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Good Times, Winning Followed Brett Hull During Career

11/09/2009 1:26 PM

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Fans of the St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings should be assured that Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Brett Hull's favorite team and city is yours, too.

In a bright and entertaining conversation Thursday, just five days before he'll join his father, Bobby, in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Hull said "the best thing that ever happened to me was going to St. Louis and having Brian Sutter retire and become head coach.

"I had the most fun in my career in St. Louis. We had (only) two married guys on the team, a good bunch of young kids going out and having fun on the ice. We played hard, on and off the ice. St. Louis is an unbelievably good city."

He also said that his 1999 Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Dallas Stars in overtime of Game 6 "was No. 1, the most important of my career."

Hull said winning his first Stanley Cup in Dallas and scoring the winning goal was important to him because "there was a boatload of people when I left St. Louis who said you won't win with Brett Hull on your team. To go to Dallas and be the missing piece of the puzzle to win the Cup and then go and score that goal in overtime, who hasn't sat as a kid with his buddies and dreamed or pretended that they scored that goal? To then go and do it in real life was amazing."

Of playing for the 2002 Detroit Red Wings' Stanley Cup champions, Hull said: "I was lucky enough to feel what it was like to play for the old New York Yankees. I got to play with Babe Ruth and be coached by Casey Stengel. Scotty Bowman was one of the greatest coaches that ever walked the face of the earth."

"We knew he wanted to play on a winning team," Bowman said about signing Hull as a free agent that season. "We had a lot of great individual players and he fit in perfectly. He became a very good two-way player. We used him to kill penalties. We had a strong lineup and he was particularly strong in the playoffs.

"He was a terrific clutch player. He just came to play. You didn't have to say much to him. I got along with him because I knew his dad, so I would kid him about his dad and I had a lot of fun with him. He was a fun guy to be with and you knew when the game was on the line he was a gamebreaker.

"He didn't get the ice time with us that he got with other teams, but it was good for him. In the playoffs you have to go four rounds and some series that might go seven games, so obviously he had a lot left and he was 35 or 36. He was a special type of scorer and he fit in very well."

Like most players inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Hull said the Hall never was a goal when he was playing youth hockey.

Asked to list the greatest moments in his career, he said, "The first is your first game, the first time you skate on the ice with an NHL jersey on and you can say, 'I did it, and all the hard work everybody did to get me here paid off.' When you get your first NHL goal you think they'll be going in by the bushel, but it's hard to score goals. ... When I scored my first NHL goal, I wanted that feeling to continue throughout my career."

His father, Bobby, who ranked second with 610 goals when he retired in 1980, now ranks 15th. Bobby Hull was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.

"To pass my father was bittersweet because I had so much respect for him and what he meant to the game and how he played," Brett Hull said. "It would have been great to end up with the exact same amount, but I had a number of years to play after that. It was a great feeling to pass a guy who was one of the greatest to play the game and he's also your father. That was pretty special."

Hull credited his father and mother, Joanne, a top figure-skater, for his genetic ability and his mom for his personality.

"I'm easy going and don't let a lot of things bother me," Hull said. "I never really had any problems with pressure. In situations where you could be nervous, I relished it. I think that came from my mother. She's an unbelievably intelligent woman. I think as much as my hockey sense was genetically gifted from my father, I think she had a lot to do with it, as well. Being able to decipher or disseminate the information I was getting I think was definitely from her, as well. She was always very, very supportive. When you have a support structure like that, it sure makes everything easy."

The military keeps a little secret: That the soldiers who prove best under pressure exhibit little insubordinate streaks while training and have an irritating, light-hearted attitude toward drilling. However, they perform well in testing and get even better in the field.

That's an apt description of Hull, a brilliant man with a seemingly happy-go-lucky attitude, a teaser, prankster and joker among his teammates. Mike Keenan, who coached Hull in St. Louis, wasn't the only one driven crazy by Hull's ways, but Hull said it was a big part of what made him successful.

"I never lost that attitude when I was playing that I was playing with my friends and buddies and just having a good time," Hull said. "Sometimes coaches got upset with that, but I thought I had success because of that."

That attitude brought out the best in Bowman, who walked by Hull in the hallway before Game 3 of the 2002 Stanley Cup Final against the Carolina Hurricanes. The series was tied 1-1, a series many thought Detroit would sweep.

"Brett, did you play for Dallas in '99?" Bowman said, before drifting away in that unique way he had.

Hull went out and scored one of his greatest goals, a deflection of a Nicklas Lidstrom shot that turned the series around. Carolina never led in a game again and lost in five.

"The series was tied 1-1," Hull recalled. "They beat us in Game 1 (in Detroit) and winning Game 2 wasn't easy. We were down, 1-0, at that point. Scotty put us out there and Steve Yzerman came over to me at the faceoff and said no matter what happens you go straight into that corner. I went straight for the corner and saw us win the draw. I don't know if it's because I went into the corner that they forgot me, but I turned and skated out high in the slot and saw the puck go to Lidstrom. I knew then I'd get a good shot that I could get a piece of. He's the best and I got a piece of it and it went in.

"It was just one of those moments. I was euphoric to get that goal. Up to that point the series could have gone either way."

"He got into position. Of course he had a great shot, but he just knew where to go and how to slide in and out," Bowman said. "He did it nonchalantly so he wasn't in your face all the time. On the power play he found the right opening for the goal. His positioning was really something special."

Hull played youth hockey in Chicago when his father was with the Blackhawks, continued to play in Winnipeg when Bobby joined the Jets and then moved to Vancouver when his parents divorced. He played Tier II hockey with Penticton to maintain college eligibility. He chose the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he joined a team that had just lost the NCAA championship on a fluke goal. He said he picked UMD because they had a skating program that greatly improved that aspect of his game.

Hull helped UMD to the NCAA semifinals in his first season, 1984-85, but they were beaten in triple overtime by eventual champion R.P.I, while killing a disputed penalty, on a John Carter goal set up by Adam Oates. Hull had scored in regulation to tie the game and Oates had 4 assists in the victory. They would become linemates five years later in St. Louis.

Hull had 52 goals in his second UMD season and then 50 goals in his only minor-league season, in Moncton of the American Hockey League. He's the only player in history to score 50 or more goals in a season in college, the minors and the NHL.

Oates helped Hull to his greatest NHL seasons. Hull had 72 goals and 113 points their first season together, 1989-90; 86 goals and 131 points the next season; and 70 goals and 109 points the third season, before Oates was dealt to Boston for Craig Janney. Hull had success with Janney, but he, too, soon moved off, and the next few seasons were spent in frustration with Keenan and a lack of set-up centers.

Hull, Oates and Sutter look back on those years of financial struggle in St. Louis with great regret.

"If we could have stayed together ...," Sutter said, his voice tailing off. "The ownership was in turmoil in those days, but the fans were always tremendous. ... We believed in St. Louis and enjoyed it. I was a 31-year-old coach after I played with Brett in my last year. I saw something special in him. He is a highly intelligent individual that a lot of people didn't understand.

"He thought the game at a much different level and couldn't understand why everyone didn't think the way he did. I talked to him about getting inside other people's heads. He told me one time that he never killed penalties but wanted to, and I said you're one of the best power-play guys, you should know what a penalty killer does against you. He wanted to be accountable and became an absolutely incredible penalty killer."

"After my first season in St. Louis (41 goals, 84 points), I expected a pat on the back, 'You're good player, happy to have you,'" Hull recalled. "I go into Brian's office and he gives it to me, up and down, but in a positive way. He said, 'You don't have any idea how good you could be. You don't work hard enough to bring out your true potential.' I thought, here's a guy I respect and if he believes that much in me, I'm going to take it and try to do it. My goal then was to become the best player I could be and I give all the credit to Brian Sutter."
"Oates was a lot like Hull. They clicked because they could get inside each other's head," Sutter said. "Oates came to us from Detroit and Brett from Calgary and no one knew how good they could be, including them. I thought Adam was one of the greatest centers in NHL history and could have played in any era. They just had to understand that they could take it to another level. Every time they told me they couldn't do something, I made them do it because I believed they could. It was amazing, but everything they did worked."

"I mean, 86 goals? That's ridiculous. It was a fantastic period; our team was so good every night."

"I look at Wayne's record of 92 goals in a season and shake my head because I think I scored every time I had the puck that season," Hull said. "... When you play with Adam Oates, it sure makes it easy.

"If they hadn't gotten rid of Adam, how many goals could I have scored? He was the most underrated player to ever play the game, and outside of Gretzky, the smartest. He loved to pass the puck and he was extraordinarily gifted. We had such great chemistry; it was like a quarterback and his receiver knowing just where he is going to be. It really does bother me that they let him go. The numbers we could have put up would have been scary."

"Brett and I learned the (NHL) game together, learned what it was all about, in St. Louis," Oates said. "Hull was the MVP, the city appreciated hockey. We were turning the League on its ear, going in the right direction, but financially we were in tough shape and I got traded."

Oates agreed with Sutter that the pair had a rare knack together.

"I felt we had chemistry there right away," Oates said. "I can't say enough how much I enjoyed my time with him. He's a great guy, a very smart guy, a funny guy, a sarcastic guy and always good for a quote."

Did you notice that everyone quoted remarked on Hull's intelligence?

Hull was asked one time if it was true that he could do the New York Times crossword puzzle in seven minutes.

"On a slow day. Want to try me?" was his answer, competitive even in the hallway.