NHL legend Bobby Hull adds color to charity game | AspenTimes.com

NHL legend Bobby Hull adds color to charity game

Nate PetersonThe Aspen TimesAspen CO, Colorado

ASPEN Bobby Hull has an admitted soft spot for kids charities.That much explains why the legendary Blackhawks left winger decided to give up a weekend with his wife at the couples home in Sarasota, Fla., to fly to Aspen to provide color commentary for Saturday nights Stirling Cup charity game at Lewis Ice Arena.His wife would have preferred he stay home, Hull admitted. And shes got a point: the charity game Hull will help announce pits the local Aspen Leafs against retired Detroit Red Wings. Hull, as any hockey fan knows, was the face of the Blackhawks for 15 seasons most famously in 1961 when the Golden Jet led Chicago to its last Stanley Cup championship, downing Gordie Howe and the Red Wings in six games.Hull said he agreed to appear Saturday night because his son, Blake, a local real estate agent, convinced him to make the trip. The old Red Wings were not the draw, Hull said. The chance to help three different local youth sports organizations was.Ive always been partial to our young folks. They are our future leaders and they need all the help that they can get, said Hull, a native of Ontario who entered the NHL in 1957, at age 18.The proceeds from the Stirling Cup (7 p.m. Saturday, $10 admission) benefits Aspen Junior Hockey, Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and Aspen United Soccer Club.Hull, who works with various youth charities through the NHLs Alumni Association, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, said he takes pride in the philanthropy that remains a priority for players from his era.Lending time and star power is an easy way to help a good cause, he said.I believe that our group of players were brought up thinking and being taught to think about people less fortunate than us, Hull said. If we are able to come together and bring people out to support these charities, were all happy to do it.These days, Hull also finds himself devoted to another cause: Helping restore the luster of the organization where he blossomed into the NHLs preeminent star during the 1960s.Its an about-face for Hull, whose Blackhawks career ended in a contract squabble after the 1971-72 season before he signed with the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association for the then-unheard of sum of $1 million over 10 seasons. (Hull played for the Jets for seven seasons, and retired in 1980 after playing nine games for the NHLs Hartford Whalers.)While Hull was the face of the Blackhawks during his playing days, he and former Chicago greats Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito had gone out of their way to avoid contact with the organization as recently as last year. The feeling between ownership and former legends was mutual, Hull said. Under late owner Bill Wirtz, the Blackhawks organization seemingly went to great lengths to alienate its fan base earning the team the undesirable mantle of ESPNs worst franchise in professional sports in 2004.Under Wirtz, the team blacked out home games on television in the Chicago area and raised ticket prices despite perennially finishing in the bottom of the league standings. Hull said there also was no effort to embrace the winning tradition of the 1950s and 1960s.After Wirtz passed away one year ago today at 77, fans paid their respects during the teams home opener by booing during an announced moment of silence.Hull, who said Blackhawks fans are the best in hockey, sympathized with the plight of Chicagoans, choosing to remain estranged from the organization.That changed last season, however, after new team owner Rocky Wirtz made an effort to reach out to Hull and his former teammates, and promised a more fan-friendly approach. Hull, after all those years away, decided to come back to the fold, accepting an invitation as an official Blackhawks ambassador.Its been about 30 some years since I was involved with the Chicago Blackhawks, Hull said. As soon as Rocky took over, they began to do things for the Chicago hockey fans that the fans had been denied for so many years. The first thing, and most important thing, was to get rid of the people that were not in line with what they were thinking. I think the icing on the cake for the fans was when [the Blackhawks] hired Mr. Mikita, Mr. Esposito and I to let the hockey fans of the past know they wanted to get back to how things used to be.For the most famous player in franchise history, Hull said hes enjoying his new role. Hes made a point of connecting with the Blackhawks young players, and believes that the team is on the brink of getting back to a winning tradition.Hull assumed hed lose interest in hockey after his son Brett, who had a prolific 22-year NHL career of his own, finishing as the leagues third-leading all-time scorer, retired after the 2006 season.The opposite is true. Since Brett retired, I didnt think that there was any reason to stay involved in the game other than talking and promoting the game, Hull said. But I really feel that being involved as an ambassador, Ive come to follow the progress of the Chicago Blackhawks, of course. And Brett is a co [general manager] of the [Dallas] Stars. I keep an eye on what hes doing and what the Blackhawks are doing. The youngsters with the Blackhawks, I think the people of Chicago can look forward to that team becoming one of the favorites in the NHL.Hull said hell do whatever he can to help. As he fully admits, hes got a soft spot for helping youth.npeterson@aspentimes.com

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