over see the continuation of Magnuson's vision after tragedy claimed his best friends life in 2003.

"His death was the worst thing to happen -- not just to me, but everybody who knew this wonderful, funny, unselfish man, husband and parent. I spent 15 hours at Cindy's house with her, son Kevin and daughter Molly after the accident. Not an hour goes by that I don't think of him."

Koroll delivered the eulogy for the ever-popular hockey star.

"The toughest thing I've ever had to do. I bawled my eyes out practicing it and thought, How am I ever going to get through this?' But Kevin was so strong speaking ahead of me that I got through my part without breaking down. I was proud of myself for that, but not nearly as proud as I was for Kevin."

4 comments:

angie,  8:06 PM  

Cliff was my absolute hero during those years. I have his autograph and even a used stick that he gave me after a practice at the Willow Ice Chalet.

teri,  2:55 PM  

Cliff is a class act. As is his beautiful wife. I was lucky enough to know them way back when (I remember the day they brought CJ home). They were always kind and welcoming. My dad still runs in to Cliff every now and then at Medina where my dad and Stan Mikita sponsored Cliff's membership.

stacey,  7:42 PM  

Cliff is amazing, his wife is an angel... I was his chauffeur at Aloha limousine for several years!

Anonymous,  1:27 PM  

Cliff's work ethic led me to play college hockey, not bad for a kid from Texas. He and Jim Wiste w/ help Mike Baughmgartner taught hard work isn't a skill it was a devotion. I still have his #9 red road sweater from Dallas hanging in my Grandkid's room.

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