Wild, Wild West In a diary kept for SI, Brett Hull tells how defense, weird shots and Ricky Martin music (ugh!) played roles in Dallas's now up, now down conference finals against Colorado

June 06, 1999

Saturday, May 22

Before tonight's game, the opener of the Western Conference
finals against the Colorado Avalanche, I'm thinking, Colorado
has won four straight on the road and is going to try to steal
one in our building to take away our home ice advantage. So it's
important for us to get a quick lead. And we did. In the first
period I scored just like we drew it up. We brought the puck
into center ice, I dumped it in, and from there Mike Modano, my
center, forced the Avs' D into a turnover while Patrick Roy,
their goalie, was out of the net pursuing the puck. I was the
third man high and gave Mike a quick yell. He put it on my
stick, and just like that it was 1-0.

After Peter Forsberg scored to tie the game in the second, we
played the third period almost as if it were overtime. With
about six minutes left the Avalanche's Valeri Kamensky scored a
fluke goal that went off the stick of Modano and past Eddie
Belfour. That was the final: 2-1.

I don't think anyone thought this was going to be a high-scoring
series, but when your goalie lets in only two, you'd like to
win. Eddie played great. We've got to score some goals for him.
It's just one game of a best-of-seven, but we've got to regroup.

Sunday, May 23

We looked at some videotape today, and Ken Hitchcock, our coach,
reiterated the No. 1 thing we have to do: Get the puck in deep.
We can't turn it over at their blue line and allow their skill
players like Forsberg and Joe Sakic to lead odd-man rushes the
other way. That's when Colorado is most dangerous. We want to
keep the play going north, throw the puck in, keep the Avs' D
turning back and then relentlessly forecheck. That's our style.
The ice at Reunion Arena sucks--slow, snowy, chippy--the worst
imaginable scenario. It affects shooting, skating, passing. So
we've got to grind and battle for position in front of both nets.
The more we can keep Colorado in its end, the better off we're
going to be.

When I came to Dallas last summer as a free agent, that style of
play was an adjustment for me. I had to alter my game. At first
it was tough to remember to check here and check there and not
worry about goals. When I was back in St. Louis, with the Blues,
everyone said I was a one-dimensional guy who could score goals
and do nothing else. To come here, fit in and still put up decent
numbers--+19, 32 goals and 58 points in 60 games, while playing
solid defense on a line that often goes up against the other
team's top scoring line--well, it's nice to prove everyone wrong.
Really nice.

The Stars are committed to winning. In St. Louis, where I played
for 11 years, the team was only interested in being competitive.
That's the difference. Dallas has a great general manager in Bob
Gainey, who sees the big picture. The players are so tight with
each other because management has kept the nucleus together
instead of making 50 trades and trying to fix things in a
patchwork way. The Stars' approach: Let the players grow together
and have good drafts.

The Eastern Conference finals between the Buffalo Sabres and the
Toronto Maple Leafs start today, but I won't watch. I don't like
watching hockey. When I get home, I've got three kids between 11
months and five years who keep me pretty busy. Jude, my
five-year-old boy, isn't partial to the Stars. He's still a Blues
fan. His favorite players are Grant Fuhr and Wayne Gretzky. He
came up to me at breakfast this morning and said, "Daddy, I know
who won last night."

"Yeah? Who?"

"The Avalanches." There was no remorse in his voice.

Monday, May 24

We knew we couldn't go to Colorado down 2-0, so tonight was do or
die, and we played almost perfect hockey. We were more intense
than we had been on Saturday, and we outshot the Avalanche 45-19
in a 4-2 win. The game was tied 2-2 going into the third period,
which we dominated, outshooting Colorado 15-1. Even when we had a
goal disallowed, we didn't let down. As a player, you know when
you're in a good hockey game--fast pace, pinpoint passing, hard
hitting--and this one was fabulous. If the league could bottle
this, it would be a lot better off.

We finally got a power-play goal when Modano scored off a nice
pass from Sergei Zubov. We're only 6 for 61 on power plays so far
in the playoffs, and while people say we're struggling, we don't
look at it that way. Sometimes the puck's going to go in, and
sometimes it isn't. We're working hard, moving the puck and
getting good shots, which keeps the bench fired up. That's
important. I had 11 shots on goal tonight, a number of them
during power plays. That means I'm moving well in the offensive
zone, creating turnovers and getting myself in a position to
score.

I don't have a book on Roy. I don't really believe in keeping a
book on any goalie. I get my chances, take a look and shoot as
hard as I can. If you shoot the puck on goal, it can go in. It
can hit a skate, it can hit anything. You don't always have time
to pick your spot. You just put it on the net.

In the first round, against the Edmonton Oilers, I went four
straight games without a goal. I was bitching about how bad I
was, and before the next round against St. Louis someone put baby
powder, Vaseline and lotion in my locker with instructions on how
to rub it on my hands to soften them. I don't know who was behind
the joke, but I have an idea: [linemate] Jere Lehtinen.

Tuesday, May 25

On the plane to Denver today I was giving it to Modano because
he'd insisted that we put that new Ricky Martin song on our
warmup tape again last night. I can't take that. I'm a classic
rock-and-roller. If I had my way, we'd listen to Bob Dylan and
Neil Young during warmup. My wife, Alison, and I named our
younger girl Crosby after David Crosby. After I heard that tape
the first time on Saturday, I went to our p.r. guy, Larry Kelly,
and told him to get Ricky Martin off. You need hard-driving
music before a game. Then last night, first thing I hear is that
song again. So I said to Kelly, "I gave you one simple job," and
he says, "I took it out, but Modano made me put it back in."
Ricky Martin used to be in Menudo, for god's sake. That song's
gone, or Modano's gone. There are only two guys on the team who
will even listen to it. I think Modano must be a little light in
the loafers.

Wednesday, May 26

We got home ice advantage back again. The keys to our 3-0 win
were the same ones we've been talking about: Get the puck in
deep, forecheck and don't let Colorado come at us with odd-man
rushes. Of course, great goaltending by Belfour cures
everything. It's like chicken soup.

Joe Nieuwendyk's line scored all three goals, but it doesn't
matter if the Modano line scores, or the Nieuwendyk line, or the
Guy Carbonneau line. We all go out and do the same thing: We
frustrate people. I don't know how many times this year players
on other teams have skated up to me and said, "Will you give us
some room here?"

Thursday, May 27

Patty Verbeek and I switched sticks toward the end of practice
today, and it was pretty funny. If there were ever two sticks
that were dead opposite, they're ours. There's no way I could
handle his, which is stiff as a two-by-four, and he sure couldn't
handle mine. He said it was like spaghetti. It's graphite. I like
it whippy because that's how I shoot. It's like golf. I let the
club do the work; I don't do the work myself.

I haven't been sleeping well. Nerves? I guarantee it. Anxiety,
always thinking about the game and what's next. It sucks because
I'm trying to rest and my mind is racing, but I don't want to get
ahead of myself because we've got such a battle on our hands
against the Avalanche, but I think, Wow, if we win this series,
then we only need four more wins, and I start thinking about the
Stanley Cup, and my mind starts reeling, and I can't sleep a
wink. It's brutal.

Friday, May 28

No one said it was going to be a short series. We got away from
our game plan tonight and gave Colorado too many odd-man rushes
and offensive chances. We fell behind 2-0 in the first 4:54 but
hung in to make a game of it. Jamie Langenbrunner scored a
power-play goal in the second period to cut the lead in half, and
in the last part of the third period Coach had me playing on
Nieuwendyk's line to try to get something going. Sometimes it
works, sometimes it doesn't. This time the strategy worked. I
tied the game with 3:53 to play. The goal was set up because of
good forechecking by Langenbrunner and Nieuwendyk. I controlled a
bouncing puck and shot it as hard as I could. I didn't really
look for a spot. I just wanted to get it on net, and fortunately
it went in the five hole.

In the overtime both teams had their chances, but Colorado rookie
Chris Drury scored in the last minute of OT to tie the series
2-2. It was disappointing to lose after battling back, but it's
not as if we're down. Now we go back to Dallas with home ice
advantage.

Someone told me the goal I scored tied me with Henri Richard and
my dad, Bobby, on the career playoff points list, with 129.
That's pretty good company. My dad hasn't been to any of these
games. He knows the last thing we need is a lot of distractions.
He doesn't need to call. I know he's there.

Saturday, May 29

Now it's a two-out-of-three series. I feel good. It's been
fantastic, every game. For the most part it's been real
clean--hockey the way it's supposed to be played, teams with
contrasting styles battling head-to-head. Both clubs had 45 shots
last night, but many of the Avalanche's came off the rush, and
many of ours came from battling down low and in the corners.

We had another power-play meeting, and the word was for us to
keep battling. That's all we can do. Try to penetrate the forces.
Hitchcock is a war buff and uses military analogies a lot. As a
communicator, he's deep, so when he talks to you it takes awhile
to figure out his language. But once you do, it makes sense. He's
a relentless worker, all X's and O's. He won't quit until he's
found a way to beat a team. He's easy to get along with, not one
of those guys who holds grudges. If you have a bad game, he lets
you know it, but he doesn't hold it against you. He knows you're
human. And he's very excitable behind the bench.

I hate to sound overconfident, but if you're not confident, you
can't play well. With the way our guys are playing and the way
the series has gone, I like our position.

Sunday, May 30

Christ, that was unbelievable. Colorado beat us 7-5 in our
building to go up three games to two. You're not going to win
giving up seven goals. It's not as if they were scoring from
center ice, so you can't blame Belfour. They only had 26 shots,
but most of those were quality chances. We were just terrible
defensively. None of us can remember the last time we gave up
that many goals in a game.

I got a power-play goal about halfway through the third period to
cut the Avalanche's lead to 5-4, and then Verbeek tied it on a
wraparound a minute and a half later. The crowd went crazy--the
fans were really into it. Then bang, we gave up another one to
Drury two minutes later, his second of the game. I'll say one
thing: You get five goals against Roy in a playoff game, you
better come out with a victory.

The series isn't over. We're going back to Colorado for Game 6.
We've beaten the Avalanche twice in a row already this series. We
can't look back and feel sorry for ourselves. We just have to
say, Hey, we've won millions of road games; let's just win one
more. And if we get the series back to Dallas for Game 7, I don't
think we'll make that same mistake twice.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO HAT TRICK Derian Hatcher flipped his lid in Game 4 while sticking it to Forsberg. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO SHOOTING STAR Hull has had to temper his offense to fit in with Dallas, but he drilled 11 shots in the 4-2 Game 2 win that tied the series. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO CLOSE SHAVE Hatcher clipped Claude Lemieux with a single blade in Colorado's Game 4 victory. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO DOWN TIME At a Thursday practice (from left) Blake Sloan, Hull, Nieuwendyk and Derek Plante tried decoding their coach's military lingo.

"I don't have a book on Roy. I get my chances, take a look and
shoot as hard as I can."

"You know when you're in a good game--fast pace, pinpoint
passing, hard hitting--and Game 2 was fabulous."

"The players here are so tight with each other because
management has kept the nucleus together."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)