Few of the game's superstars could match the physical talents of Bobby Hull. The Golden Jet combined speed, a feared slapshot and a powerful physique to rise to the elite of the NHL in the 1960s. Depending on the source, his shot was timed at approximately 120 miles per hour. His powerful legs never stopped moving and his muscular upper body enabled him to handle the rough side of the game. Hull was a legend in Chicago and later enjoyed success in the World Hockey Association and on the international stage while representing Canada.
Hull grew up on a farm near Belleville, Ontario, two hours east of Toronto. From a young age it was apparent that his raw talent was exceptional. He moved rapidly through the minor hockey system and was signed by the Chicago Black Hawks organization. As a 15-year-old, he played a handful of games with the Galt Black Hawks of the OHA and didn't look out of place.
The Hawks next moved Hull up to the main junior affiliate, the OHA's St. Catharines Teepees. During his second year, in 1956-57, Hull scored 16 points in 13 playoff matches for the Garden City team. A few months later, he put two pucks past New York Rangers goalie Gump Worsley in a pre-season game to launch one of the greatest of NHL careers.
Hull's highly anticipated regular-season debut came in 1957-58. He didn't disappoint the Hawks' fans and brass and turned in a fine 47-point effort that year to finish runner-up to Toronto's Frank Mahovlich in the Calder Trophy voting at the end of the season. Hull improved by three points in his sophomore year before breaking out in 1959-60 with a league-high 39 goals and 81 points. Teamed with Bill Hay and Murray Balfour on the Million Dollar Line, Hull won the Art Ross Trophy and earned a place on the NHL First All-Star Team.
More important, the young star helped resurrect the fortunes of a struggling franchise. Prior to his arrival, Chicago had missed the playoffs 11 out of the previous 12 seasons. The atmosphere around the organization was dismal and the once proud fans stayed away in droves. Hull's arrival along with Stan Mikita helped rekindle the spark within the franchise and raised the team's profile among the sports fans of the Windy City.
Together with teammate Mikita, Hull developed the curved hockey stick, which gave the shooter more velocity and caused the puck to move differently at times. And what goalies throughout the league didn't need was the most feared shot in the NHL behaving like a curve ball.
The 1960-61 regular season was somewhat of a letdown for Hull individually, but in the post-season he scored 14 points in 12 games as Chicago won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1938. The next year he became the third player in league history to score 50 goals in a season.
In 1964-65, despite missing nine games due to injury, the Golden Jet scored 39 goals and helped Chicago reach the Stanley Cup finals, where they lost out to Montreal. At season's end he was awarded the Hart and Lady Byng trophies. The following season he set an NHL record with 54 goals and repeated as the Hart Trophy winner.
In 1966-67, Hull's 52 goals helped Chicago win its first regular-season championship since coach Pete Muldoon cursed the team after he was fired in 1938. Their march to the Stanley Cup was cut short in the semifinals by the Toronto Maple Leafs under Punch Imlach.
Hull scored 44 goals during the first expansion season, then followed up with a record-breaking performance in 1968-69. His 58 goals set a single-season record that fans thought would last many years. As it turned out, Boston's Phil Esposito hit the back of the net 76 times two years later. In January 1970, Hull was named by the Associated Press as the top NHL player of the 1960s.
While Esposito was leading the Bruins through a magical regular season in 1970-71, the Hawks were led by Hull's 44 goals and captured the West Division crown. On February 14, 1971, he scored twice against the Vancouver Canucks to surpass Maurice Richard for second place on the NHL's all-time goal-scoring list. Hull then embarked on the most productive post-season of his career with 11 goals and 25 points in 18 games as Chicago came within one period of winning the Stanley Cup. Leading 2-1 late in the second period of game seven, the Hawks couldn't hold the lead and lost 3-2 in front of a disappointed home crowd. One of the indelible images of this final game was the Habs' lanky netminder, Ken Dryden, using his long reach to foil a sure goal by Hull.
In 1971-72, Hull hit the 50-goal mark for the fifth time in his career, playing with Pit Martin and Chico Maki. At this stage of his career, many observers noted that he was playing his most well-rounded hockey ever. Ironically, this complete version of Bobby Hull was the last NHL fans would see of him for several years.
In February 1972, an ominous event in the form of the World Hockey Association General Player Draft took place. The Winnipeg Jets selected Hull and a few months later shocked the hockey world by signing him to the first $1 million contract in hockey history.
This turn of events was the major coup needed by the WHA to legitimize itself. The NHL was bitter and exacted revenge on the Golden Jet by blocking his participation on behalf of Canada in the 1972 Summit Series versus the Soviets. When Hull left the NHL, his 604 goals ranked him second in league history to Gordie Howe.
Overall, Hull's play in the Manitoba capital helped the Jets become a major success in the new league, but the adjustment took its toll as he developed ulcers in response to the stress of playing several games on consecutive nights under conditions that were quite poor compared to the NHL.
Hull soon formed one of the top forward lines anywhere in the world with Swedes Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. The 1974-75 season was particularly special as he finally had a chance to compete against the Soviets in the second Canada-USSR series at the start of the year. He also went on to score 77 goals for Winnipeg in the regular season to establish a new record for a professional league. Hull's play was an integral part of the Jets' Avco Cup wins in 1976, 1978 and 1979. In 1973 and 1975 he was chosen the most valuable player in the WHA.
Prior to the 1976-77 WHA season, Hull was allowed to compete for his country in the inaugural Canada Cup tournament. He was Canada's top-scoring forward and consistently dished out punishing yet clean bodychecks. If this tournament was the highlight of Bobby Orr's career, it was also unquestionably Hull's one chance to shine in a competition featuring the top players from around the globe.
Following the NHL/WHA merger in 1979, Hull remained with the Jets for 18 games in the 1979-80 season before a trade brought him to the Hartford Whalers to play alongside Gordie Howe. He retired after that season with 610 goals in 1,063 regular-season games. Hull took his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983 along with old teammate Stan Mikita. Following his career, he worked full-time in the cattle ranching business, a field in which he had a lifetime of experience.