Monday, November 30, 2009
Dennis Hull-Keeps 'em in Stitches
Many of you have had the opportunity of hearing Dennis Hull as a guest speaker at a convention, a golf tournament, or some such gathering.
Dennis recently spoke to a group of cheese makers in Belleville, a group with whom he shares a common interest. He is a cattle farmer, although his chosen field yields little cheese. He raises Polled Herefords, the brown cows with white faces. He also spends a fair amount of time on the rubber chicken circuit, sharing his message. He recently hosted a comedy festival in Winnipeg.
Dennis has captured the essence of hockey humour in his addresses. He pokes fun at his teammates, himself, his family, and, naturally at his older brother Bobby. (I once asked Brent Gretzky what he thought of his older brother Wayne. He answered my question with a question: “What was your older brother like?” I mumbled a few unkind words. He then stated: “My brother was no different.”) In Dennis’s case, he now has the microphone. He can send along a few shots in Bobby’s direction, without repercussion!
Dennis has a good time at the podium. He also has a word or two about the money involved in the game today. His salary for his entire career might not equal the minimum salary for a rookie in his first year today. He did say this: “In the prime of my career, I once signed a salary contract for ten million dollars.” At this point there was a hush in the room. In his own particular style, Dennis could barely wait to share the rest of his thought. “I just couldn’t get the team to sign it.”
Dennis knows his stuff is funny, and it is well rehearsed. He has a hard time delivering the punch lines because he is laughing all the time that he is delivering the goods. And it works. There was barely a dry eye in the house.
He adds current material as well. He prefaces his jokes with the line: “I am always saying the wrong thing.” He was staying on the tenth floor of the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. He caught the elevator to go down for breakfast in the morning. It stopped at the ninth floor. Brian Burke, the head honcho for the Maple Leafs got on. Hull was shocked. But he managed to ask, “Where are you going, to the basement?” Those Leafs, they do take a beating on the humour circuit these days!
Dennis Hull, the hockey player.
Rod Turner is a mutual friend who grew up in the heart of Belleville. One Saturday afternoon, more than fifty years ago, we were sprawled out on his living room floor watching the Chicago Black Hawks play on an American Television network. Dennis pointed at the set and shouted, “That’s my brother!” Little did he know, at that time, that he would soon follow those skatemarks to the NHL.
Dennis grew up in Point Anne, played on the Bay of Quinte, and at the Memorial in Belleville. He attended Moira and Quinte before going to St. Catharines to play for the Teepees in 1960. He was fifteen years old. Bobby had also played a couple of years in St. Catharines, five years previously.
Perhaps the greatest single attribute of the Hulls was that they could really shoot the puck. At that time, the slap shot was coming into vogue, and no one could do it better than Bobby, Dennis, and then years later, Bobby’s son Brett. They were all prolific scorers. In the early days, goaltenders were intimidated by their shots. The main difference between Bobby and Dennis was that Bobby had some idea where the puck was supposed to go. Dennis commented: “Coach Billy Reay once said that Bobby could shoot a puck through a car wash without getting it wet. He added that I couldn’t even hit the car wash.” Yet another reason why many goalies feared Dennis’s shot more than Bobby’s.
The book on Dennis Hull’s career is entitled: “The Third Best Hull. I would have been fourth but they wouldn’t let my sister Maxine play.” Maxine lived in Demorestville, in Prince Edward County, and passed away two days before Dennis spoke to the gathering in Belleville.
Twenty years ago, Dennis was inducted, along with Bobby, into the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame. I took the opportunity to get Dennis to sign the guest book. I also presented him with his induction pin. He was most grateful.
Do not pass up an opportunity to catch Dennis on the circuit. The game itself is a brutal, violent physical conflict. Hull brings a natural levity to the sport. And it is refreshingly hilarious.
Go Hawks Go!