ARTICLES

Will Bobby Hull become hockey's next superstar?

Skating with the lilt of an icebound Astaire, the dimpled left winger from Point Anne, Ont., has proved he can be a top goal-getter and box-office draw. Now, says his Chicago coach, if only he weren’t so devil-may-care...

TRENT FRAYNE March 26 1960
ARTICLES

Will Bobby Hull become hockey's next superstar?

Skating with the lilt of an icebound Astaire, the dimpled left winger from Point Anne, Ont., has proved he can be a top goal-getter and box-office draw. Now, says his Chicago coach, if only he weren’t so devil-may-care...

TRENT FRAYNE March 26 1960

Will Bobby Hull become hockey's next superstar?

Skating with the lilt of an icebound Astaire, the dimpled left winger from Point Anne, Ont., has proved he can be a top goal-getter and box-office draw. Now, says his Chicago coach, if only he weren’t so devil-may-care...

TRENT FRAYNE

It will come as a shock to hockey's millions of fans to learn that Bobby Hull, a bright young light with the Chicago Black Hawks for three years and the most sensational performer in the National HockeyLeague through most of this season, is just beginning his career. T his, at any rate, is the straightfaced testimony of numerous qualified observers, including his own employers.

With a rosy complexion, a jaunty grin, a curling crop of corn-colored hair and. heaven help the ladies in the first five rows, a dimple in his cheek, Hull has gamboled across the league's arenas like a boy skipping school on a warm spring day. By the time he’d turned twenty-one, on January 3. he was the league's leading scorer, and already had scored three goals in one game on three occasions between December 6 and 27. More important from the team's point of view, Hull and his two young linemates. Bill Hay and Murray Balfour, had brought flight to the wallowing Hawks, lifting them into playoff range after they’d won only one of their first fourteen games and were driving their customers into paroxy sms of indifference. By February this trio had so excited the jaded legions that

IS.396 of them, the largest NHL crowd anywhere in a dozen years, turned out at the Chicago Stadium one Sunday night to watch the Hawks play the Canadiens. The ruckus they raised xxhenexer Hull took the puck was proof that it was this new golden boy they were there to see.

Still, while the fans showered their hoarse delight and some of the sportsw t iters acclaimed him as the game's new superstar, older scholars talked softly and with reservation. "Bobby Hull is one of the greatest young players who has come along in the last few years." said Jack Adams, the Detroit general manager. "It he doesn't get seriously injured and takes care of himself, he should become one of the finest hockey players of all time."

Conn Smythe of the Maple Leafs, asked if he agreed with some appraisers that Hull is the most exciting player since Busher Jackson was whirling for Toronto’s Kid Line in the Thirties, sidestepped the question entirely. "He doesn't remind me of Jackson at all." said Smythe. "He reminds me of Hec Kilrea. He skates like him. although I'd say Hull has a harder shot." Kilrea was a fine player for Ottawa. Toronto and Detroit a few decades ago but he was never rated a superstar.

Once, early in January, after Hull scored his twenty-fourth goal, his boss Tommy Ivan, the Chicago general manager, called him into his office in the Stadium.

"You're about to start your hockey career, my boy." said the diminutive, dark and handsome Ivan. “From now on the other teams will be giving you special attention. They'll be checking you closer and tougher, much tougher. But if you're the hockey player I think you are you'll rise to it."

Evidence that it's still too soon to know if Hull wears the stamp of a superstar came in an unexpected February thaw when he went nine games without scoring a goal, and lost his league scoring leadership. He was the top-heavy choice for the left-wing position on the NHL writers' mid-season all-star team, but in February even his coach, bushv-browed Rudy Pilous, a staunch Hull booster, was showing signs of dismay.

"I’m not blaming Bobby for not scoring." Pilous said. "Everyone has a slump in this league. But 1 do blame him for failing to do a competent defensive job. When he's working at top efficiency we look like a playoff team. But we need his fire and leadership to roll in high gear. When he’s barreling he has every defense in the league off balance, but suddenly he started trying to do his job the easy way, making his plays outside the defense. So they simply steered him harmlessly into the corners. He was trying to be cute, and you can't outfox the veterans that way. At top efficiency. he's terrific."

Whatever the future holds for Hull, he already has breathed the spark of individuality into a game whose newcomers over the last decade have borne an assembly-line similarity, as though each had been impressed onto the NHL milieu by the same rubber stamp. By contrast. Hull came straight from a fresh mold. People who never saw a hockey game can be entranced by him. for Hull has a lilt and a swerve unmatched even by Beliveau or Howe, the masters in his trade. He moves w ith the effortless flair of an icebound Astaire, he can shoot like a cannon, and he plays the game hard and fair. On a recent Saturday afternoon in Chicago prior to the Columbia Broadcasting System’s nationally televised Hockey Cíame of the Week, Canadian interviewer

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Bobby Hull — hockey’s next superstar?

Continued from page 25

“When he was just fifteen, he knew the idolatry that small towns accord to their hockey stars”

Brian McFariane talked to Hull and to referee Frank Udvari.

"Will this fellow give you much trouble this afternoon, Frank?” McFariane asked the referee, waving his hand toward Hull.

“No, Hull doesn't play the game that way,” said Udvari. “He’s a fine gentleman.”

But he doesn’t back away from a disturbance, either. In New York early in January, Lou Fontinato, the rambunctious Ranger defenseman, had trouble with a Hawk player just before the bell ended the first period. Fontinato related afterwards that he became aware as he skated toward the passageway leading to the dressing rooms that a wave of white Chicago sweaters was closing in on him. He turned with his stick raised, anticipating an attack and the stick flashed past the head of Hull who happened to be the closest Hawk. Hull reacted by swishing his stick at Fontinato and a stick-swinging brawl developed between them. Neither was cut or felled in what a wire-service report called “the most vicious fight in Madison Square Garden this season,” but neither gave ground until other players pulled them apart. Each was assessed a match-misconduct penalty by the referee, Vern Buffey, and fined a hundred dollars.

Though he rarely has the inclination to fight, Hull has a body built for it, a thick full chest liberally endowed with yellow hair,'and the arms of a blacksmith. His 190 pounds are so well distributed on a

five-foot-ten frame that, on the ice, he doesn’t appear as big or as strong as he actually is. In spite of his youth, sudden success doesn't appear to have affected him. In the dressing-room he is a straighttalking young man who gets on easily with his teammates, and in hotel lobbies where fans gather to peer at and talk to athletes he’s as unpretentious as a man twice his age grown accustomed to attention.

In some respects Hull is twice his age. He left home at fourteen to begin spending his winters playing hockey, and in the next few years he knew the curious idolatry that’s accorded a hockey star in a small town. This is just as real and even more feverish in its own concentrated way than its international counterpart in the NHL’s big cities. When Hull was fifteen his Woodstock Junior B team won the Ontario championship. In a victory parade through the streets of this western Ontario town, the blond grinning handsome kid who was acclaimed as he sat on top of a fire engine wearing the chief’s hat was Bobby Hull.

At sixteen he was adored in St. Catharines, a larger community where a sizeable segment of the populace is inclined to regard its adolescent icemen with more veneration than that accorded the mayor, if not the country’s prime minister. At seventeen, in the midst of such comparative adulation, exuberant young Hull was married. He was divorced a year later. When Hull went to the National Hockey

League at eighteen he had known more public attention than most businessmen receive in a lifetime. By then, all of his teammates were older but not many were wiser in the ways of the world.

Hull's destination was pretty well ordained on the January morning he was born in 1939 in a sand-colored, two-story stucco house in Point Anne. Ont., a village four miles east of Belleville on the shore of the Bay of Quinte. Fie was the fifth child and first boy in what ultimately was to be a family of eleven—seven girls anti four boys. His mother, a comfortably proportioned, serene - looking woman, had the name Robert ready while she carried each of her first four children. who turned out to be Laura, Barbara. Jacqueline and Maxine. His father, a heavy-set shambling man. played junior, intermediate and senior hockey in Belleville and hoped his son would be a hockey player, too. When Bobby was old enough to skate, his dad played hockey with him and his four older sisters on the village's open-air rink or on a cleared area on the Bay of Quinte, a hundred yards from the family's back door.

And being old enough to skate, in Bobby's case, was a mere three years of age. On the Christmas before he turned four, the family bought skates for him and for Jacqueline, who is called Jack, and for Maxine, who is called Mac. The girls then were seven and six. I he three of them were sent out to a patch of ice that had formed on the street in front of MacLawrin’s General Store. As they left. Mrs. Hull called to them.

"Now the first one who comes in," she said, "the skates go back to Santa."

Hull senior swears that Bobby was skating passably well within fifteen minutes. and the only way the family could get the three youngsters to return to the house was to go and get them.

After hockey — what?

In the next eight years the Hulls had six more children. Carolyn, Ronald, Garry, Dennis, Judy and Peggy, the youngest, who is now twelve.

While he was growing up, it was a rare winter's day that Bobby (who is called Robert by all members of his family) wasn't skating and playing hockey. After heavy snowfalls he'd be the first kid on the bay. skating behind a wide shovel to clear snow. That, he thinks, may account for his heavy chest and arm development; that, and the fact he played all sports energetically and endlessly, and worked on neighboring farms or a nearby cement plant in the summertime. He didn't neglect his schooling, even when the Flawks settled him with junior teams in their farm system at Hespeler and then Woodstock and then St. Catharines.

"I didn't get my matriculation," he says, "but now I wish 1 had it. even though things have gone exceedingly well. I spent three years in high school and got honors for a couple of years. Some day, I'd like to get a degree in business administration, and I think I'd also like to get a farm. I'm not forgetting that a fellow can't expect to play hockey for the rest of his life."

He has helped his brothers with their hockey but he hasn't talked education with them yet. All three are playing Junior B hockey at Belleville and belong to the Black Hawk organization, scouted, as Bobby was. by Chicago's chief scout. Bob Wilson.

"I'm not sure what I'd tell those kids if the opportunity came for them to do as 1 did when I turned pro with the Hawks." Bobby says thoughtfully. "Dennis is a real good student. He's conscien-

tious about his studies. I think I’d be likely to tell him he shouldn’t quit school until he has his junior matriculation, at least. Garry and Ron aren't all that crazy about school.”

Garry (who is called Whitey) is. at seventeen, the blond image of his oldest brother and reportedly is the most exciting hockey prospect.

The family dotes on Bobby and his hockey prominence. When the Hawks are on television, eleven Hulls gather around two or three television sets either at home or at Barbara’s (she is Mrs. Ray Branigan) or at Maxine's (Mrs. Bill Messer). The oldest girl. Laura, watches at Trenton where she lives with her husband Ken Stafford.

Bobby's mother sits rigidly still, with all of the fingers on both hands crossed for luck. Whenever Bobby flashes across the screen she says, barely audibly and to no one in particular, "There’s Robert, bless his heart.” When the Hawks play in Toronto or Montreal, three or four Hulls drive to the game, usually in Bobby's grey Oldsmobile hardtop which he leaves in Point Anne during the winter. Sometimes his father can’t make it: Bob Hull, now fifty, has worked at the Canada Cement plant at Point Anne since 1925. He is mill foreman, working a changing eight-hour shift which, when it's four to midnight, prevents him from taking the trip.

Mrs. Htdl says Bobby is always happy when the family turns up to watch his team. Once, when he was with St. Catharines juniors, Mrs. Hull and Maxine drove to Hamilton for a game and arrived late. When Bobby saw them he skated toward the boards during a lull in play, leaned across into the seats, and kissed them both.

"Robert even stopped to give us a hug once in Montreal, bless his heart," beams Mrs. FI till fondly.

She says when he first went away at fourteen he was extremely homesick, so in her daily letters to him she rarely mentioned the family and spoke only in generalities. He told her when he got home briefly between games: “Gee, Mom, keep those letters coming with nothing in them.”

But Bob Wilson, the chief scout for the Hawks who saw promise in Hull even when the boy was a nipper of ten, has the notion that Hull doesn't play as well in Toronto or Montreal as he does in the rest of the cities.

"He must try too hard, or something, to impress the family,” says Wilson.

For his part, Coach Rudy Pilous feels Hull "is beginning to learn the game now," after getting thirteen goals in his first NHL season, eighteen in his second, and better than thirty in his third. By contrast, the great Gordie Howe got seven in his first year, sixteen in his second, and didn't top the thirty mark until his fourth season.

"Three years are about par for a player to start finding himself in this league," says the bulky, black-browed Chicago coach. "Up to now he's been getting by on his dashing and dancing and youthful exuberance. We've been trying to check that devil-may-care stuff, which causes him to miss a lot of chances, and replace it with the shrewdness of knowing how to move the puck around, when to make his bursts on the net; in short, how to become a leader like Howe and Beliveau. That won't happen until he's curbed the darting and dancing."

Pilous may be right. Still, if that was dancing the young man was doing to startle the customers most of this season, he could have danced all night and they'd still have begged for more. ★