Mike Oughton remembers his very first Blackhawks hockey game. It was back in the 1960s, when he was a 10-year-old who had developed a love of the ice, the puck and the goals. His coach at the Saddle and Cycle Club took a bunch of players to a game at the old Chicago Stadium.
Back then, Oughton remembers, there
were only six teams in the league and players didn’t wear helmets or masks. But the excitement in the rink fueled his fire, and there were more games to come. It was an era of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. “These guys were my idols,” he said.
Now five decades later, the Dwight Township High School graduate is being idolized as he is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame at Illinois State University, where he was a leading scorer and MVP before becoming the head coach that led the Redbirds to its first hockey championship.
He will be inducted Feb. 16 after a hockey game in Bloomington, ironically against the University of Illinois, the longtime rivals and the team they beat in
that first championship.
“It was a really gratifying point in time,” said Oughton, 64, and living in Channahon. “It was pretty cool.”
The new Hockey Hall of Fame commemorates ISU’s 50th year of having a team, said Mike Mullally, director at USA Hockey and the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois. He nominated Oughton
and is a hockey hall of famer himself. Oughton is
among 10 who will be recognized in February. Their names will be on a permanent banner that will hang in the Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington.
The ice seemed to come natural to Oughton. Growing up in Dwight, he remembers skating on local ponds and even on his parents’ pool, he laughed.
When he was 10, he joined a team through the Saddle and Cycle Club, still in existence on
Chicago’s North Side. He would spend the weekends with his grandparents who would take him to practice. His parents would then drive from Dwight to pick him up on Sunday nights, when they could have dinner while watching the boys play. During the summer, he attended camp, where most classes centered on power skating, which he said is 90 percent of the game.
As a highschooler at Dwight, he played running and defensive back on the school football team as well as center forward in hockey through the Saddle and Cycle Club. In 1971, the year before he graduated, DTHS football won the conference championship, but he was always drawn back to the ice.
“Hockey is really a physical game,” Oughton said. “I was much more sore after a hockey game [than football]. Hockey, you’re just in constant motion. You can be so creative on the ice. It’s such an emotional game.”
Matt Shirina, his longtime coach at the Saddle club, encouraged the standout athlete to continue playing in college.
“Mike Oughton was a good, good one to teach,” said Shirina, now 88 and living in Tennessee. He skated fast, handled the puck with ease and was a good shot.
“[Shirina] once told me I was the best American he ever coached,” Oughton said with pride. Shirina, a Canadian-born player, was an NHL prospect drafted by the Boston Bruins and played in the minor leagues.
Oughton played when he was at Lake Forest College in Chicago. He transferred to Illinois State University as a junior and played from 1975-77, when the program was still relatively in its infancy.
The center forward graduated with a degree in economics, topping off the 1976-77 hockey season with an impressive 29 goals, 29 assists and 58 points.
But what would come would leave him an even greater legacy. Oughton decided to continue his education at ISU and earn an MBA. The year he graduated, he was given a scholarship as head coach, overseeing a squad of 25 players and two assistant coaches. Players came from all over including Canada and Michigan.
“They really jelled well together,” he said.
As did coaching and learning.
“I coached the team while working on my MBA. I learned a great deal doing this as I was managing this group and would move into operations management after I graduated,” Oughton said. “Getting a group moving toward a common goal is what any organization is all about. I also thought of it as part of my education.”
His second year as coach, 1978-79, will never be forgotten. The school had finished only second in the playoffs thus far, but here was a coach who would lead a team to true victory.
The semifinals are still fresh in his mind. ISU beat Chicago State University — “dominated them” really, he said, 13-2. It left the team confident going into the finals against their biggest rivals, U of I.
It was one of those on-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of games. They were behind in the first period, tied after the second, and put it away in the third, scoring two goals, Oughton said. Gary Parks scored the winning goal. Oddly enough, his dad, Floyd Parks, had been Oughton’s coach at the Saddle and Cycle Club.
He’ll never forget it.
After graduate school, he married wife Rhonda and worked for RR Donnelley in Mattoon, Des Moines, Pontiac and Dwight. They eventually settled in Channahon, where he’s worked for many years for Filtration Group in Joliet in charge of operations.
He and Rhonda are moving back to Dwight now that his children are older and he can care for his elderly mother, China. They have three children: China, 27, a psychologist, named after her grandmother; Corbett, 23, who works at Medline in Chicago in a business position; and Carson, a junior also pursuing a business degree at Robert Morris University in Chicago. While all three were involved in sports — volleyball, football and wrestling — none followed their dad into hockey.
And though Oughton hasn’t been on skates for many years other than to tool around the ice at Inwood Ice Arena in Joliet, team spirit runs high in the family as diehard Blackhawks fans. They waited for hours in line to pose with the 2015 Stanley Cup after Chicago won the NHL championship. And Oughton met William Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz, principal owner and chairman of the Hawks, through a good friend who is related to the family.
It’s been an illustrious hockey career, one he can’t wait to celebrate in February.