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THE VERDICT: 'Prime ribber' Dennis Hull gets One More Shift

Team Historian Bob Verdi writes about Dennis Hull's return to the United Center for One More Shift on Monday, ahead of the game against the Calgary Flames

by Bob Verdi / Team Historian

Dennis Hull, a born sniper and quipster, ever so gingerly skated from the United Center's west end to the home blue line. For someone who had not put on the blades since 1992, it must have felt like a road trip.

"That's where the Zamboni comes out, right?" inquired Hull. "Maybe I can hitch a ride."

Video: CGY@CHI: Hull returns to the line for one more shift

The Blackhawks have honored a number of legends with this thoughtful "One More Shift" ceremony. But Monday night's edition felt particularly festive. Before Dennis tiptoed onto the ice, brother Bobby was feted with a birthday party, marking his 80th.

John McDonough, the Blackhawks' President/CEO, spoke, recalling the red-letter day when Bobby agreed to join the organization as an ambassador. Then Dick Butkus, the Bears' Hall of Famer wearing his stylish black-and-white Winter Classic ensemble, had a few words. Then emcee Troy Murray introduced Dennis, and it was show time.

Sorry, it was a private gathering. However, we can tell you that before his big night, No. 10 was most appreciative.

"I have so many great memories with the Blackhawks," said Dennis. "But enough of the sentimental stuff. You think they're going to recognize me? Maybe if I trip over the blue line, like I used to, people will remember me."

At their morning practice, the Calgary Flames saw Dennis and they all came over to extend greetings. Nice touch. And when he finally skated out to a video tribute above, the sellout crowd stood for a loud blast of thanks.

"Obviously," said Dennis, relaxing in a suite later, "these people never saw me play."

For all his self-deprecation, Dennis was very good. In 13 seasons with the Blackhawks, he scored 298 goals. That's seventh most in franchise history, having recently been passed by Jonathan Toews. Dennis reached 303 with the Detroit Red Wings, for whom he toiled in the 1977-78 season before retiring.

Dennis reached 30-plus goals in four seasons, participated in five All-Star Games and was an explosive left wing on the MPH Line - one of the National Hockey League's best - comprised of Pit Martin at center and Jim Pappin on right wing.

During the 1971 Stanley Cup playoffs, Dennis recorded 7 goals, 6 assists and was a front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player. But Ken Dryden, a rookie goalie, won it with the Montreal Canadiens, who rallied to beat the Blackhawks in the Final. In 1973, Dennis amassed 9 goals and 15 assists during the postseason, but again fell short of Yvan Cournoyer, who won the Smythe while leading the Canadiens to another Cup conquest over the Blackhawks.

On a roster crowded with pranksters, Dennis partook of serial mischief. Aboard a commercial flight to Minnesota, Referee Bill Friday's skates mysteriously disappeared, not to be returned until mere moments before puck drop. In a flash, the North Stars went to the power play. Then there was the "scandal" involving fixed horse races. Head Coach Billy Reay owned a thoroughbred and was subjected to interrogation by alleged FBI agents in his office while his boys howled in the locker room.

Dennis earned a degree in history and physical education from Brock University, taught at Ridley College and became athletic director at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He also wrote a book, "The Third Best Hull" behind Bobby and Brett, noting that "I should have been fourth but they wouldn't let my sister Maxine play."

Dennis' second wave of fame came as an after-dinner speaker when humor is on the menu, a raconteur sought for hundreds of events throughout North American in recent years. At roasts, he is a prime ribber. His gift of glib was on display at last July's Blackhawks Convention, where Bobby and Dennis co-starred in an hour panel that had attendees rolling in the aisles.

"We played in an era before the really big money," Dennis intoned dryly. "So we could afford only one set of hair. As you can see, Bobby has it today."

Although Bobby could fire pucks at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour, Dennis' shot was every bit as fiery, if not as accurate.

"They used to say that Bobby could shoot a puck so hard that it wouldn't get wet in a car wash," Dennis mentioned. "The question with my shot was whether I could hit the car wash."

Dennis was a member of Team Canada for the historic 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union. For its 40th anniversary, he was among several players welcomed to Russia for lunch with President Vladimir Putin.

"I whispered to him that he must be pretty excited to meet me," Dennis recalled. "Putin said, through an interpreter, 'I couldn't sleep last night.'"

Dennis Hull was invited back for the 2014 Sochi Olympics because, in any language, he's a stitch who makes people laugh.

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