Behold, the Golden Brett. There he was last Friday, skating around the Duluth Arena at an optional game-day workout. Without his mask and helmet, Brett Hull, a sophomore right wing at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, looks like a recasting of his famous father Bobby, a.k.a. the Golden Jet, the best left wing ever and a man who, in 23 seasons with Chicago, Winnipeg and Hartford between 1957 and 1980, scored 913 goals. Most were made with a shot that many call the hardest in the game.
Now look at his 21-year-old son out there with his blond hair flying, thick legs pumping furiously out of a wide-track stance, skating two-thirds the length of the ice before unloading a shot. As in the shot. Déj√†-VROOM. His father's shot. The slap shot: stick shaft bending as the blade hits the ice, the puck rising off the stick, gaining speed like a jet fighter on takeoff until it clangs off the crossbar into the empty net.
"Intimidating," is the way UMD coach Mike Sertich describes the hardest shot in college hockey and the main reason why Brett, the Incredible Hull, as he has been nicknamed, leads all NCAA scorers with 27 goals and 46 points through 20 games. On Friday, Hull heated up frigid Duluth with two goals in the Bulldogs' 5-4 win over Colorado College. With points in 18 of 20 games, a school-record seven career hat tricks (a season-record four this year) and a team-leading 10 goals on the power play, Hull is scoring consistently enough to live up to another of his nicknames: The Great Brettzky.
Moreover, his skating—weak when he was drafted in the sixth round by Calgary in 1984—is improved, thanks to Sertich's use of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team's skating program. But, as in the case of his father, Hull's chief asset remains the quickness, accuracy and power of his shot. "His father must have taught him that. I sure as hell didn't," says Sertich.
Bobby did teach him. "Dad told me, 'Lean on your stick, keep your weight over the puck and shoot off the outside foot,' " says Brett of the hours he spent practicing with his father. "And no one ever shot harder than Dad."
But Brett, a righthanded shot, whereas his father shot left, comes close. He gets so much of his 200 pounds into his shot that earlier this season he routinely broke two to three sticks a day until he switched to the supposedly unbreakable metal-shafted sticks. Now he only snaps about two shafts a week. It's a small price to pay for the goals he gets.
When Hull's parents went through an acrimonious divorce in '79, Brett, along with his older brothers Bob Jr. and Blake, younger brother Bart and sister Michelle, moved to Vancouver with his mother, Joanne. There were few contacts with their father. "It was tough. I guess I felt a little rejected," says Brett, who at times wondered if his father would ever see him play. There wasn't a whole lot to see. After finishing midget hockey in 1982, an overweight and reportedly lazy Hull discovered there were no junior teams interested in him. He decided to quit hockey.
"He would have been a very unhappy boy if he had; hockey's in his heart," says Joanne. Eventually Brett tried out for the Penticton (British Columbia) Knights. He made the team, lost weight and, in his second year, scored a league-record 105 goals. Brett followed that with 32 goals, 60 points and Western Collegiate Hockey Association Freshman of the Year honors last season at UMD. But there was still no sign of Bobby. It wasn't until an NCAA quarterfinal game against Harvard last March in Duluth that the Golden Jet himself saw his son play for what Brett says was "the first time since pee wees or bantams."
"You could see Brett light up when he heard his dad was coming," says his roommate, Matt Christensen. Indeed, though he had to straddle the domestic blue line for years—"you can't live in Mom's house and be taking Dad's side," he says—Brett, while close to his mother, missed his father. As a freshman at UMD he had asked for jersey No. 9, his father's number, but it was the school's only retired number, so Brett settled for 29. Once on a change of planes in Chicago, where Bobby lives, Brett had tried to look up his phone number, only to discover it was unlisted. Even now, in Brett's dressing stall, stuck in the lower right corner of the frame of his UMD publicity photo, is a trading card of his father. "It [Brett's relationship with his father] is a tender area," says Sertich, who adds that when the younger Hull first came to Duluth, "I sensed a lot of hurt reaching out for a lot of help."
Help has been forthcoming in the thawing relationship with Bobby. In late November the elder Hull and his wife, Debbie (both of Brett's parents have remarried), showed up in Duluth to see him play a weekend series against Boston University. He scored two goals in each game. Afterward, Brett went to dinner with his father. "Dad said he'd like to see me play a little more like him. You know how he used to let them bring the puck out and then move in behind the play for the shot? I can't play that way. I have to make things happen."
But what did the old man think of the way you do play? "I don't know," says Brett. "I'd like to know."
O.K., we'll tell you, Brett. "He shoots the puck as well as anyone I've ever seen shoot it. He can shoot it from there to Lake Michigan.... I'm impressed with his fundamentals. He carries himself somewhat the way I did, and he has great action in his hands."
As for the estrangement from his son after the divorce, Bobby says, "You don't need day-to-day contact, month-to-month contact or even year-to-year contact. I believe in genetics. Brett knew I was always behind him."
Maybe so, but it doesn't hurt to hear it. When Brett was told of his father's scouting report on him, he broke into that deep-dimpled Hullian grin.