As you mourn the loss of another of hockey’s most prolific and well-known players with Bobby Hull having passed away, think of the larger pantheon of Chicago Blackhawks players who have been lost of late: Jim Pappin, Tony Esposito, Stan Makita. Pretty big holes in the memory to fill, eh?
For me, Bobby Hull was three people. He was the man of the booming slap shot, the crazily curved stick, the bull-like strength that scared goalies into submission. He was the guy who, because he stood at Portage and Main in Winnipeg in the summer of 1972 and accepted a huge payout from the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets, would not stand on the ice with Team Canada in the Summit Series.
Over the years, there’s been a lot of speculation as to what difference he would have made had he been on that team. Speculation ranges from “a lot” to “all the” for most people. Hull did play for Team Canada in the second series, held in 1974. It’s mostly in the dustbin of history, and even the DVD set labels it “The Forgotten Series.” Hull performed well nonetheless, recording 7-2-9 points to lead all players on both teams. Alexander Yakushev and Ralph Backstrom trailed him each by a point, with eight.
The third Bobby Hull was the one I interviewed for one of my books, Living the Hockey Dream. This would have been around about 2008. I got his number from his son, not Brett of the 741 NHL goals, but Bobby Hull, Jr., who played up to Junior level plus had a year of Canadian university hockey at UBC. At the time, I’d see him in the press box at Kings games, working as a pro scout.
Getting Bobby Hull’s number meant that I was greenlighted to call him, and of course, I did that. A gruff voice came on the phone. “Hello?”
“Hello, Mr. Hull, this is Brian Kennedy. I write about hockey, and I’d like to tell the story of your hockey childhood in a book I’m doing.”
“Can you call me Thursday,” I think it was he said. “4pm. Don’t be late.” I wouldn’t dream of it, but before I could say that, he was off the phone.
Thursday at 4pm, I call. “Mr. Hull, this is Brian, calling to interview you about . . .”
“I know why you’re calling! Now here’s what we’ll do. I’ll tell you the story of my time on outdoor rinks as a kid. Don’t say anything. Just let me talk.”
“OK,” I said, to which he responded. “No, don’t say anything” in that gravelly voice. I kept mum this time.
Bobby Hull told me what it was like in the 1940s and 1950s in rural Ontario, playing on a local outdoor rink or on the frozen-over Bay of Quinte. And he said that his first experience of an NHL game, seen live since TV wasn’t common at the time, was in Toronto, the Leafs versus Detroit. Right then, at ten, he determined that he was going to play NHL hockey. He left himself no other career options.
A handful of years later, he almost missed his debut, in an exhibition game for Chicago versus the Rangers, because he had stayed late at school for football practice. When he did make it to the arena in St. Catharines, where the Blackhawks held training camp, for the game, he bested Gump Worsley for two goals. He was signed to an NHL contract the next day, potting a $1000 bonus to boot. His first-year salary would be $6500.
Hull’s first NHL season, 1957-58, he scored 13-34-47 points in the full 70-game schedule. Oh, and that first summer, after having starred in the original-six arenas from Chicago to New York, he came home, bought a 1957 Chevy for $1400, and went to work at the local Coca-Cola bottling plant. This to supplement the $3000 he had saved from his first-year salary (minus the car!). That, if nothing else, is the kind of detail I’m proud to have archived about Hull.
Stats show that he would pile on nearly 600 more goals over sixteen NHL seasons, to end his career with a total of 610. The WHA saw him adding an additional 303 professional goals, and even if you discount those a lot due to the quality of play in that league, he’s still sitting at what might have been a 750-goal NHL career had the WHA not lured him away in 1972.
Bobby Hull was the first player to score over 50 goals in a season, doing that in 1965-66 and repeating it twice more in the NHL. In total, he had five seasons with 50 or more goals. He won the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 1961 in what many believed was just the start of a dynastic era for his team, but he never hoisted another. When I asked him about his Stanley Cup ring from that victorious season, he said, “I know exactly where it is—it’s in my sock drawer.”
Hull won the Lady Byng, Hart, and Art Ross trophies over the years and two AVCO World Trophies for being champions of the WHA. His career included 44 NHL hat tricks. For most of the 1960s, he led the NHL in shots. More than one goaltender hated to see that Golden Jet hair flying and the stick raising to blast a puck at the net.
Bobby Hull was 84 when he died on January 30th, 2023.