THE OTHER HULL

A KID BROTHER GROWS UP

SUSAN DEXTER March 1 1967

THE OTHER HULL

A KID BROTHER GROWS UP

SUSAN DEXTER March 1 1967

THE OTHER HULL

A KID BROTHER GROWS UP

SUSAN DEXTER

DENNIS HULL CHARGED up and down the ice. He was laboring his mightiest, whacking pucks at the opposition net with all the considerable zing he has in him and checking the opposition with solid consistency. In short, he was playing a good hockey game.

By comparison, his brother Bobby was the picture of insouciance. He skated around in a detached manner, looking somewhat like a stylish and well-built executive who really didn't have to bother with the messier bits and pieces of the game.

But every time Bobby stepped on the ice. the crowd cheered loudly — almost as loudly as they did when Dennis’s line scored. “Ooooh,” one woman kept screaming in my ear every time Bobby got within 10 yards of the puck, “that was close — almost a goal that time!” Meanwhile, Dennis, the slightly awkward, towheaded kid who was trying so hard, merited only her scorn. “He certainly muffed that one,” she cried once, when Dennis came within an inch of scoring. To all loyal fans of the Black Hawks, it seems, what matters is not whether they win or lose, but how Bobby plays the game.

"Dennis, you can be just as good a hockey player as Robert/' said Mrs. Hull. "Oh, Mom, you don't mean that,"replied Dennis

The Bobby Hull mystique afflicts other and more renowned Chicago players than brother Dennis, including veteran Stan Mikita, who by midseason was so far ahead in the NHL scoring race that he seemed virtually certain to win every all-star award except rookie-of-the-year. Yet Mikita’s crowd acclaim is still only a shadow of the Golden Jet’s.

And if that's bad for Mikita’s pride, imagine what it does to Dennis Hull's morale. He’s just starting out and there they are, his built-in set of detractors. They’re all ready to carp and criticize and claim he's just cashing in on his brother’s fame “He'll never be the hockey player his brother is . . . just riding on Bobby’s coattails.”

Oddly though, Dennis hasn’t avoided his kidbrother role even when he could. One selfinflicted example of his relegation to youngerbrother status occurred not on the ice, but in a hair-cream TV commercial in which a mature, poised Bobby gently chided young Dennis for ¿till using that greasy kid stuff.

Even now you get the feeling, talking to Dennis, that he's simply resigned himself, at the age of 22, to remaining in eclipse. It's true there have been brother lines, brothers playing for the same and different teams in the NHL, and famous fathers to haunt young players before. But there has never been another Bobby Hull. The closest comparison in hockey history is Rocket Richard. But when his brother. Henri, came along. Maurice was 15 years older (instead of Bobby’s six-year jump on Dennis), and in hockey that's almost a generation. By the time young Henri joined the Montreal Canadiens in 1955, his brother Maurice had begun to slow from the 50-goals-in-50-games pace he had set 10 years earlier. Dennis, on the other hand, had the misfortune to join the Black Hawks lineup the year before Bobby shattered all scoring records with his 54-goal, 70-game season.

“There has always been great pressure on Dennis as Bobby's brother,” admits Black Hawk coach Billy Reay. In fact, if Dennis hadn't been so determined to become a major-league player in spite of the brother barrier, he probably would have quit early, the way his older brother Gary did.

In 1960, the season after Bobby had won his first NHL scoring title, Dennis and Gary traveled from their home at Point Anne, Ont., to St. Catharines for the Junior A tryouts. “Gary was the best one there,” says Dennis, “and while I never let myself think I was there because I was Bobby’s brother, I think it bothered Gary. The first three or four days, the papers started printing pictures of us as Bobby Hull’s brothers. I think that irked Gary and at the end of a week he went home.”

Even there, at their birthplace, the other Hull brothers can't avoid being dogged by their brother’s preeminence in the hockey world. An enormous sign in the clearing up the road from the Hull home lists Bobby's scoring feats and chauvinistically proclaims Point Anne “the birthplace of the world’s greatest hockey player, Bobby Hull.”

Dennis stayed on in St. Catharines, but it wasn’t easy. Soon, some of the guys on the team and a few St. Catharines fans were baiting him about being Bobby’s brother. A few months later he went to his mother so depressed that he said, half seriously, that he felt like changing his name. It was just as well he didn’t, since it was only the Hull name that enabled him to return for a second season with St. Catharines. His record for the whole first season had been a dismal four goals.

"My problem was that Bobby was so good.” he explains. “I didn't want to embarrass him and yet I felt that was what I w-as doing every time I went on the ice. I got overanxious.” Besides, he felt he was destined to be inferior to Bobby —

and that attitude didn't help his play much either.

“Dennis,” his mother said to him, “you can be just as good a hockey player as Robert, but in your own way.” And Dennis said simply, ‘’Oh, Mom. you don't mean that.'’

By his fourth and final year as a junior, Dennis had begun to produce. He scored 48 goals that year, which, according to Jim Gregory, general manager of the minor-league system for the Toronto Maple Leafs, “is certainly damn good in any league.”

But Dennis’s new-found confidence and skill didn't last long. Once he joined the Black Hawks in 1964, that super-star who had been plaguing his game from a distance was now playing right in front of him. Robert Hull, Sr., recalls meeting Dennis after the Hawks’ first Toronto game that year. “Dad,” Dennis told him, “you should see what that Robert is doing — that guy is fabulous.” His father was annoyed: “You don’t want to get carried away just watching Robert, Den. You want to get out there and try to do the same thing.”

Dennis couldn’t. Last year, following a moderately successful rookie season in which he scored 10 goals and four assists in 55 games, he hit the low point of his career. His goal production plummeted in the first 25 games last season to one goal, and the opposition was scoring against him with irritating frequency. Demotion to the minors was inevitable.

But the setback in being sent to St. Louis of the Central League also proved to be at least part of his salvation. Dennis hated the minors so much — “We were staying in third - rate hotels, traveling by bus ... it just wasn't the same" — that he was firmly resolved to make the Hawks again. That, or quit hockey.

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“When I’m off the ¡ce I watch the best player—Bobby Hull”

Coach Billy Reay was prepared for Dennis to repeat his history of overtraining and overtrying. At training camp this year. Reay exercised some shrewd psychology by making Dennis

an unusual promise. "He has always wanted to do so well that things went in reverse." says Reay. "He was trying too hard and getting all tied up. So this year I told him to take it easy, that he was definitely on the team even though he didn't have that good a year last year."

Dennis reacted as Reay hoped, and

wound up the first part of the season third in the NHL scoring race, while his big brother, hampered by a painful bursitis condition in his right hip, languished in fifteenth place.

Then Bobby himself came along with some timely advice. During a preseason game with Detroit, he impressed on Dennis the importance of

studying the playing techniques of great ones like Gordie Howe. Conserve your energy, said Bobby, so that when you get your chance you’ve got something left to take advantage of it. "It never occurred to me before to watch the best players,” says Dennis. "When I came off the ice, I just used to relax and watch the game same as everyone else.” Dennis has taken Bobby's advice, “except, instead of watching Gordie Howe, like he suggested, I watch Bobby Hull.”

What Dennis sees is a perfectly designed hockey machine, full of style and speed and power. Bobby Hull, according to his parents, was the only one of their I 1 children who never went through an awkward stage. “He just come up and built out,” says his father. “He never even had to work with weights.” But Bobby's appeal is not limited to his bull-wrestling shoulders or his graceful co-ordination on the ice. One Ottawa matron, who should be long past that stage, confessed to being reduced to giddiness and girlish excitement when she encountered Bobby at Toronto International Airport recently. What redblooded Canadian matron can resist those boyish dimples, that ready, geewhiz-mom grin and that curly blond hair? “Well,” she said defensively, “he did wink at me.”

Though he has the physique, Dennis will never rival Bobby’s threat to the matinee idols. On the ice, however. he has always had what it takes, according to Billy Reay. “His skating is strong enough and his shot is excellent — some say it’s harder than Bobby’s — but he always had difficulty getting into position because he couldn’t manoeuvre too well.” says Reay. “That’s improving now.”

Bobby sees Dennis’s increased effectiveness more as a psychological change: “He has matured physically and mentally. He’s having a chance to play and it makes a whale ol a difference when you know that the coach has confidence in you.” The coach has enough confidence in Dennis to use him not only on his regular shift at left wing, but also on the power plays along with Bobby.

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“When I score, it’s not me who scores: it’s Bobby’s brother”

The brothers’ affection is best shown by one power-play goal in which Bobby set up his younger brother. “Bobby was even more excited than I was,” says Dennis.

“I’m just delighted that Dennis has made it this year,” says Bobby. “I sure as hell wouldn't want to be in his shoes, to have that comparison constantly on your neck. In the same position I’d have likely done worse.”

But while Bobby is sympathetic toward Dennis, he feels his brother has to sort out his problems for himself. “What can I do? Quit? Lay down? He just has to face the facts. Part of Dennis’s problem is that he’s so modest and reserved. He doesn't let out his feelings when it might be good to talk it out with someone. If he doesn't know by now he can talk to me. he’ll newer know.”

Dennis does most of his talking about, rather than to, Bobby. “People try to compare us, but it doesn't work. It's impossible to play the game the way he does. He takes the puck and can go anywhere on the ice he wants to. I just have to stay on my wing and go up and down, and the main thought in my head is to make sure my opposing forward doesn't score.”

But, Dennis points out, they have different jobs to do for their team. “Bobby’s main objective is to score goals — that’s what he's paid for, that's what people expect and that’s what management expects of him. But not me. They keep a record of the lines on the ice when a goal is scored against the team, and who's supposed to be checking the man, and as long as you score more than the forward you’re supposed to be checking. you're okay.”

So far this season, Dennis has managed to score goals and check his man. It may simply be a fitting coincidence, but that famed Vitalis commercial which so devastatingly symbolized Dennis's subordination to Bobby is now off the air. It looked then as though he was destined to spend the rest of his life in that Vitalis washroom, playing the Greasy Kid to his brother’s Well-Groomed Hero. Now, Dennis is finding his way out of Bobby’s shadow, though there are still haunting reminders of the old, humiliating days.

You would expect that the pub-

licity Dennis was getting for being in the top-10 scorers and ahead of Bobby would bolster his confidence. But not so. Sportswriters are finally mentioning Dennis, but invariably in relation to Bobby. “Some of that Hull magic has rubbed off on Bobby’s younger brother Dennis." said one early-season story. Another declared:

“Nobody would have believed Dennis Hull would match his record-breaking brother Bobby when the two started the NHL season . . . but he has."

Dennis regrets the big-brother references (“Whenever l score, it's not me who scores, it's Bobby Hull's brother”), but he accepts them. “The writers have a story to do,” he says,

“and I guess a story with Bobby Hull's name in it is better than one with Dennis Hull's name."

The sportswriters may be wrong. If they cocked an ear to the cheers when Dennis scores a goal, they might change their minds. For even those tough Chicago partisans who were so quick to criticize earlier this season are changing. At long last, it doesn't seem to matter quite so much which Hull is scoring. The crowd cheers all the same. ★