Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, 'The Golden Jet,' dies at 84

Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull owned a big shot and he was a big shot during an NHL and World Hockey Association career that spanned 23 years.

"He was huge when I was growing up in Canada," said former NHL player Tom Laidlaw. "He was like the Mickey Mantle of hockey. He was a star player with personality. He was flamboyant."

Hull, who starred on the ice but had controversies off it, has died at age 84, the Chicago Blackhawks and the NHL Alumni Association announced Monday.

He became the first in NHL history to score more than 50 goals in a season when he netted 54 in 1965-66. He got to 50 or more goals in five seasons for the Blackhawks and led the NHL in goals seven times.

Hull had 31 goals and 25 assists in his fourth season to help lead Chicago to the Stanley Cup championship in 1960-61, the Blackhawks' first in 49 years.

Bobby Hull holds puck with which he scored his 50th goal of the season in 1962.
Bobby Hull holds puck with which he scored his 50th goal of the season in 1962.

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"Hull is part of an elite group of players who made a historic impact on our hockey club," the Blackhawks said in a statement. "The Golden Jet helped the Blackhawks win the 1961 Stanley Cup and delivered countless memories to our fans, whom he adored.

"Generations of Chicagoans were dazzled by Bobby's shooting prowess, skating skill and overall team leadership that led to 604 career goals, a franchise record that remains to this day. We send our deepest sympathies to the Hull family."

Many of Hull's goals were scored on the strength of his strong skating and a booming slap shot that was made dangerous by the wickedly big curve he put on his stick.

"Guys weren't using the size of the curve that Hull used in those days because at that time guys were still using their backhander to score goals," said former NHL goalie Jim Rutherford, now president of the Vancouver Canucks. "With that big hook, it was hard to tell where the puck was going."

Hull finished with 610 NHL goals, and he and his son Brett (741 goals) form the highest-scoring father-son tandem in NHL history. Both are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame goalie Glenn Hall, who played with and against the elder Hull, had said the wing's shot was the hardest he ever saw.

Said Rutherford: "He was at the level that guys are shooting at today, except he didn't have the advantage of the modern sticks."

Rutherford said Hull's shots always reacted differently depending on how he struck them.

"Sometimes it would rise or drop or act like a knuckleball," Rutherford said. "Sometimes it would curve. "

Hull also was known during his playing days for connecting with the fans. He always seemed to have time to sign autographs.

In a 2004 interview, Hull said when he was 10 he asked Gordie Howe for an autograph. Howe rubbed his head and signed the top of a cigarette package that the young Hull had gotten from his father. He said he always remembered Howe's kindness.

"My mom used to say, 'Don't forget that fans are the most important people in this business,'" Hull said.

Bobby Hull holds a giant check for $1 million after signing with the World Hockey Association.
Bobby Hull holds a giant check for $1 million after signing with the World Hockey Association.

Jump to World Hockey Association

Hull played 15 seasons with Chicago before jumping to the Winnipeg Jets to play in the World Hockey Association in 1972-73 for a 10 year, $1 million deal, which was a stunning amount at the time. In 1974-75, Hull, playing on a line with Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, scored 77 goals in 78 games for Winnipeg.

"The reaction when Hull left was that it was too bad for the NHL, but all of us knew he was breaking new ground," Rutherford said. "We got higher salaries because of that."

After the NHL annexed the WHA, Hull ended up playing another 27 games in the NHL in 1979-80 before retiring. He considered coming out of retirement with the New York Rangers in the early 1980s, and Laidlaw remembers what a big event it was when he came to New York to skate with the team.

"We all went out to get something to eat and I was like a little kid listening to Hull tell stories for hours," Laidlaw said. "He had such a big personality."

Off-ice controversies

Hull also had several troubling episodes off the ice over the years.

According to the Associated Press, Hull was convicted of assaulting a police officer who intervened in a dispute with then-wife Deborah in 1986. He also was accused of battery, but that charge was dropped after Deborah told authorities she didn’t want to testify against her husband, a state attorney told the Chicago Tribune.

Hull’s second wife, Joanne, accused him of abuse during an interview with ESPN for a 2002 show.

A Russian newspaper reported in 1998 that Hull said Adolf Hitler “had some good ideas.” Hull denied making the comment, calling it “false and defamatory.”

Contributing: Associated Press

Robert Marvin 'Bobby' Hull

Born: Jan. 3, 1939, in Point Anne, Ontario, one of 11 children

Nickname: The Golden Jet

Education: Dropped out of St. Catherines (Ontario) College in 1957 to join the Chicago Black Hawks

Hall of Fame: Inducted in 1983 into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Playing career: 1957-1972 with the Blackhawks; 1972-1979 with the World Hockey Association Winnipeg Jets; 1979-80 with the NHL's Winnipeg Jets and Hartford Whalers. The left wing was a 12-time NHL All-Star, 10 times to the first team; three-time NHL scoring leader; two-time league MVP; played on the 1961 Blackhawks' Stanley Cup champion team and the 1976 and '78 Jets' WHA championship team; his slap shot timed at 118.3 mph; one of the game's fastest skaters, timed at 29.7 mph without the puck, 28.3 mph with it

Author: The Golden Jet (with Bob Verdi), 2010; Bobby Hull's Hockey Made Easy (with Roy G. Nelson), 1984; Hockey is My Game, 1967

Post-retirement: He worked as a cattle rancher in Canada. He also was a Blackhawks ambassador, though he and the team agreed to end that role last year after the earlier deaths of Tony Esposito and Stan Mikita.

Quote: On curving the blade for the first time on his hockey stick, revolutionary at the time -- "Poured hot water on it, from a tap, until it got soft and lithe. And then I'd shove it under a door at the Chicago Stadium and put a chair up, underneath the handle, and left it there all night. When I came back in the morning, it was just like this (forms the letter 'C' with his hands)." -- From a 2010 interview with Canada's National Post

Rachel Shuster

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bobby Hull, Hockey Hall of Famer known as 'The Golden Jet,' dies at 84