Former Blackhawks great Bobby Hull dies at 84
The Blackhawks and their fans lost one of the franchise's greatest and most iconic players Monday morning with the passing of legendary forward Bobby Hull.
The team's all-time leading goal scorer died at the age of 84. No cause of death is yet available.
The controversial Hull, who possessed a howitzer of a shot that allowed him to score 610 NHL goals, broke into the league in the 1957-58 season. He scored 30 or more goals for 13 consecutive seasons then left for the World Hockey Association in 1972 when the Winnipeg Jets agreed to pay him $1 million.
Hull teamed up with good friend Stan Mikita and helped lead the Hawks to a Stanley Cup title in 1961.
Hull also became the first player to score more than 50 goals in a season on March 12, 1966, and finished with 54 goals.
"Bobby Hull will always be remembered as one of the greatest Blackhawks players of all time," Hawks owner Rocky Wirtz said in a statement. "He was a beloved member of the Blackhawks family.
"When I assumed leadership of the organization upon my father's passing in 2007, one of my first priorities was to meet with Bobby to convince him to come back as an ambassador of the team. His connection to our fans was special and irreplaceable."
Known as the Golden Jet, the blond-haired Hull was born Jan. 3, 1939, in Pointe Anne, Ontario. He befriended Mikita in the late 1940s, and the two stayed close until Mikita passed away in August 2018.
"I've known Bobby my whole life and I didn't know him as a hockey player," said Jane Mikita Gneiser, one of Stan's four children. "We knew him as dad's friend -- which is a different perspective than most people probably have. I mean, he was great. He was charismatic. He was charming and he was a loyal friend.
"You'd be really lucky to have that in your life if you could have a friend like that -- and Bobby and my dad were buddies."
Hull scored 604 goals for the Hawks and 6 when he returned to the NHL with Winnipeg and Hartford in 1979-80. Hull scored 303 times with the Jets in the WHA from 1972-79.
Bobby's son, Brett, also played in the NHL. Both won the Hart Trophy as league MVP during their careers, becoming the first father-son duo to accomplish the feat.
Hull is still the Hawks franchise leader in regular-season and playoff goals. His 1,153 points rank second behind Mikita's 1,467.
In 1961, the Hawks claimed the Stanley Cup by defeating the Detroit Red Wings in six games. Hull had 2 goals and 5 assists in the series.
Ten years later, the Hawks were poised to claim another title when they grabbed a 2-0 lead over Montreal in Game 7 of the Final at the Chicago Stadium. The Cup was a tantalizing 30 minutes away, but after Hull had a shot hit the crossbar that would have made it 3-0, the Canadiens' Jacques Lemaire rifled a shot from center ice that somehow eluded goalie Tony Esposito.
"The puck dove like a knuckleball and unfortunately Tony didn't see it dropping," Mikita said in 2007. "I never blamed Tony for missing it because he put us in the finals like most good goaltenders do."
Henri Richard scored the next two goals to hand the Canadiens the Cup over the stunned Hawks.
Hull had his No. 9 sweater retired in 1983, but was all but ignored by the Hawks for more than two decades.
Then, in 2010, Hull and Mikita were made Blackhawks ambassadors by Wirtz and then-President John McDonough.
Hull said he negotiated the terms and made darn sure Mikita received the exact same compensation.
After accepting the deal, Hull called Mikita, who told him: "Christ, I should have let you negotiate for me my whole career!"
Bringing Hull and Mikita back into the fold -- and later adding Tony Esposito and Denis Savard -- helped heal the gaping wounds that existed for much of the fan base.
A major change was made last season, however, when Hull was removed from the role. Hull was notified of the decision by phone.
"This is the only time I've ever been let go from any job I've ever been in," Hull told the Daily Herald in an interview at the Palace Grill in Chicago. "It's a little bit disappointing. I thought we ambassadors were doing a good job with the fans."
Hull, who had some troubling off-ice incidents over the years, believed the Hawks made the decision to "cover up their shortcomings" in the wake of the Brad Aldrich sexual abuse scandal.
"Maybe I was used as a scapegoat," said Hull, who was convicted of assaulting a police officer who was trying to arrest him during a fight with his wife in 1986. "They brought up things that happened 50 years ago to cover up their shortcomings with this pedophile."
Hull was accused of spousal abuse and also quoted by a Russian newspaper in 1998 saying that Adolf Hitler "had some good ideas" and that the black community in the U.S. was growing too quickly. He vehemently denied those quotes in a statement published by the L.A. Times, saying he was "deeply offended" by those "false statements."
Hull didn't want to discuss the subject last year.
Hull was often at the Palace Grill signing pictures, pucks and sticks as well as taking photographs with fans. He'd sit at a table in the corner and strike up conversation with anyone who wanted to talk about the old days.
"He was always very gracious and never turned down a fan for an autograph or photo," owner George Lemperis said. "And a very funny man. We laughed and laughed."
Mikita Gneiser also recalls countless times when Hull would engage with star-struck fans, young and old.
"He would stay until the last person in line got an autograph," Mikita Gneiser said. "And he would engage and talk to them and tell a quick, little story. He was a professional. He was really good at it.
"He was great with the fans and that's probably why he was so loved."
As for his past transgressions, Hull understood some may hold them against him.
But for those he entertained all those years ago, he knows he left an indelible mark.
"I think I've made a reputation while I was here as a player that a lot of those people during those 15 years can't forget," Hull said. "I entertained them royally for 15 years.
"Those who were upset, that's OK. They have their rights.
"But the people that weren't upset, if you canvass them, you'd have found out how much I meant to that group -- teenagers or young 20s in the (1950s). They're 75 or 80 now.
"They'd tell you what they thought."
By the numbersBobby Hull's ranks in Blackhawks history:
Stat, number Rank
Goals, 604 1st
Assists, 549 5th
Points, 1,153 3rd
Note: Hull finished with 610 goals, 560 assists and 1,170 points after playing 27 games for Winnipeg and Hartford in 1979-80
50-goal seasons: 5
30-goal seaosns: 13
Hart Trophies (MVP) 2
Led NHL in goals 7
Led NHL in points 3
All-Star Games 12
NHL playoff statistics:Games 119