Hull, Bobby

views updated May 18 2018

Bobby Hull


Canadian hockey player

One of the most dynamic players in the National Hockey League (NHL) in the 1960s, Bobby Hull earned the nickname "The Golden Jet" for his quick moves and solid shooting ability on the ice and his colorful personality off the ice. Setting numerous scoring records during his fifteen seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, Hull was the first player to win a contract paying him over $100,000 a year. He was also the first star player to be signed to the fledgling World Hockey Association (WHA) in 1972, another move that helped to shake up the staid management that characterized the sport at the time. Hull returned to a final season in the NHL in 1979-1980 but ended his career on a sour note as it coincided with some nasty headlines about his divorce from his wife of twenty years, Joanne McKay. The separation affected Hull's relationship with the couple's five children, one of whom, Brett Hull , would grow up to become a gifted NHL player in his own right. In his retirement Hull put most of energy into running his cattle ranching operations in Canada, but he remained an active commentator on the sport the made him famous and was frequently in the headlines for his blunt remarks.

Hockey Prodigy

Robert Marvin Hull, Jr. was born on January 3, 1939 in Point Anne, Ontario, Canada, where his father worked in a cement plant. The eldest son in a family of eleven children, Hull received a pair of ice skates as a Christmas present when he was three years old and took to the ice immediately. During his childhood he often cleared the ice so that he could skate on the frozen surface of the Bay of Quinte near his family's home. Before he had reached his teens Hull was playing alongside his father in a local amateur hockey league. His skills were so impressive that Bob Wilson, the head of scouting for the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks, signed the twelve-year-old to a contract committing him to the team. After playing for a juvenile-league team in Hesperer, Ontario in 1952, Hull joined the Blackhawks' junior-league affiliate in Woodstock, Ontario. He then spent the 1954-55 season playing for the Galt Black Hawks in the Ontario Hockey Association and the following two seasons with the St. Catherines Teepees in Ontario. He almost left the team after his coach, Rudy Pilous, told him to play left wing instead of center, which Hull perceived to be a demotion. After talking it over with his father, he decided to rejoin the team after missing four games over his protest.

At five feet, ten inches tall and weighing about 190 pounds, Hull was already an impressive figure on the ice as a teenager. Although he sported huge forearms and thighs and a barrel chest, Hull seemed to move faster on the ice than any of his opponents. His talent was on full display in 1956 when he was unexpectedly called to an exhibition game staged by the Blackhawks against the New York Islanders in St. Catherines. The high schooler scored two goals against the Islanders in the game. Desperate for new talentthe team had finished last in the league for the past four seasonsthe Blackhawks brought Hull to the NHL in 1957 and named Pilous head coach as well.

Top Scorer in NHL

The infusion of new talent into the Blackhawks' line up did not pay dividends at first. Hull had just thirteen goals in seventy games in his debut season in 1957-58. The next season he improved his record to eighteen goals in seventy games. The 1959-60 season proved to be the turning point in Hull's NHL career. Hull shared the goal-scoring title with thirty-nine goals and led the league in total points as his forty-two assists gave him an overall score of eighty-one points. Although Hull was plagued by a knee injury the following season, he managed to score thirty-one goals in sixty-seven games; more important, he helped the Blackhawks to win the NHL championship, symbolized by the Stanley Cup, in a four-to-two-game series over the Detroit Red Wings. It was the first such victory for the team since 1938; the team had not even made the finals since 1944. Now hailed as "The Golden Jet" for his rapid plays on the ice as well as for his blond good looks, the feat turned Hull into one of hockey's biggest stars.


1939Born January 3 in Point Anne, Ontario, Canada
1951Signs contract with Chicago Blackhawks
1957Begins playing for Chicago Blackhawks
1960, 1962, 1966Leads National Hockey League in scoring
1965Wins Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship in NHL
1965, 1967Wins Hart Trophy as NHL's Most Valuable Player
1967-69Leads National Hockey League in goals
1972Signs contract with World Hockey Association's (WHA) Winnepeg Jets
1973Named Most Valuable Player in WHA
1975Leads WHA in scoring
1975Named Most Valuable Player in WHA
1979Plays for Hartford Whalers in NHL
1981Retires from professional hockey

1960 was also a pivotal year in Hull's personal life. After a short-lived marriage as a teenager, Hull wed the former Joanne McKay, who had performed as an ice skater. The couple eventually had five children before divorcing in 1980. The latter event made headlines across North America for the allegations of adultery and spousal abuse leveled at Hull, including one incident that occurred in Hawaii in 1966. According to his wife, Hull had beaten her with a steel-heeled shoe before hanging her over a balcony ledge. She left him in 1970 but they reconciled and stayed together for another ten years. Joanne McKay Hull moved to Vancouver with their children and eventually remarried. After several years of estrangement, Hull started to rebuild his relationship with his children, who included NHL player Brett Hull. In 1984 Hull married for a third time; his marriage to Deborah Hull also made headlines when he was charged with assault and battery against his wife. The complaint was later withdrawn, but Hull pled guilty to a charge of assaulting a police officer who had come to make the initial arrest.

The NHL's Most Popular Player

Although the 1961 Stanley Cup was the only one the Blackhawks won during Hull's time with the team, his popularity eclipsed that of almost any other player in the NHL in the 1960s. His powerful slap shotonce clocked at 119 miles per hourled to another title of the league's top scorer in 1962, when he racked up fifty goals and eighty-four total points. That year the Black-hawks lost the Stanley Cup to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team returned to the finals again in 1965 and 1971, losing both times to the Montreal Canadiens.

Hull subsequently won the title of top goal scorer again in 1966 with fifty-four goals and ninety-seven total points. The achievement also shattered the record of total goals in a season, set by the Montreal Canadiens' Maurice Richard with fifty goals in 1945. Hull followed up an amazing season in 1966 with three more seasons when he led the league in goals, reaching a pinnacle with the fifty-eight goals of the 1968-69 season. A solid all-around player, Hull won the Hart Trophy as NHL's Most Valuable Player of the regular season in 1965 and 1966, as well as the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship in NHL in 1965.

Signs with World Hockey Association

It seemed that Hull had almost single-handedly revived the Blackhawks' fortunes and his salary climbed to $100,000 for the 1968-69 season. Yet he faced a series of battles with the team's owners. After investors started up a rival hockey league, the World Hockey Association (WHA), in 1972 to compete with the NHL, Hull was one of the first players they approached about the venture. "Going to the WHA was not one bit about money," Hull recalled in an interview with Sports Illustrated 's Allen Abel in 1998, "I had been at war with the Blackhawks' management for years. We hated each other." Still, when the WHA made an offer of a quarter million dollars a year, plus a one-million-dollar signing bonus, Hull thought the offer was bogus. "I thought it was a joke," he told Abel, "I pretended to go along with it, just to scare Chicago. Then my agent, Harvey Weinberg, said, 'Bobby, these guys are serious.'" The total value of the final contract with the WHA's Winnepeg Jets came to $1.75 million, which ensured the WHA a huge amount of advance publicity for the new league.

Career Statistics

Black Hawks: Chicago Black Hawks (NHL); Jets: Winnipeg Jets (WHA, later NHL); Whalers: Hartford Whalers (NHL).
1957-58Black Hawks7013344762
1958-59Black Hawks7018325050
1959-60Black Hawks7039428168
1960-61Black Hawks6731255643
1961-62Black Hawks7050348435
1962-63Black Hawks6531316227
1963-64Black Hawks7043448750
1964-65Black Hawks6139327132
1965-66Black Hawks6554439770
1966-67Black Hawks6652288052
1967-68Black Hawks71443175143936412.182
1968-69Black Hawks745849107-74841414.0202
1969-70Black Hawks61382967+20828913.1102
1970-71Black Hawks78445296+343237811.6110
1971-72Black Hawks78504393+542433614.983
NHL Totals10636105601170640
WHA Totals411303335638183

After sitting out several games when Chicago sued to prevent his departure, Hull joined the lineup of the Jets, where he remained for the next seven years. He won most valuable player honors in the 1972-73 and 1974-75 seasons and was widely regarded as the WHA's biggest star. Even Hull's popularity could not pull the entire WHA out of its management problems, however, and it folded in 1979. Four of its teams and dozens of its players were absorbed into the NHL, and Hull finished out his career playing for the league's Hartford Whalers in 1980. Now in his forties, Hull practiced with the New York Rangers in preparation for a comeback in 1981, but he did not make the team's final cut. In all he had played fifteen seasons with the NHL, seven seasons with the WHA, and one season split between the two leagues.

Controversy in Retirement

Hull completed his NHL career with 1,063 games, 610 goals, and 560 assists. His WHA statistics included 411 games, 303 goals, and 335 assists. As an offensive player with few peers, Hull was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983. That same year his son, Brett Hull, began playing for the Penticton Knights, the first step in a hockey career that would eventually take him to the Stanley Cup-winning Detroit Red Wings in 2002.

Retiring from his career as a professional athlete to manage his cattle ranching operations in Canada, Hull was often sought out for his comments as an elder statesman of hockey. The outspokenness that made him such a popular sports figure sometimes got him into trouble, however. While attending a hockey game in Moscow in 1998, the English-language Moscow Times printed an interview that quoted Hull as favorably evaluating the racial breeding practices of Adolf Hitler as well as making racist comments against African Americans. Hull insisted that he had not made the comments and that he had only been discussing his cattle ranching operations without any racist implications whatsoever. Whatever the truth of the event, it was widely reported in the North American press and tarnished Hull's image with some of his fans. Despite the controversy, Hull remained a sought-after figure on the fan circuit, where his autographed merchandise remained popular with generations of hockey followers.

Awards and Accomplishments

1960, 1962, 1966Art Ross Trophy as NHL's top scorer
1961Stanley Cup as NHL champions (Chicago Blackhawks)
1965Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship in NHL
1965-66Hart Trophy as NHL's Most Valuable Player
1973, 1975Most Valuable Player in WHA
1983Inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame

Related Biography: Team Owner Ben Hatskin

A native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Ben Hatskin was born in 1918 to parents who had emigrated from Russia. A standout football player in high school, he became one of the first Canadian students to win an athletic scholarship to an American university. He played for the Sooners at the University of Oklahoma but returned to Winnipeg to play for the Blue Bombers before he graduated from college. During World War II he began raising racehorses and his wealth grew as the Hatskin family invested in everything from lumber companies to juke box distributorships.

In 1967 Hatskin attempted to win an NHL franchise during the league's expansion. His bid failed, which fueled his desire to participate in a new, rival league, the WHA, in 1972. Hatskin knew that the credibility of the WHA depended on getting established hockey stars to join its teams. He aggressively sought out the services of Bobby Hull for his team, the Winnipeg Jets, and eventually signed Hull to a contract estimated to be worth at least $1.75 million.

Although it was one of the more successful teams in the WHA, Hatskin had to ask for a public subsidy to keep the financially troubled Jets alive after 1974. The team was absorbed into the NHL in 1979 and was purchased by Barry Shenkarow. At the end of the 1995-96 season Shenkarow sold the team to a consortium of Minneapolis businessmen, who ended up moving the team to Phoenix, where it was renamed the Coyotes. A few years later, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky bought an interest in the team and started working as its general manager. In Winnipeg, Hatskin is still remembered as visionary who performed a near-miracle in bringing a major-league sports franchise to a medium-sized city on the Canadian prairie.

A Pivotal Era in Hockey

Although contemporary NHL fans are more familiar with the impressive career of his son, Detroit Red Wings right wing Brett Hull, Bobby Hull retains his legendary status in the sport's history. Both on and off the ice, Hull instigated some fundamental changes in the way hockey was played and managed. As a player Hull transformed the sport into a game that emphasized offensive maneuvers, quick action, and scoring, in contrast to its former emphasis on a defensive game plan. Hull's salary demands also led to significant increases in the value of contracts earned by NHL players, particularly after he bolted to the WHA in 1972. Hull's media presence and popularity with his fans also helped to increase interest in the sport at a time when it was still limited to six teams. Without Hull's presence at a crucial juncture in the sport's history, it is questionable whether the NHL would have expanded to include its teams north of the Canadian border. For each of these reasons, Bobby Hull ranks as one of the most important hockey players of his, or indeed any, era in the sport.



Diamond, Dan. Hockey Hall of Fame: The Official Registry of the Game's Honour Roll. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1996.

Diamond, Dan, ed. Total Hockey: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Hockey League. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1998.

Jacobs, Jeff. Hockey Legends. New York: MetroBooks, 1995.


Abel, Allen. "When Hell Froze Over." Sports Illustrated (April 6, 1998): 98.

Davies, Tanya. "Was It Bigotry, or Animal Husbandry?" Maclean's (September 7, 1998): 48.

Friesen, Paul. "Hatskin Silenced Skeptics" Winnipeg Sun (December 30, 1999).

Jenish, D. "'Like Father, Like Son.'" Maclean's (March 18, 1991): 52.


Schwartz, Larry. "Hull Helped WHA into Hockey Family." ESPN Classic Web site. (October 24, 2002).

Sketch by Timothy Borden

Where Is He Now?

In retirement Bobby Hull splits his time between a home in Florida and his cattle ranching operations in eastern Ontario and New Brunswick. Hull also makes regular appearances at fan conventions, where he earns thousands of dollars signing memorabilia related to his legendary career. After a bitter divorce in 1980 from his wife of twenty years, Joanne McKay, Hull married Deborah Hull in 1984.

Hull was stung by the controversy surrounding his alleged racist remarks to a reporter in Russia in 1998. He claimed to have been misunderstood and misquoted but preferred not to prolong the affair by discussing the event in depth. Hull is especially proud of the NHL accomplishments of his son, Brett Hull, who currently plays for the Detroit Red Wings. "I want to see Brett in the Hockey Hall of Fame," he told Allen Abel of Sports Illustrated in April 1998, "And I want to see one of my grandsons follow suit."

Bobby Hull

views updated May 17 2018

Bobby Hull

Known as "The Golden Jet" for his blonde hair and speedy skating, Bobby Hull (born 1939) was the highest scoring left wing in the history of the National Hockey League (NHL). A member of the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL, and later the Winnipeg Jets of the upstart World Hockey Association (WHA), Hull demonstrated power, drive, and speed in his 23 years as a professional hockey player.

Robert Marvin Hull was born on January 3, 1939, in Pointe Anne, Ontario, a very small Canadian town of about 500 people. He was the eldest son in a family of 11 children, born to Robert Edward and Lena (maiden name, Cook) Hull. Among his siblings was younger brother Dennis William who later played professional hockey with his brother for the Chicago Blackhawks. Robert Hull had played minor league hockey for a few years, where he was known as "The Blond Flash." He supported his family by working as a laborer at the Canada Cement Company Plant No. 5.

Hull played hockey from a very young age, and grew passionate about the sport. He told Joe Sexton of The New York Times, "As a kid, I never walked from here to there, I didn't trot from here to there. I ran. And I couldn't wait for winter. My father would sometimes find me in the heat of summer standing in the house, sweating crazily. I just wanted the feel of it. Hockey became an obsession." By the age of ten, many thought Hull would play in the NHL. He went on to play junior hockey in Hespeler, Woodstock and St. Catharines, where his coach was Rudy Pilous, who would later coach him in the NHL.

Signed by the Blackhawks

In 1957, at the age of 18, Hull finally began his NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks. He started slowly, however. In his first two seasons, though he appeared in 70 games each season, he only scored a total of 31 goals. However, Hull did manage to score 34 assists in the 1957-58 season, and 32 in 1958-59. His goal total increased dramatically to 39 in the 1959-60 season, when Hull mastered the slapshot by increasing the curve on his stick. He was responsible for making the slapshot popular in the NHL. His slapshot was timed at 118.3 miles per hour. Goalie Les Binkley was quoted by Charles Wilkins in Hockey: The Illustrated History as saying, "When the puck left his stick, it looked like a pea. Then as it picked up speed it looked smaller and smaller. Then you didn't see it anymore." Hull's 39 goals won him the Art Ross Trophy for most goals in the 1959-60 season. Hull married former figure skater, Joanne McKay, in 1960. Together they had five children, Bobby Jr., Blake, Brett (who later had a stellar NHL career of his own), Bart, and Michelle.

In the 1960-61 season, Hull scored 31 goals and 25 assists for 56 total points in 67 games. More importantly, he was the key to Chicago's winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in 23 years. Hull had an outstanding playoff run. He scored four goals and 10 assists in 12 playoff games. Chicago's coach was Rudy Pilous, who had coached Hull in juniors. The keys to Hull's success lay in his natural abilities, his great skating and hard shot. He was one of the fastest skaters in the NHL, clocked at 29.7 miles per hour without puck and 28.3 with it. Though his slapshot was his fastest shot, Hull's wrist shot was timed at 105 mph while his backhand was at 96 mph. Hull was also entertaining on the ice, much to the delight of Chicago fans. Joe Sexton of The New York Times wrote, "Bobby Hull was a swift-skating left wing who manufactured goals with his sheer mania for work, as well as his volcanic blast of a slap shot. And if he lost the majority of his teeth plowing through defenses, he never lost face."

Hull's abilities continued to shine in 1960-61 when he scored 50 goals, equaling the NHL record for most goals in a season. Hull won his second Art Ross Trophy for his effort. Though his goal total only broke 40 once in the next three seasons-in 1963-64 when he scored 43-Hull was one of the most dominant players in the NHL. In the 1964-65 season, though he only scored 39 goals and 32 assists in 67 games, Hull led the Blackhawks to a spectacular post-season. Though the team did not win the Stanley Cup, Hull scored 10 goals and seven assists in 14 games. At the end of the season, Hull was named the most valuable player in the NHL, winning the Hart Memorial Trophy. He also won the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsman-like conduct. Of this time, D'Arcy Jenish of Maclean's wrote, "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 rinklong rushes and intimidated goalies with a fearsome slapshot."

Set League Scoring Record Twice

In the 1965-66 season, Hull became the first player in the NHL to break the 50 goals barrier, when he scored 54 goals. He also had 43 assists. For his effort, Hull won two major awards: his third Art Ross Trophy, for scoring and his second Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL's Most Valuable Player. Hull topped 50 goals again the next season, 1966-67, with 52. Though he had a slightly off year in 1967-68, scoring only 44 goals and 31 assists in 71 games, Hull held out for more money at the beginning of the 1968-69 season. He wanted to be paid $100,000 for the season, which was unheard of at the time. After sitting out 11 games, Hull settled for $60,000 and was forced by team management to apologize publicly. Hull proved his worth however. He broke his own record for most goals in a season by scoring 58. With his 49 assists, Hull scored over 107 points on the season, the only time he would accomplish this in the NHL. At the end of the season, Hull was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey.

One hallmark of Hull's career was his tendency towards outspokenness. Though Hull had one mediocre year, 1969-70 (only 38 goals and 20 assists in 61 games), followed by a decent year, 1970-71 (44 goals and 52 assists in 78 games), Hull threatened to organize a strike during the 1971 playoffs. The league was considering the banning of curved sticks like the ones Hull favored and popularized. Hull threatened to sit out of the playoffs, and get other players to join him if this ban passed. However a compromise was reached, and curves of up to one-half inch were allowed. Hull went on to have the best playoffs of his career, in terms of points. In 18 games, he had 11 goals and 14 assists, but the Blackhawks failed to win the Stanley Cup.

Defected to World Hockey Association

Money again became an issue for Hull before the 1972 season began. He wanted more money from the Black-hawks, but they would not give it to him. Jack Kent Cooke, the owner of another NHL team, the Los Angeles Kings, was interested in acquiring Hull, if the Blackhawks wanted to trade him. Hull later told Jim Proudfoot of The Toronto Star, "I've always felt things would have turned out differently if they'd have kept me or even sent me to L.A. There mightn't have been a WHA. And you know what? Ego and greed prompted that decision." But Hull had been intensely pursued by a new professional hockey league, the World Hockey Association (WHA). Founded by lawyers, the WHA believed it needed a star of Hull's caliber if it was to succeed.

When Hull talked to the WHA's Winnipeg Jets, he made an off-the-cuff remark about wanting $1 million up front in case the WHA folded. He did not believe he would actually get that amount. But when the Jets offered him a salary of $1 million signing bonus, $1 million salary over four years, and a $100,000 a year for six years to work for six years with the team's management, Hull left the NHL. His defection gave the league the instant credibility it needed. His contract had a secondary effect, causing a massive increase in players' salaries in both the WHA and NHL. In addition, the NHL spent millions fighting the very existence of the WHA in court.

Hull had some of the best scoring years of his career in Winnipeg. In each of his first four seasons, he scored more than 50 goals. In the 15 years Hull played in Chicago, he only had five seasons in which he scored more than 50 goals. In his first season, 1972-73, Hull missed 20 games, yet scored 51 goals and 52 assists for 103 points in the 63 games he did appear in. In the 1974-75 season, Hull scored 77 goals in 78 games, and was named league most valuable player, as he had been the previous season. This was the best season of Hull's WHA career. The following year he only played in 34 games, though he managed to accumulate 53 points. In 1977-78, Hull played in 77 games, but only scored 46 goals and 71 assists.

Retired from National Hockey League

The WHA could not sustain itself, and several teams, including the Winnipeg Jets, folded into the NHL at the beginning of the 1979-80 season. Hull remained with the team, but played in only 18 games before being traded to another old WHA team, the Hartford Whalers. Hull appeared in nine regular season games, and three post-season tilts, before being released. At the time, Hull had been going through a very bitter and public divorce from his wife, Joanne. Among other claims, Joanne Hull accused him of being physically abusive. After the divorce was finalized in June 1980, she took the children and moved to Vancouver. Hull did not see his children for a decade. His personal life in shambles, Hull tried to restart his hockey career with the New York Rangers. He attended their 1980 training camp, but was cut from the team. Hull had played professional hockey for 23 years.

When he retired, Hull was second only to hockey legend Gordie Howe in goals and total points scored. In his 15 NHL seasons, Hull had scored a total of 610 goals and 1170 total points, making him the highest scoring left wing in history at the time. His WHA numbers were no less impressive. In 330 games, he scored 255 goals and 515 total points. After his retirement, Hull spent much of time running cattle ranches in Saskatchewan and Bellville, Ontario, and served as president of Bobby Hull Enterprises. He also worked as a commentator for the Canadian television broadcast Hockey Night in Canada for many years beginning in 1982. Hull was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.

Hull continued to set NHL records even after his retirement. When son Brett became a major talent in the NHL in the late 1980s and 1990s, they became the only father and son duo to score 500 goals and 1000 points in the history of the league. Goalie Lorne (Gump) Worsely told Joe Sexton of The New York Times, "[W]hat goalies are afraid of is being scored on. Against guys like Bobby Hull or his son, you find yourself standing there waiting for them to leave the ice, then waiting for them to come back on. And when they are on, even if they don't have the puck, they are going to get it, and you know it. Thank God, they only come on once in a while."

Further Reading

The Canadian Encyclopedia, second edition, Hurtig Publishers, 1988.

Canadian Who's Who: 1996, edited by Elizabeth Lumley, University of Toronto Press, 1996.

Diamond, Dan and Joseph Romain, Hockey Hall of Fame: The Official History of the Game and Its Greatest Stars, Doubleday, 1988.

Fischeler, Stan, and Shirley Walton Fischler, The Hockey Encyclopedia: The Complete Record of Professional Ice Hockey, MacMillan, 1983.

Hickok, Ralph, The Encyclopedia of North American Sports History, Facts on File, 1992.

Hickok, Ralph, Who's Who of Sports Champions: Their Stories and Records, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995.

Kariher, Harry C., Who's Who in Hockey, Arlington House, 1973.

Wilkins, Charles, Hockey: The Illustrated History, Doubleday &Company, Inc., 1985.

Arizona Republic, February 21, 1999.

Maclean's, March 18, 1991, p. 52.

The New York Times, January 8, 1990; March 10, 1991; December 8, 1991.

Ottawa Citizen, December 30, 1997.

Sports Illustrated, December 25, 1989, p. 144.

The Toronto Star, March 21, 1996; July 12, 1999. □