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Former NHL player with Canora area roots honoured

Former Chicago Blackhawk Cliff Koroll, who grew up near Canora, will be inducted into the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Yorkton on June 24

Cliff Koroll, originally from a Donwell area farm near Canora, will be inducted into the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Yorkton on June 24. The induction salutes Koroll’s productive 11-year career in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The son of John and Irene Koroll, he moved to Saskatoon with his family at the age of three when his father took a new job. But Cliff has never forgotten his roots.

“Years later I took my kids to look at our old farmhouse,” he recalled. “They couldn’t believe I lived in a little two-room house like that, there were four kids and two parents. Another sister was born later in Saskatoon.”

In 2004 Koroll returned to Canora to play in a fun hockey tournament with a number of friends and relatives.

He said being inducted in the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame is a great honour.

“Look at some of the past inductees, Gordie Howe was my childhood hero,” said Koroll. “Keith Magnusson was my teammate in Denver and again with the Blackhawks. Murray Armstrong, who was from Regina, recruited me and was my coach at the University of Denver.”

Koroll credits family for success

Koroll gives a lot of credit for his success in hockey to his older brothers Bill, Bruce and Ron.

“They built a rink for me. I started skating at three, they took me out and played hockey with me, as well as other sports. They helped me become a good all-round athlete, I give them a lot of credit for making it to the NHL. I loved skating around, shooting the puck, playing with my friends. We’d play street hockey if we couldn’t get on ice. My parents never had to worry where I was.”

Organized hockey wasn’t available to Koroll in Saskatoon until he was 10 years old, when he started playing about 15 games per season.

“I played 60 games in four years, many kids today play 60 games by Christmas. But we played street hockey or on backyard rinks, that was how we built up our skills.”

In those days, playing organized hockey was a privilege that had to be earned.

“For those four years in the Kinsmen peewee hockey league, each kid had a citizenship card. Before each game, I had to have it signed by a Sunday school teacher, a school teacher, a parent, and a Kin club member. We had to have their approval before we could play. This taught us about responsibility, good behaviour, commitment, things that helped you through life.”

NHL career with Blackhawks

The highlights of Koroll’s hockey career area available at the website.

Cliff Koroll burst onto the Saskatchewan hockey scene playing for the Midget ‘A’ Saskatoon Wesley’s. Koroll helped the team win a provincial championship in 1961-62 and was also a major factor in the Wesley’s 1963-64 Juvenile ‘A’ provincial championship. Koroll would continue his hockey career as a player for the University of Denver Pioneers. During Koroll’s senior year at Denver, he would be named team captain in addition to being named to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s All-Star team.

Koroll’s pro-career dream became a reality when he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks following his college years. He was sent to the minor-league team in Dallas where he would win the Central Hockey League championship title in 1968-69. The following season, Koroll was called up to the Chicago Blackhawks where he scored 18 goals and added 19 assists for 37 points. Koroll, who was considered one of the most consistent wingers during his career, skated in 814 regular-season games scoring 208 goals and 462 points. He also registered five 20-goal campaigns in the NHL including a career-high 33 goals in 1972-73. During his career, Koroll played in 85 Stanley Cup playoff games, adding 19 goals and 29 assists. Koroll helped lead the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1971 and 1973, losing both times to the Montreal Canadiens.

Upon retiring from the NHL in 1979-80, Koroll would make the switch to coaching. Koroll served as an assistant coach for the Chicago Blackhawks for the 1980-84 and 1985-87 seasons. During the 1984-85 season, Koroll served as head coach for the Milwaukee Admirals, Chicago’s International Hockey League affiliate team.

Koroll’s play and dedication would be highlighted on numerous occasions, including inductions into the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame (1991), the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame (1997), University of Denver Hall of Fame (2003), Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame (2010) and the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame (2015), concluded the website information.

Koroll said he has never regretted his decision to attend the University of Denver instead of staying with junior hockey, as was popular at the time

“There were only six teams in the NHL, it was hard to make it. Junior hockey included lots of travel, and school wasn’t a priority. So players had all their eggs in one basket, and were usually not prepared for life outside of hockey. My brothers influenced me to go to the University of Denver. We won the NCAA championship my senior year when I was the captain. The next year Keith Magnusson was captain and they won it again.”

When he made the Blackhawks roster for the 1969/70 season, Koroll had the unforgettable experience of playing his first game at the old Chicago Stadium.

“It’s the most nervous I’ve ever been. The fans were so close to the ice, the noise level was incredible,” shared Koroll. “Fans in the upper level could see the goalie come up the stairs first, the noise spread throughout the stadium and it got louder and louder as you came to the ice. That sticks out in my mind.”

Koroll proudly recalls that first year in with the Blackhawks. College players were rare in the NHL at the time, and Chicago had three college graduates make the team: Koroll, former Denver teammate Keith Magnusson, and Tony Esposito of Michigan Tech.

Koroll said his time at the University of Denver definitely helped him in the NHL.

“I was big enough, six feet, 196 pounds, skating ability was there, but my biggest strength was defensive play. That was from the way Murray Armstrong coached us- defence first, then offence. Stan Mikita was the centre on our line and my road roommate for 10 years, I learned a lot from him.”

Success continued after playing days

After his playing days, Koroll stayed with the Blackhawks in various positions including coaching, the front office, and community relations.

“But after 21 years with Chicago, I wanted to use my college degree for something outside of hockey,” said Koroll. “I worked with Cargill for 21 years. They had a McDonalds business unit that supplied products such as beef, chicken, eggs and cooking oil made from canola oil to McDonalds restaurants worldwide.”

Towards the end of his time with Cargill he started fundraising for Ronald McDonald House and other charities, and has raised millions in that capacity.

Koroll is president of the Blackhawks Alumni Association, which provides scholarships to high school hockey players in the state of Illinois. Each scholarship provides $30,000 over four years of college. Recipients are chosen based on need, grades, community involvement, character, and submitting two essays:

  • What has hockey done for me? and,
  • Why should I be a recipient of this scholarship?

Looking back, Koroll recognizes that hockey has played a big role in his success both on and off the ice.

“Hockey taught me things like hard work, desire, and relationship building. Lessons I learned as a hockey player certainly helped in the business world. I wouldn’t have had the success I had outside of hockey, including getting a degree and the transition into the business world, if I didn’t have hockey,” Koroll concluded.