Video: Brett Hull fourth leading goal-scorer in NHL
"He got lost better than anyone," said Jeremy Roenick, an NHL contemporary and United States teammate of Hull's. "Even though you knew he was on the ice, and had to be aware of him, you couldn't find him. The next thing you knew the puck was in the back of the net."
In 19 NHL seasons, Hull scored 741 goals, ranking him fourth all-time. He scored 24 or more goals for 17 consecutive seasons. He scored 40 or more eight times. He scored 30 or more 13 times. In 1990-91 he scored 86 goals, and there was talk around the League about him possibly being able to score 100.
"He found open ice better than anybody," USA Hockey general manager Jim Johannson said. "He was unbelievable at finding areas that no one was guarding."
Games: 1,269 | Goals: 741 | Assists: 650 | Points: 1,391
Although Hull's scoring consistency is unassailable, he said often during his career that he would frequently wake up worried that he would never score another goal. It was as if Hull believed that he had fooled everyone into believing that he was better than he really was. He didn't like having his shot timed with a radar gun because he was fearful it would be discovered that his shot wasn't as hard as opponents believed.
"A lot of great players are insecure," said former NHL forward Bill Guerin, who played with Hull for the United States. "They try to give off an aura of confidence. It's almost as if they are trying to trick themselves."
Hull, the son of fellow Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, was known around the League as a player with both a big shot and a big mouth. He also had an enormous personality and was one of the most colorful players of his era. NBC Sports broadcaster Mike Emrick is a fan of the 1970 movie "M*A*S*H," and Hull always reminded of him of the cocky main character from that film.
"I thought he was the Hawkeye Pierce of hockey," Emrick said. "He was a brilliant surgeon who was really sure of himself. That was Brett Hull. He was very sure of himself. He had a dimpled smile. Every time I think of Brett Hull, I think of a smile on his face because I never saw him without it. He was confident. You can call it hockey. He knew he could score goals and he knew he could shoot your lights out."
Hull always acted as if he wasn't the least bit concerned about what was happening around him, even though everyone understood that was simply part of his shtick to keep himself ready.
"I never saw Hullie look scared in his life," Guerin said. "In the most crucial games that's when he would look the most relaxed. And that's when he often came through the most."
Hull grew up in British Columbia, and then opted to play college hockey at Minnesota-Duluth. The Calgary Flames selected him in the sixth round (No. 117) of the 1984 NHL Draft.
"People have been doubting Brett since he was a kid," Roenick said. "No one thought he could do it. They saw him as a chubby kid, not dedicated enough to get it done. But everywhere he went, he scored goals at a rapid rate. Hullie's personality is: I will show you. That turned him into the player he was."
Flames general manager Cliff Fletcher believed Hull had the potential to be a premium goal-scorer, but traded him to the St. Louis Blues on March 7, 1988, because he needed veteran defenseman Rob Ramage and goalie Rick Wamsley for Calgary's playoff run.
Playing with centers Adam Oates and Craig Janney for parts of his 10-plus seasons in St. Louis, Hull scored 527 goals with the Blues before signing with the Dallas Stars in 1998.
"We spent a lot of time talking about what Hullie would mean to our team," then-Stars executive Craig Button said. "I recall [general manager] Bob Gainey talking about Hullie this way: He said, 'Our team is hard-working, has enough scoring, but when we are up against the top teams, we fall a little bit short because we don't have the player that can get you on the right side of the score. When we work hard, and don't win, the guys don't feel like they get rewarded. A guy like Brett Hull gives them those rewards."
Button also remembers that the Hull doubters still existed even though the right wing had been an NHL star for more than a decade by the time he landed in Dallas.
"If I had a dollar for every guy who came up to me and said, 'You can't win with Brett, I would have had enough for a $200 dinner,'" Button said.
When the discussion of Hull drifted to his flaws, Button said Gainey "changed the narrative" to concentrate on the gifts that Hull could bring to the team.
"He knew what Hullie does is make the work that teammates do pay off," Button said.
And the signing of Hull paid off when the Stars won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 1999, in his first season in Dallas.
The most important goal of Hull's career was the controversial one he scored in triple overtime against the Buffalo Sabres that year to give the Stars the Cup. Hull's foot was in the crease when he chipped a rebound past goalie Dominik Hasek to win Game 6. That had been forbidden, but a memo sent to teams earlier that season stated that a foot in the crease was acceptable if the player controlled the puck.
Video: 1999 Cup Final, Gm6: Brett Hull's triple OT GWG
"Brett is a very bright guy," Guerin said. "You would never think he's a student of the game. But he is. I learned a lot from Brett. Different places to shoot. Different holes to hit. How to turn your feet …"
Because his mother, Joanne, was American, Hull had the option of playing for Canada or the United States. Because the Canadians showed no interest in Hull and the Americans did when Hull was in college, Hull fully committed to the United States. He led the U.S. with seven goals and 11 points when they won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.
"He had the ability to shoot the puck accurately and hard no matter where he was or whatever body position he had," Johannson said. "He could score from anywhere."
Hull's shot did seem to be unique.
"It would just take off when it left his stick," former NHL player and current NBC Sports broadcaster Ed Olczyk said. "It would accelerate and ascend and the goalie would have no chance.
The quickness of Hull's release was more problematic for goalies than the velocity. Because of the release, the puck was often on goalies before they could react.
"I think on a lot of goals guys weren't ready for him to shoot," Johannson said. "He and Joey Mullen were similar in one respect. If the goalie didn't stop the puck, it was a goal. Mullen and Hull didn't miss the net."
As the son of Bobby Hull, who scored 610 NHL goals, Brett grew up thinking hockey was the family business. He said his father always told him that when he felt like he was totally out of the play Brett was most dangerous. That thought process was intertwined with his knack for finding open ice. Sometimes he would skate back toward the blue line before doubling back and tucking himself into a seam in the defense.
"I think he was an underrated skater," Johannson said. "He skated fine, and he was a smart player. He got to where he needed to get."
Hull played with Hall of Fame center Mike Modano for three seasons in Dallas. Modano said he was better connected with Hull than any wing he had ever played alongside.
"You just knew that if you got the puck to Brett he would find some way to get it into the net," Modano said.
After leaving Dallas in 2001, Hull played three more seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. Playing on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Boyd Devereaux, Hull helped the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 2002 with 10 goals and 18 points in 23 playoff games.
"He was always a happy-go-lucky guy, but I grew to appreciate what a smart player he was," former Detroit coach Scotty Bowman said. "We had a lot of stars, and he accepted his role. He got along with everybody. And he had a great playoffs for us."
Hull had hockey success in his blood; his uncle Dennis scored 303 NHL goals, and the three Hulls combined for a staggering 1,654. Dennis used to joke that he wanted a T-shirt that read, "I used to be Bobby Hull's brother, and now I'm Brett Hull's uncle."
"Brett was one of the smartest hockey players I've ever been around," Button said. "He understood what teams were trying to do to him. He understood where the openings would be and how to get to those openings. I'm going to say his hockey IQ was second to no one. He was that smart."
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