SPORTS

Like father, like son

Brett Hull is blasting into the record books

D’ARCY JENISH March 18 1991
SPORTS

Like father, like son

Brett Hull is blasting into the record books

D’ARCY JENISH March 18 1991

Like father, like son

Brett Hull is blasting into the record books

SPORTS

He is the National Hockey League’s most unconventional superstar, a player who can dominate a game even when he is not carrying the puck and often seems to be out of step with his linemates. But despite his unorthodox style, 26-year-old Brett Hull, million-dollar right winger with the St. Louis Blues and son of hockey legend Bobby Hull, has emerged as the NHL’s most prolific goal scorer. In a March 2 game against the Philadelphia Flyers, his 64th of the season, Hull scored his 70th goal of the 1990-1991 campaign to become only the third player in league history, after the Los Angeles Kings’ Wayne Gretzky and Pittsburgh Penguins centre Mario Lemieux, to reach that plateau in consecutive seasons. Although some hockey analysts contend that Hull is merely an opportunist with a hard, accurate shot, he maintains that his style of play bewilders and disrupts opponents. Said Hull: “I take myself right out of the play to get open. Sometimes when we’re going into the other team’s zone, I’m skating out of their zone.”

In his own words, Hull is “the epitome of a late bloomer.” He almost quit hockey altogether at the age of 18 before making a Tier 2

junior team, a level below major junior hockey, in Penticton, B.C., where he scored 105 goals in 56 games. Hull, not a strong skater and poor defensively, failed to impress his first NHL employer, the Calgary Flames, and they traded him after only 57 games to St. Louis in March, 1988. In 1989-1990, his second full season with the Blues, he scored 72 goals, a league record for right wingers. Last summer, the Blues rewarded Hull with a four-year, $8.3million contract, which will pay him $1.4 million this season, up from $150,000 a year earlier.

With his new contract, Hull is now the thirdhighest-paid player in the game, behind Gretzky, who will earn an estimated $3.9 million this season, and Lemieux, who will receive $2.7 million. The high salary has also meant added responsibilities. Before the season began, Blues head coach Brian Sutter told Hull that he expects him to help out captain Scott Stevens by providing extra on-ice team leadership. And Hull admits that, because of his personality, being a leader is a bigger challenge than scoring goals. “I’m so laid-back and easygoing that it’s tough for me,” he said. “I keep myself loose, but I have to make sure every-

body else is ready to play.” Although Gretzky still dominates this year’s point-scoring list, Hull has achieved several hockey milestones with his prodigious goal-scoring feats of the past two seasons. When he scored his 50th goal of the 1989-1990 season on Feb. 6, 1990, he and Bobby Hull became the only father and son ever to have reached that plateau in the NHL. This season, Hull became one of three players in league history, along with Gretzky and Lemieux, to have scored 50 goals in less than 50 games. And on March 7, Hull scored his 73rd, 74th and 75th goals of the season in a game against the Boston Bruins, breaking S his own record for right wingers.

I Besides blasting his way 5 into the NHL record books, Hull has dramatically raised the profile of professional hockey in St. Louis, a midwestem American city primarily known for its majorleague baseball team, the National League Cardinals. Blues president Jack Quinn said that the team currently has 12,500 season-ticket holders in the 17,188-seat St. Louis Arena, an increase of 3,400 over last season largely due to the publicity surrounding the off-season contracts signed by Hull and defenceman Stevens.

Hull’s on-ice achievements have also made him something of a local hero. On March 1, after playing 65 of 80 regular-season games, the Blues were first overall in the 21-team league with 86 points and Hull was in second place in the scoring race behind Gretzky, who, while scoring roughly half as many goals, has more than double the number of assists. One year earlier, the team was seventh overall with 72 points. And since the season started, Hull has been receiving about 1,000 pieces of fan mail every week from as far away as Europe and Japan. Said Quinn: “Hull has made this team the city’s biggest show. He is the city’s biggest star right now.”

With his accomplishments of the past two seasons, Hull has finally emerged from the shadow of his famous father, whom many hockey experts regard as the greatest left winger ever to play the game. In 23 professional seasons, from 1957 to 1980, Bobby Hull scored 1,018 goals and assisted on 999 others. The elder Hull scored 50 or more goals in a season five times with the Chicago Blackhawks before signing a $2.5-million contract with the Winnipeg Jets of the newly founded World Hockey Association in 1972.

But Bobby Hull’s wealth and fame brought him and his entire family painful public exposure in the late 1970s when he and his wife,

Joanne, went through a bitter and controversial divorce. After 20 years of marriage and five children, Hull’s estranged wife accused him of physical and mental cruelty, as well as adultery. In June, 1980, the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench awarded Joanne Hull a total of $600,000 and custody of the children. The children—Bobby Jr., now 29, Blake, now 28, Brett, his youngest brother Bart, now 22, and sister Michelle, now 20—moved to Vancouver with their mother.

The former Joanne Hull subsequently married life insurance executive Harry Robinson. They now divide their time between homes in West Vancouver and Blaine, Wash. Brett’s oldest brother is vice-president of Marshall Gobuty International, a Toronto-based clothing manufacturer, while Blake Hull is living in Tampa,

Fla., and attempting to qualify for the Professional Golf Association tour.

Bart Hull, a running back at Boise State University in Idaho, was selected by the B.C. Lions last month in the first round of the Canadian Football League’s annual amateur draft. And Michelle Hull is a third-year pre-medical student at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

For several years after the divorce,

Brett Hull recalls, he rarely saw his father, who returned to the cattle farm he owned near Belleville in eastern Ontario. Although they now have a good relationship, Hull said that he still sees little of his father because the elder Hull spends much of the winter at a Florida resort property. But Bobby Hull attended a St. Louis Blues home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on the night his son became a 50-goal scorer for the first time. Following the game, Bobby Hull told reporters: “I always told him he isn’t a 30or 40-goal scorer, he’s a 50or 60-goal scorer.”

Despite his parents’ turbulent divorce, Hull said that he retains fond memories of growing up in Winnipeg and attending Jet practices with

his older brothers and their famous _

father. After the sessions, he said, his father would frequently sit his sons on the boards and demonstrate basic hockey skills. But Brett Hull grew up to become a markedly different player than his father.

At the height of his career, in the mid-1960s, Bobby Hull was one of hockey’s most captivating performers. He dazzled his fans with rink-long rushes and intimidated goalies with a fearsome slapshot. Brett Hull admits that he may have inherited his father’s goalscoring ability. Otherwise, he said, he has developed his own peculiar style. Hull explained that he rarely leads a St. Louis rush by carrying the puck out of his own end. Normally, he lags behind to watch the play develop or races ahead to

distract opposing defencemen. His primary objective is to find a patch of open ice in the offensive zone and look for a pass from a teammate.

Opposing players say that Hull is an opportunist who strikes with devastating effectiveness. Maple Leafs goalie Jeff Reese, who was in the net when Hull scored his 50th goal last season, said: “He’s got one of the quickest releases in the league, and his shot is so accurate it’s unbelievable. A lot of the times

when he’s scored on me, I thought I had him.” Leaf defenceman and team captain Rob Ramage added: “He’s got the gift. He’s a natural scorer. He’s got a great sense of anticipation, of where the net is without even looking.” Philadelphia goalie Ron Hextall, who allowed Hull’s 70th goal this season, said: “When he comes in on the wing, he’s got an awful lot of speed. If you give him a hole, he hits it.”

Hull says that he has emerged as one of the NHL’S top players because of coach Sutter’s patient tutoring. The 34-year-old Sutter, one of six brothers from Viking, Alta., to play in the NHL, is now in his third season behind the Blues bench. Said Hull: “He lets people do what they do best and then works on their weaknesses with videos and practice. He doesn’t take a guy like me who can score and turn me into a defensive player.” And Hull says that he remains perplexed over how he was handled by

the Flames, who traded him even though he got 50 points in 52 games. Said Hull: “In Calgary, I wouldn’t play the last 10 minutes of a period if I made a mistake. It was tough for me to learn when I was sitting on the bench.”

But Hull says that he has no complaints about life in St. Louis. He lives in the affluent suburb of Warson Woods with his 26-year-old girlfriend, Allison Curran. They met six years

ago in Duluth, Minn., where he

was attending university on a hockey scholarship. They make their off-season home at Pike Lake, about 10 km north of Duluth. Hull plays golf every day during the summer at one, and sometimes both, of the city’s private clubs. He drives a red Corvette, and two promotional vehicles, a Chevrolet Blazer and a Nissan Infiniti Q45, provided by St. Louis car dealers. And when he has spare time during the season, which does not happen very often, he stays home, unplugs the phone and tries to relax, he said. While he may have shrugged off the expectations of being his father’s son, Hull still faces the pressures he has created for himself as the NHL’S top gun.

D’ARCY JENISH in Philadelphia

D’ARCY JENISH