Introduction To Hockey
During the first days in Canada, Mikita saw some boys in the street playing hockey, and began playing with them. Though he hit one of the boys with his stick, he soon began playing the game. The first words he learned in English were related to hockey: "push, stick, and goal." But the language and cultural adjustments remained hard. Before hockey, Mikita thought about joining the Air Force so he could steal a plane and go back home to Czechoslovakia.
Mikita was put in third grade in the local public school, but because he did not speak English, he was put in a kindergarten class to help with the language adjustments. It took several years before Mikita was comfortable in his new country and language. His foreign background also lead to Mikita being teased and ethnically slurred by classmates and others. He would use his fists to defend himself, and became something of a street fighter. He also stole and was involved in petty larceny.
But by the time Mikita was nine years old, hockey became a focus. Playing this sport and others made him feel like he belonged in North America and gave him a way of relating to his peers. When he was nine, Mikita lied about his age and joined a team of 12 year olds. He was dedicated to practicing from an early age, going to practice at 5 or 5:30 a.m. before school. Mikita's athletic skills were not limited to hockey. He also played basketball, football, lacrosse, soccer and baseball. He was so good in baseball as a catcher that he was offered major league tryouts as a teenager. But hockey was his game, and he later credited it with saving his life.
Mikita played junior A hockey in St. Catharines. Beginning in 1956, he was a player on the St. Catharines Teepees of the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA). This was the leading junior farm team for the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL, used to develop talent for the perpetually underachieving team. While Mikita was already overshadowed by future teammate Bobby Hull, he did regularly lead his team in scoring. When he was 16, he was named the OHA's most valuable player, and soon dropped out of high school to devote all his attention to hockey.