The Golden Jet has died.
Hockey icon Bobby Hull was 84.
Known internationally for his Hall of Fame NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks, Hull was also a star for the Winnipeg Jets of the upstart World Hockey Association — famously signing a million-dollar contract at Portage & Main in 1972.
Winnipegger Jordy Douglas, who knew Hull well and played with him briefly during his stint with the Hartford Whalers, told 680 CJOB that Hull’s defection to the WHA — which was due to a contract dispute with the Blackhawks — left an indelible mark on the game.
“He just meant so much to so many of us that grew up here in Winnipeg and Manitoba watching the WHA,” Douglas said.
“We can all debate the character of the man, but what he did in 1972, along with a number of other ex-NHL players, to just make that step, that leap of faith into the WHA, it changed that whole landscape of hockey.”
In Winnipeg, Hull teamed up with Swedish players Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, forming The Hot Line — one of the most formidable lines in hockey in the 1970s — and led the Jets to a pair of AVCO Cups during his time in Winnipeg.
Nilsson told Global News he saw Hull — who was already in his mid-30s when his Swedish linemates arrived in Winnipeg — as both a father figure and a teammate with whom he had an instant connection.
“He was already 35 years old when we came to Winnipeg. Bobby always said that we gave him four more years on his career,” Nilsson said.
“It was magic, really. We really didn’t have to talk a lot about positions and things like that.
“To us, puck control was very important, and Bobby had a simple philosophy — if you worked really, really hard in practice, the games are so much easier.”
Nilsson said Hull was different from most pro players he met in North America, in that despite his talents on the ice, he wasn’t thinking about hockey 24/7 — instead devoting time outside the rink to working on his farm and keeping himself busy with outside pursuits.
The first player in NHL history to score more than 50 goals in a single season, Hull set the record of 54 in 1966, breaking it by four goals only a couple of seasons later.
Along with Chicago teammate Stan Mikita, he’s credited with popularizing the curved hockey stick blade in the NHL.
Hull was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, and wasn’t the only member of his family to achieve hockey stardom — his brother Dennis played alongside him with the Blackhawks for eight seasons, and his son Brett is a Stanley Cup champion and Hall of Fame player in his own right.
Hull’s son Bart played for Saskatchewan and Ottawa in the Canadian Football League.
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Despite a lengthy list of individual and team awards and records — including a Stanley Cup championship in 1961, three Art Ross Trophies, and two Hart Memorial Trophies — Hull’s legacy is a controversial one.
He pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer in 1987, and was accused of abuse against two of his three wives, although assault and battery charges were dropped in the mid-1980s.
Hull also came under scrutiny in the mid-’90s after making pro-Nazi comments — which he later denied saying — in a Russian newspaper interview.
He served as an ambassador for the Blackhawks until the 2021-22 season, when the team cut ties with him.
Hull, whose number 9 banner hangs at Canada Life Centre, was inducted into the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame in 2016 along with Hedberg and Nilsson, although he didn’t return to Winnipeg for the ceremony.
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With files from The Canadian Press
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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