Backchecking: Dennis Hull
Dennis Hull had 303 goals and 604 points in 959 games in the NHL. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Backchecking: Dennis Hull
By David Salter
The future looked bleak for the Chicago Black Hawks entering 1972-73. They had qualified for the Stanley Cup final two years earlier, but their superstar, Bobby ‘The Golden Jet’ Hull, had signed with the World Hockey Association’s Winnipeg Jets in the summer and left a seemingly irreplaceable void in Chicago’s lineup.
Hull, 33 at the time, was fresh off his fifth 50-goal season and his absence would assuredly cause the Black Hawks to struggle offensively. Chicago’s attack took another hit in February 1973 when Stan Mikita broke a bone in his foot and was sidelined for a quarter of the season. But something strange happened: despite the absence of Hull, and to a lesser degree Mikita (who had 83 points in 57 games), the Black Hawks actually scored 28 more goals in 1972-73 than they did in 1971-72 and fought their way to their second Stanley Cup final appearance versus the Montreal Canadiens in three years.
Coincidentally, one of the biggest contributors to the Black Hawks’ surprising scoring surge was none other than the Golden Jet’s kid brother, 27-year-old Dennis. The younger Hull, along with linemates Pit Martin and Jim Pappin, carried the Hawks offense, as each hit the 90-point plateau, and Hull claimed second-team all-star status at left wing.
“Coming into the season, with Bobby gone, we thought the team would struggle (offensively) too,” said Hull, who scored 640 points in parts of 13 seasons with Chicago. “But our line got more ice time and we took full advantage. Before we had always played behind Bobby’s line and Stan’s line and now we were getting more ice time and our numbers went up.”
Hull also believes his participation in the Summit Series versus the Soviets sharpened his skills.
“Instead of having a typical training camp which is kind of lackadaisical, it was like being in the Stanley Cup final before the season started,” he said. “(Team Canada) players were at a high level when we came back from Moscow and it seemed to carry over.”
Always a strong playoff performer, Hull’s career year continued into the spring as he finished second in playoff scoring with 24 points, one behind the Montreal Canadiens’ Yvan Cournoyer. Although Chicago seemingly didn’t miss big brother Bobby’s scoring touch, Dennis admits Bobby’s presence in the lineup “probably” would have been enough to lift the Black Hawks to a Cup victory in 1973.
Dennis never reached the final again and says he would trade his victory over the Soviets for a Stanley Cup ring “any day.”
While Hull said the 12-month period starting in September of 1972 was the most memorable year of his career, his swan song with the Red Wings in 1977-78, when he had just 14 points in 55 games, was one he’d like to forget. Hull had retired from the Black Hawks in 1977, but was talked into joining the Red Wings by family friend Ted Lindsay, then Detroit’s GM.
“If I had to do it over, I never would have gone,” admitted Hull, adding his head wasn’t into the game in Detroit.
In his final days with Chicago, a jarring hit by Blues defenseman Barclay Plager caused Hull to flip over and land on his back, leaving his arms and legs numb for a short time.
“I had nightmares every night about it and when you’re thinking about something like that you can’t play,” Hull said. “It was stupid to try to play like that because you’re thinking about getting hit all the time,”
These days Hull is known more for his one-liners than one-timers. The 67-year-old is an after-dinner speaker throughout North America, averaging one gig a week. He has become so proficient telling jokes, he even hosted the Winnipeg Comedy Festival recently.
“I love it,” Hull said after a charity event in Nova Scotia for the Acadia University hockey team. “If I didn’t make it as a hockey player, I think I would have been a comedian years ago.”