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Ovechkin's drive to score, entertain draws praise from Hull

'Golden Jet' says NHL's newest 600-goal scorer captures imagination of fans

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

Bobby Hull knows a sniper when he sees one, so it's been with keen interest and more than a little admiration that the "Golden Jet" has been following Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin's march toward 600 NHL goals.

Ovechkin reached the milestone when he scored at 3:53 of the second period in a 3-2 win against the Winnipeg Jets at Capital One Arena on Monday. It was his second goal of the game. 

Hull scored 604 goals with the Chicago Blackhawks between 1957-72, then had six more with the Jets and Hartford Whalers when he returned from the World Hockey Association for 27 games in 1979-80. His 610 goals are 17th on the NHL's all-time list, with Wayne Gretzky on top with 894 and Gordie Howe second with 801.

Video: WPG@WSH: Ovi buries rebound for 600th NHL goal


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Seven times between 1959-60 and 1968-69 and four straight times from 1965-66 to 1968-69, Hull led the League in goals; that would have won him the Maurice Richard Trophy, had it existed. He scored 50 or more in a season four times, with his NHL high of 58 in 1968-69. Hull twice won the Hart Trophy as the League's most valuable player and was a three-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's top scorer. He was a member of the Blackhawks' 1961 Stanley Cup championship team and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.

Hull was on the marquee of every arena he visited, a thrilling talent with a larger-than-life personality whose blazing speed and thunderous slap shot could turn a game on its ear with a single rush.

Video: Bobby Hull used slap shot to win three scoring titles

With uncanny recall, Hull remembers his 600th NHL goal, the fifth Blackhawks goal at Boston Garden in a 5-5 tie against the Boston Bruins on March 25, 1972.

Typically, No. 600 was a bullet off his curved stick, his 46th of the season. It came on the power play at 17:34 of the third period with Bruins defenseman Don Awrey in the penalty box for holding.

"We were down by 5-4 when we broke out of our own end," Hull, 79, said during a recent talk. "My brother, Dennis, chased a puck down toward the left corner, to the right of (Bruins goalie) Gerry Cheevers. I followed Dennis in to the top of the circle and he just dropped a perfect pass onto my stick and in one motion, it was gone.

"(Bruins defenseman) Bobby Orr was down on one knee between me and the net, and I'm sure he felt the whiz of the puck going by his left ear. It went up into the top six inches of the net, past Gerry's catching glove. No. 600 was very memorable. I'll always remember it, especially since it was one of the last goals I scored as a Blackhawk."

Hull got No. 601 the following night at home against the St. Louis Blues. He was held off the score sheet on March 29 against the Montreal Canadiens, then scored No. 602 in St. Louis on April 1.

That set the stage for Hull's 49th and 50th of the season, his final two regular-season goals for Chicago. They were scored on April 2 at Chicago Stadium against the Detroit Red Wings.

Hull left the NHL for Winnipeg and the WHA at season's end, but not before scoring four goals with four assists in eight Stanley Cup Playoff games in 1972. The Blackhawks swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the quarterfinals -- he had a hat trick in Game 4 -- before they were swept by the New York Rangers in the semifinals.

Hull, who rejoined the Blackhawks as an ambassador a decade ago, has seen Ovechkin live only during the Capitals' visits to Chicago.

"But I've always marveled at how strong Alex is, how he posts himself, especially on the power play, on the left side," Hull said. "And those one-timers of his, they are vicious. He's a big, strong kid who doesn't mind mixing it up."

The worst-kept secret in hockey is how Ovechkin will anchor himself at the hash marks of the face-off circle on a Capitals power play, his stick cocked like a trigger, ready to fire when the puck arrives. Defending against it, Hull says with a laugh, is easier said than done.

"I've always said that if I were coaching against Alex, I'd put somebody very near him, especially on the power play, when he parks himself in that circle," Hull said. "You know he's going to get the puck and you know he's going to one-time it. I'd have someone pretty close to him to defend against him. That's the only way to do it."

The evolution of hockey is clear, Hull said, when he considers how Ovechkin scores his goals compared to how he did his greatest damage decades ago.

"I had people around me constantly," Hull said. "I've seen pictures over the years with four or five, even six of the opposition around me when I had the puck and scored.

"I waited until the play went up the ice and then I came from behind with speed. I waited until everyone was standing still in the opposition end. The guys knew to get me the puck in full stride. When you're going 25 or 30 miles per hour and everyone's standing still, it makes sense that you're going to go by them. I didn't stand in a spot and wait for the puck like Alex on the power-play. I came from behind, got it in full flight and then wired it on the net."

But if Hull doesn't see much of his own playing style in Ovechkin, he does see a similarity that he views as important, no matter the era. He loves the fact that the Capitals star, like Hull's son Brett was before him, is a prolific scorer and supreme entertainer who captures the imagination of fans, no matter what team they cheer for.

"This game needs people like Ovechkin, who can entertain the people. Scoring goals, the way he scores them, entertains people," he said. "I learned at a very young age that we're in the entertainment business. The better you entertain your fans, the stronger your franchise. Every team needs an Ovechkin.

"When I look back on Brett, he was something to behold with the Blues (scoring 72, 86, 70, 54 and 57 goals in consecutive seasons between 1989-90 and 1993-94). Brett was fun to watch. Goal scorers are few and far between these days, and I'm glad there are still a few around. Alex deserves all the credit he gets for being the great goal scorer that he is. My congratulations to him."

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