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Hull extremely worthy of induction into Hall of Fame

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when he was considered a longshot to reach the NHL at all, never mind end up as the league’s third-highest goal-scorer and a shoo-in for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

After a stellar 20-year career in which he compiled an amazing 741 career goals, won two Stanley Cups and one Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, Brett Hull will be officially inducted into hockey’s most exclusive club on Monday in Toronto.

Hull is excited to be going into the Hall with such contemporary stars as Steve Yzerman, Luc Robitaille and Brian Leetch, as well as New Jersey Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello in the builder’s category. Also a proud member of the Hall is his famous father Bobby, who ranked third in NHL history with 610 goals scored when he retired in 1980 and now ranks 15th on the all-time list.

“I think it’s going to be a great weekend,” Hull said before leaving for Canada. “To be able to say you’re a Hall of Famer and to go in with the people that I have the opportunity to go in with… I’m kind of the thorn of a class of roses to those guys. 

“You’re so overwhelmed that you’re going in and you start to hear the names that are in there, from Gordie Howe to Rocket Richard and your father’s in there and Wayne Gretzky, and you’re a part of that? It’s kind of hard to fathom, considering when you were a kid, you just played for fun, you played because your friends played, and now all of a sudden, you’ve reached the pinnacle of the game. It’s hard to imagine that could ever happen.”

Hull, the Stars’ Executive Vice President and Alternate Governor, indicated that he would have a large contingent of special guests accompanying him to Toronto for the festivities, including, of course, his father.

“The whole family will be there,” Hull reported. “I think there’s a little over 40 people coming, from friends and family, ex-teammates and whatnot.”

One of those ex-teammates heading to Toronto with him will be current Stars center Mike Modano, his former linemate here in Dallas.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” Modano said. “Excited to be there and have a chance to share with him and head up there for the day. I’m looking forward to it, being there and being able to share it with him.”

Hull’s list of career accomplishments is lengthy, far past the highlights noted above. In addition to his incredible goal-scoring exploits, Hull also registered 650 career assists and totaled 1,391 points, which ranks 21st in NHL history. His 265 power play goals put him second on that list, and his 103 career playoff goals rank fourth all-time, while his 190 post-season points sit sixth. He also posted the second-highest single-season goal total ever, amassing an incredible 86 goals in 78 games with St. Louis back in 1990-91, the year he won the Hart Trophy, and topped the 40-goal plateau an impressive eight times. 

Beyond all the numbers, though, Hull was always a memorable player, from his tendency to speak honestly off the cuff, sometimes ruffling the establishment’s feathers in the process, to his uncanny ability to get open in the offensive zone before unleashing his wicked one-timer.

But while Hull will be remembered for many things around the hockey world, his lasting legacy in Dallas will be as the man who scored the triple-overtime winner in Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals in Buffalo to clinch the franchise’s only championship. Not surprisingly, that also ranks among his career highlights.

“There’s three,” he said. “The goal and winning the Cup in ’99, and stepping on the ice and playing the first NHL game (during the 1986 playoffs for Calgary). Because that’s all you want if you think you might have a chance, ‘If I could just play one game, I could say I was an NHLer,’ and then you get your first goal, and then winning that Cup, that was unbelievable. I will never forget that.”

“I think we all kind of experienced that,” Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk said of the thrill of that ’99 Cup team. “He was kind of the last piece to the puzzle when it was all said and done and he was an important piece, kind of gave us the swagger that we needed and he could back it up with the big-time production that he gave us.”

And while there was plenty of controversy surrounding Hull’s Cup-winning goal due to the ‘skate-in-the-crease rule’ that was in place at the time, he insists that the ensuing uproar never bothered him - in fact, quite the opposite.

“I actually embraced that, because it makes it live in infamy,” Hull said of his shot that beat Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek with one skate in the crease. “Everywhere I go, they talk about it. They don’t come up and say, ‘Wow, Brett Hull, you scored a goal in the All-Star Game.’ It’s either, ‘No goal,’ or ‘I’m from Buffalo,’ and it’s incredible how many people are from Buffalo around this country. Everywhere I go, somebody is from Buffalo. And it started out kind of mean-spirited, but after all this time, they’re pretty good about it now.”

And even though he only played three seasons with the Stars (from 1998-2001) before leaving as a free agent to join the rival Red Wings, Hull made a significant impact here. Besides scoring the Cup-winner, he also led the playoffs in scoring in 1999-2000 with 11 goals and 24 points. His 39 goals in 2000-01 match the club’s highest single-year total since the first year in Dallas, when Modano netted 50.

Hull considers his transformation from the one-dimensional offensive dynamo that he was in St. Louis for 10+ years into a dependable two-way threat in Dallas under former coach Ken Hitchcock as one of the greatest accomplishments of his career.

“I was able to, when I came to Dallas, completely change my game and it was a game that was completely different than I’d ever played before,” said Hull of when he arrived as a free agent before the 1998-99 season, when he scored 32 goals and 58 points in 60 games skating on a line with Modano and Jere Lehtinen. “And it was at a time in the league when if you didn’t change and become a defensive-first player, and put your ego and statistics aside, you were going to be a dinosaur and you couldn’t play for anyone. Dallas had so much success with their defensive style, and that I was able to fit in and still maintain somewhat of an offensive talent, while being able to play a defensive system - because I don’t think anyone gave me a chance to do it, because I was so set in my ways. There was nothing I enjoyed more in the whole world than scoring and playing offensive hockey and to have to shove that aside…. I was very proud of that.”

“He was a two-way threat, and everyone will probably think of him as just a goal-scorer, but he was probably also one of the best passers I’ve ever played with, too,” added Nieuwendyk, who of course, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP during that run to the Cup in ‘99. “He really saw the ice well and made a lot of nice passes to Mo and Jere, so he really well-rounded his game when he got here.” 

He went on to win another Cup with Detroit in 2002, and after three years and 92 more goals with the Red Wings, Hull moved on to play five more games in Phoenix early in 2005-06 before finally hanging up the skates.

“I will go into the Hall as a representative of every team and every guy that I ever played with, because it’s the ultimate team game,” Hull said. “You’re not going to have success without those teammates. It’s not just the guys who play on your line. It’s the other guys on a different line that do things that make you a better player or make you have more success than if they weren’t there.”

In reflecting back on his career, Hull recalls a crucial time as a teenager when he was finally able to overcome the pressures of being Bobby Hull’s son and managed to establish his own identity.

“I did that when I was 15 or 16 and that’s the only reason I’m sitting here today,” said Brett, who played two years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth before turning pro with the Flames. “I realized that if I was ever going to be anything, whether it was a hockey player or anything in life, I had to figure out who Brett Hull was, and invent Brett Hull, while still embracing the fact that you’re the son of one of the greatest hockey legends that ever lived and be very proud of that, embrace that, but at the same time, you have to create your own identity, or you’re going to be lost in the shuffle and unable to really find out who you are. I was lucky I was able to do that, I invented this style of play, and I have honest to God no idea how I did it, but it worked out.”

That it did, and while he spent the vast majority of his career in cities other than Dallas, he probably had a bigger impact here than anywhere else and for that, Stars fans are thankful.

Congratulations, Brett, you deserve it!

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