January 30, 2023

Bobby Hull Passes Away

 Long before he joined the NHL, Bobby Hull was labeled a sure-fire NHL player. And he didn't disappoint.

Although he didn't invent the slap shot, his uncanny accuracy and amazing power popularized the shot to this day. Goalies would cower when he wound up. Hull led the league in goal scoring in seven seasons. He scored an amazing 610 regular season goals, and over 300 more with the WHA's Jets. He was the first player to record more than 50 goals in one season (54); won the Art Ross Trophy three times, the Hart Trophy twice, the Lady Byng once, and the Lester Patrick Trophy once; Bobby also dominated all-star selections, being named to 10 first all-star teams, and 2 second teams. No wonder why Bobby is considered by many to be the best left winger in the history of the game.

Hull helped bring a Stanley Cup to Chicago, in 1961, as the Black Hawks beat the Detroit Red Wings four games to two. Hull, in his first Stanley Cup Finals, scored two goals in Game One, including the game-winner. The Black Hawks went to the finals twice more, losing in 1962 to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and in 1965 to the Montreal Canadiens.

Hull represents a link to another era, when pro sports weren't such big businesses, when the innocence of the sport fostered unabashed adoration of idols. Hull, the charismatic, goal-scoring goodwill ambassador who throughout the 1960's simply was the Chicago Blackhawks, takes us back to another day, when it was so much easier to be young at heart.

"We played just for the sheer enjoyment. We made a boyhood dream come true to play in the NHL," he said. "That's all we wanted to do, to stay there, play the game and enjoy it. Hopefully, the fans enjoyed it.

"We had to make our own fun," Hull recalled. "We stayed together. We went out after games together. On the road, we went out after games together. By the time game-time came around, we didn't have to get to know one another. We spent so much time together we were one unit."

His blonde good looks and sparkling charisma combined with his on ice speed and swagger earned him the nickname "The Golden Jet." Oddly enough, Hull would become a Jet when he signed with Winnipeg of the WHA. Hull became hockey's first millionaire, and the WHA gained instant credibility. The NHL was left shocked as one of their elite attractions walked away to play for another league. Ironically hockey's era of innocence which Hull still represents suffered a severe wake up call.

In Winnipeg he starred for years with Swedish stars Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. The NHL was furious with his WHA signing and tried legal action to block the move, and then punished Hull by leaving him off of the 1972 Summit Series Team Canada squad. And ironically, it was Winnipeg that opened up the wallets and started handing out big contracts in an effort to lure some of the games top players. Ironic because Winnipeg would lose the NHL version of the Jets in 1996 because they couldn't compete economically.

When the WHA merged with the NHL in 1979, Hull ended up with the Hartford Whalers, where he played one final season. In 1981 Hull, who scored 303 goals in the WHA, attended the New York Rangers training camp as a 42 year old. The Rangers also had Hedberg and Nilsson and were looking to recapture some WHA magic, but it was not meant to be.

Hull was hockey's faster skater (28.3 mph with puck, 29.7 without it) and had the hardest shot (once reportedly recorded at 118.3 mph, some 35 mph above the league average). He was hockey's ultimate hockey player, blending together the talents of his most famed predecessors - the speed of Howie Morenz, the goal scoring prowress of Maurice Richard, the strength and control of Gordie Howe - plus the looks and charisma of a movie star. Hull did more than any other player to popularize the game of hockey in the United States prior to Wayne Gretzky.

Stan Mikita, Hull's long time teammate once was quoted as saying "To say that Bobby is a great hockey player is to labor the point. He was all of that of course. But the thing I admired about him was the way he handled people. He always enjoyed signing autographs for fans and was a genuine nice guy."

Bobby Hull was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1983. One day Bobby's son Brett will join him in the Hall. Brett was Bobby's equivalent during the late 1980's and 1990s, though was overshadowed by Wayne Gretzky.

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