Before Wayne Gretzky, there was Bobby Hull. Although that comparison isn’t quite fair — to Hull.
No one ever combined speed and power like the “Golden Jet.” He could skate faster than 28 mph with the puck, about 30 mph without it. And his famed slap shot — speeding at 118 mph when the NHL average at the time was around 80 — sent netminders ducking for cover.
Hull led the NHL in scoring seven times, notching 610 goals in his career, and was the first player ever to score more than 50 goals in a season. His trophy and honors case is packed to the brim with three Art Rosses, two Harts, one Lady Byng, one Lester Patrick and 10 First Team All-NHL berths.
He remains perhaps the greatest all-around hockey player in NHL history and undoubtedly is the best left winger ever. Blackhawks fans were fortunate to follow him in Chicago for the first 15 seasons of his career.
Among many memorable games wearing the Indian head, two stand out the most: a heartbreaker that got away, and a moment of true warrior’s courage.
If you count all the exhibition, regular season and playoff games, I skated in more than 1,200 contests for the Chicago Blackhawks, so picking out one game that really sticks in my mind is an awfully difficult task.
Take that seventh game versus the Montreal Canadiens in the 1971 Stanley Cup Finals. There we were in command, leading 2-0 in the third period. We could taste our first Cup in a decade. We almost went up 3-0, but wouldn’t you know, I hit the crossbar on a shot and the puck went up over the net instead of down into it. That goal would have put the game away.
Even still, we were in good shape. Montreal’s heads were down; we could see their players had given up. The Canadiens were done for. We had them beat.
But as it turns out, we had the wrong people out on the ice, and when Jacques Lemaire took a desperation shot on goal from the center line that went in, we were stunned. Montreal was just trying to hang on, and Jacques taking a shot like that was truly a measure of futility—that is, till the puck went into the damn net! From there we folded, and Montreal stole our Cup.
Losing a crucial game like that late when we had it wrapped up was likely the biggest heartbreak of my entire career. Falling short in 1965, 1966 or 1967, I understand. But in the 1971 playoffs we had an unbelievable team, far better than anyone in the league.
And let me tell you, had we won the 1971 Cup, it would have changed everything. In terms of me going to the Winnipeg Jets, I would have said, “That’s OK, the WHA is not for me.” I would have been a Blackhawk for life. That’s how crushing our loss in 1971 was.
But the most memorable game of my career came in the playoffs back in 1963. We had finished the regular season 32-21-17 for 81 points, good for second in the NHL behind the Toronto Maple Leafs. We’d won the Stanley Cup in 1961, and Toronto was the team that had dethroned us the next year in the Cup Finals. We wanted our revenge, but first we had to get past the fourth-place Detroit Red Wings.
Hockey’s playoffs are an altogether different season. The regular season is over, and as intense as the fight to make the playoffs is, it gets a lot tougher. You have to increase your intensity a number of cogs because you know the opposition is, and if you don’t gear yourself up you’ll be knocked out quickly. It was important for me, the fans and the organization to go as far as we could in the playoffs. We’d won the Cup in 1961, but we wanted more than just one.
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