Bobby Hull wiped away a tear yesterday as he recalled his first moments with his fellow ‘ hotline “, with which he caused rain and shine in the dissolved World Hockey Association.
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The 83-year-old still remembers his first encounter with Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg, who came fresh from their Swedish homeland.
And the way Hull put it, it was love at first sight.
“They played hockey exactly how I believed hockey should be played,” said the “Golden Jet” during a conference held at Chateau Frontenac to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the World Hockey Association (WHA) in Quebec.
The “Golden Jet” before boarding the ice.
“When they arrived in 1974 [avec les Jets de Winnipeg], they made me want to play again. They’re the best I’ve shared the rink with,” he continued.
Obviously, love at first sight was shared. With a laugh, Nilsson, the center of the WHA’s most memorable lineage, spoke of an “orgasmic” encounter.
“It was magic,” he added to the diary. Rarely in a career do you play with two players that you instantly connect with. »
This has held up over time. The three henchmen met several times over the years until the pandemic prevented them from traveling.
“Anders and I still play golf together, we stay pretty close,” Nilsson said. But Bobby isn’t very tech savvy. He doesn’t even have a cell phone! »
If Hull seemed touched by this reunion, Hedberg, who hails from Sweden despite having been stricken with the disease in recent months, was most moved.
The first big catch
Tears ran down the forward’s cheeks as he spoke of the instant chemistry between the three players who would amass almost 1,400 points in the defunct league.
“I had never met him, although I knew who he was,” recalled the now 71-year-old ex-striker.
“After our first practice session, Bobby immediately called the agent who brought us to Winnipeg and said he thought it was great. And we had the same experience! ” he added.
50 years ago this year, Hull became the WHA’s first big catch. The Chicago Blackhawks legend, a star of the mighty National League, agreed to join the Cursed Circuit for a $1 million signing bounty, among other things.
Bobby Hull with the $1 million check he received when he made the leap from the National League to the World Hockey Association with the Winnipeg Jets.
His post career was marred by controversy, including domestic violence charges later dropped by one of his ex-wives.
However, his contribution to promoting players’ rights remains highly relevant to his former teammates and opponents five decades later.
“Many hockey players, but also many other people interested in the world of hockey, have Bobby to thank,” Nilsson said yesterday. Without the courage he showed entering the WHA, so many of them would not have had jobs in the field, they would not have been paid as well. »
When Hull arrived at Château Frontenac in a wheelchair around 11am, the former winger with 1,808 career points – all professional circles combined – was ambushed by admirers asking for photos and autographs.
Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull in Toronto as part of the 1974 Premiership Series when Canada was represented by the World Hockey Association against the Soviets.
Among the crowd were several former AMH flag bearers who came to whisper “thank you, Bobby” in his ear.
The former Nordic Louis Sleigher made his professional debut wearing the colors of the Birmingham Bulls, one of the clubs in the “Rebel Circuit”. Years have passed, but he still remembers his first game very well.
“It was against the Jets and Bobby Hull,” he said. At the first puck drop, Hull was on the ice. He came to greet me and wish me luck on the track. I still have those words in my head it was so cute. »
“It’s good to see him again, even as he ages like we all do,” Sleigher continued. He was a pioneer. It is thanks to him that the owners pulled out of their pockets the money that had been lying there for a long time. »
make a dream come true
The amount Hull agreed to with the Jets was unbelievably high for the time, recalls Richard Racine, son of Paul Racine, the Nordiques’ first president and also serving as treasurer of the new league.
“But the arrival of Bobby gave credibility to the circuit,” he explained. So all teams and the Winnipeg Jets agreed to contribute [auxquels Hull se joignait] paid the difference. »
While touched by those kind words, Hull said he was particularly happy about the impact his move to the WHA may have had on certain cities, including Quebec.
“I was able to fulfill my dream of bringing professional hockey to smaller hockey markets in Canada and the United States,” he said.
Forgotten autograph souvenirs at the airport
Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg flew 18 hours from Stockholm to attend this gathering celebrating 50 years of membership in the world association.
A trip that made the two Swedes of the “Hot Line” a little tired, said Nilsson, 72, yesterday. To the point that when they arrived Thursday, he mistook one of his bags for that of another passenger at Montreal airport.
“It was a suitcase full of autographs,” said the former Jets center. I realized that as we exited the airport and felt really bad! »
Nilsson promptly returned the accidentally taken luggage to the airport. And luckily the other passenger did the same.
Three to beat Hull in the wrist shot
Five decades later, Bobby Hull had not forgotten the Racine family, whose father Paul was one of the first businessmen to invest in the Nordiques and was treasurer of the AMH.
One of Mr. Racine’s sons, Richard, appeared at Château Frontenac with a photo of his father laughing with the ‘Golden Jet’ during the banquet for the 1972 All-Star Game, held in the same place.
Hull greeted him with a big smile and posed with this historic photo.
Photo agency QMI, Marcel Tremblay
Bobby Hull and Richard Racine
“When I was 11, we went to Continental with Bobby as a family. He had suggested that two of my brothers and I take part in a wrist-shooting competition. We were the three against him! called back Mr. Racine.
“While he was getting ready for everyone’s desserts, all three of us struggled, but his arm wouldn’t move. When he was done, he said to us, “Are you ready?” He hit us right away! »
On the school bus, skates in hand
During his seven seasons in the World Conference, league-leading scorer André Lacroix played for the Jersey Knights, who played at the infamous Cherry Hill Arena.
An amphitheater, if you can call it that, that didn’t have a dressing room for the visiting team…
“I can still remember Bobby Hull, one of the greatest players in history, getting off the school bus in his hockey gear and skates in hand,” laughed Lacroix.
“But that was WHA,” he added. There were ups and downs. »