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Pat Stapleton, former Blackhawks defenseman, dies at 79

Chicago Blackhawks

1972: Pat Stapleton #12 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates with the puck during an NHL game circa 1972. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

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TORONTO -- Pat Stapleton, the former NHL defenseman who famously kept an air of mystery over whether he possessed the puck from the winning goal of the 1972 Summit Series, has died. He was 79.

The Strathroy Rockets, a Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League team with which Stapleton was involved, said on its website he died Wednesday night. No cause was given.

Stapleton was on Canada’s Summit Series team in 1972 and is alleged to have claimed the puck from Paul Henderson’s series-winning goal over the Soviet Union.

Stapleton was usually coy when asked whether he indeed had what would be one of the most famous souvenirs in hockey .

''They say I have it. We’ll keep that one going for a while,’' Stapleton told the Toronto Sun in 2012.

The dependable defenseman, small for the position at 5-foot-8, represented Canada again at the 1974 Summit Series, serving as team captain of the World Hockey Association squad. The Soviet Union won that series.

''Few loved the game quite like Whitey, who was so proud to wear the Maple Leaf in the 1972 Summit Series and again in 1974 as captain,’' said Tom Renney, CEO of Hockey Canada. ''His infectious personality will be missed.’'

Born July 4, 1940, Stapleton began his NHL career with the Boston Bruins in 1961-62. Initially signed by Chicago, Stapleton was claimed by Boston in the 1961 intraleague draft.

After splitting time between the Bruins and minor league teams, Stapleton ended up in Chicago, where his career took off. He played eight seasons with the Blackhawks from 1965-66 to 1972-73, helping them to Stanley Cup final appearances in 1971 and 1973.

He was a second-team All-Star in 1966, 1971 and 1972, and was Chicago’s captain for the 1969-70 season.

''As a former team captain and member of the Blackhawks Alumni Association, Stapleton’s contributions to the organization will forever be remembered,’' the Blackhawks said in a statement.

Stapleton signed a five-year deal to become a player/coach with the Chicago Cougars of the WHA in 1973. He was honored as the WHA’s top defenseman in 1973-74.

After the Cougars folded following the 1974-75 campaign, Stapleton was claimed by the Indianapolis Racers, where he played two seasons. He suited up for one final season with the Cincinnati Stingers before retiring in 1978.

Stapleton returned to Indianapolis the following year as coach, taking on a team that included future NHL greats Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. His time coaching the eventual Hall of Famers was shortlived -- the Racers folded 25 games into the season.

Stapleton played 635 NHL games, totaling 43 goals, 294 assists and 353 penalty minutes. He had 27 goals and 212 assists in 372 WHA games with Chicago, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

Stapleton was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 as a member of the 1972 Summit Series team. He was an inaugural inductee into the World Hockey Association Hall of Fame in 2010.