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100 Greatest NHL Players

100 Greatest Players

Bobby Hull: 100 Greatest NHL Players

Blessed with blistering slap shot, won Stanley Cup, three Art Ross trophies with Black Hawks

by Bob Verdi / Special to NHL.com

Bobby Hull had it all figured out early in his Hall of Fame career. Winning hockey games was, of course, of paramount importance. But that wasn't his only objective.

"Fans who pay good money to watch us play hockey deserve to be royally entertained," Hull said. "This is show business, and we're here to put on a show."

 

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

 

If there ever were an athlete who embraced that mentality, it was "The Golden Jet," an electric left wing who evoked and enjoyed the roar of the crowd during 15 seasons with the Chicago Black Hawks, as they were then known. When Hull gathered the puck and went on a rink-length rush at Chicago Stadium, or any building in the NHL, fans rose from their seats and held their breath, as did opposing goaltenders.

"The best part about coming to Chicago was that Bobby Hull was on my side," said Hall of Fame goalie Glenn Hall, who was traded to Chicago from the Detroit Red Wings in 1957. "But I still had to face him and his shot in practice.

"The idea was not to stop that thing, but to avoid getting killed. Every once in a while, Bobby would fire the puck and it would fly into the stands at the Stadium. If the cleaning ladies were up there, you should have seen them scatter. They looked like Olympic sprinters."

 

BOBBY HULL CAREER TOTALS | View Full Stats
Games: 1,063 | Goals: 610 | Assists: 560 | Points: 1,170

 

Without any minor league duty, Hull graduated from St. Catharines of the Ontario Hockey League to the Black Hawks in 1957. After scoring 13 goals as a rookie, Hull developed into a prolific and charismatic presence. When his statue was unveiled outside the United Center (along with one of Stan Mikita) in 2011, Hull stood as the franchise career leader in goals with 604, not including 62 in the playoffs, four of which came in the 1961 postseason and helped the Black Hawks win the Stanley Cup. He joined the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association in 1972, scoring 303 goals in seven seasons. After the Jets joined the NHL in 1979-80, he had four goals for them in 18 games, then two more later that season with the Hartford Whalers, playing with Gordie Howe in the final stop for each.

Hull's arsenal featured not only a blistering slap shot once clocked at 119 mph, but bull rushes to the net, where he presented all sorts of problems for goalies and the succession of "shadows" who tried to neutralize him. Opponents invariably designated at least one checker, sometimes two, to try to diffuse this offensive machine. But Hull, who as a child gravitated to the outdoors near the family home in Pointe Anne, Ontario, was a physical marvel, so massively muscled that he often was described as the "perfect mesomorph." When he didn't spend hours on the rink as a youngster, Hull pitched hay and chopped down trees. Hull put that imposing physique (he had 16-inch biceps) and resolute skating style to good use in open ice and tight quarters.

Hull's first NHL goal came in his seventh game. He recalled tumbling to the ice and sliding into the cage with the puck beneath him beside Boston Bruins goaltender Harry Lumley. Not exactly a harbinger of serial highlights to come.

In 1960 Hull won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL scoring leader (81 points, 39 goals) for the first of three times. Two years later he won the award for the second time, having scored 50 goals to tie the NHL record shared by Maurice Richard (1945) and Bernie Geoffrion (1961) of the Montreal Canadiens. Hull's milestone goal was against goalie Gump Worsley of the New York Rangers.

In 1965, when Mikita won the Art Ross Trophy, Hull was awarded the Hart Trophy as most valuable player and Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship (he had 39 goals and 32 penalty minutes). On March 12, 1966, Hull entered the League record books again, blasting his 51st goal of the season, a blur past Cesare Maniago of the Rangers before a delirious crowd at Chicago Stadium. He wound up with 54 goals, winning his third Art Ross Trophy and second Hart Trophy.

Hull had 52 goals in 1966-67, 58 in 1968-69 and 50 in 1971-72, his final season with Chicago. He led the NHL in goals seven times, was named to the NHL First All-Star Team 10 times and made the Second All-Star Team twice. Hull was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983. He received the Lester Patrick Trophy, for outstanding service to hockey in the United States, in 1969.

"Bobby is the greatest hockey player I ever saw," said longtime Black Hawks coach Billy Reay. "In my time, I played against Maurice Richard and Gordie Howe, and I say Bobby is better than either of them. Not only the greatest left wing in NHL history. The greatest of all."

Reay's predecessor, Rudy Pilous, helped frame Hull's legacy with a prescient maneuver. Pilous was the St. Catharines coach, blessed with precocious talents Hull, then a center, and Mikita, a right wing. Hull would, in his prime, be among the fastest, if not the fastest, skater in the NHL, despite his brawny 5-foot-10, 195-pound frame. But Pilous reasoned that Hull did not maximize his ability by being a stick-handler/playmaker. So Pilous switched Hull to left wing and Mikita to center. Hull initially resisted.

"Rudy decided that I was too dumb to be a center and Stanley was too smart to be a winger," Hull said jokingly.

No coach could teach toughness, however, and no coach was required to with Hull. In a 1963 playoff game against the Detroit Red Wings, Hull scored three goals despite a rearranged nose that severely hampered his breathing. But that was nothing compared to the broken jaw Hull sustained on Christmas Day in 1968. He missed one game, then played six weeks with his jaw wired shut, sipping a "brownish ugh" for nourishment through a straw. Hull scored 10 goals while losing weight. When able to eat solid food again, he binged on steak and scored 19 goals in 14 games.

"I was very fortunate," Hull said. "I found that sheet of ice on the Bay of Quinte when I was no taller than a hockey stick, and fell in love with the game. I spent as much time skating around there as I did in bed. I never lifted weights, but built up some strength. As time went on, I played a lot of baseball and even had a chance to play football in America, with a college. But it was either the cement plant for me, or hockey. Never a doubt in my mind." 

Hull expressed gratification for his lofty status on a daily basis as an unofficial ambassador. At Chicago Stadium, there was only one way out for players: Gate 3½, a small door on the west side. Fans knew it, and they routinely waited there after games. Without fail, Hull obliged by signing autographs, posing for pictures, shaking hands. He might have been hurt, he was never in a hurry. On the road, as many a teammate noted, the bus did not leave for the hotel or airport or train station until Hull satisfied the last fan standing.

Hull's joy over hockey was not only about himself. He got to play with his brother Dennis in Chicago. And his son Brett starred in the NHL, scoring 741 goals, and in 2009 joined his dad in the Hall of Fame.

But for the "The Golden Jet," his favorite moment in retirement came out of nowhere. Rocky Wirtz took over as chairman of the Blackhawks in 2007 and hired John McDonough as president/CEO. They decided it was time to bring the family back together, and made Bobby Hull a team ambassador. Officially.

"I felt a tremendous void without the Blackhawks," Hull said. "Rocky and John will never know what this means to me. That phone call changed my life."

 

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