Posts Tagged ‘black hawks’

Bobby Hull - 1964-65 Topps Tall BoysYears ago (might be 10, might be 20), I was at a destination card shop in downtown Toronto and got into a conversation with the owner.  I don’t remember the full context, but the subject came to Bobby Hull.  The shop owner’s reaction to the name was visceral. The second it was mentioned, his face creased with disgust and he spat, “Hull!  He was a mean drunk and beat the shit out of his wife!”

I remember being taken aback.

It’s not that we didn’t know. We knew. We knew that Bobby and Brett had been estranged and it had to do with Brett’s mother.  There were stories about how Bobby would chase her around the house in a rage.  We knew that there had been a very nasty, very public divorce and that spousal abuse had been a key allegation of it.

Yet even the word “abuse” somehow sanitizes the action.  It doesn’t really capture the reality of Joanne Hull’s swollen face.  Saying he beat the shit out of her – that captures it.

Gare Joyce wrote a book a few years back entitled “The Devil and Bobby Hull.”  It came out of a series of interviews he did with Bobby over a period of time and the portrayal is of a person who is, to put it charitably, not easy.  He comes across a person who can charm a room and be everyone’s best friend, then turn around and stab a family member in the back.  He can be generous to fans and harsh to teammates. He talks of Joanne and expresses resentment about her (that she still uses his name is a huge sticking point for him) but I can’t recall seeing anything like remorse.

I don’t really know why we value sports the way that we do.  It’s nothing new. This sort of thing goes back as far as the Greeks. We want heroes, we find them in sports and sports is only too happy to market them right back to us. This was certainly true of Hull. Handsome, young, immensely talented and telegenic, he was hockey’s Mickey Mantle. In a game that could be brutish, Hull was speed and skill and grace combined with raw power in the form of an unmatchable shot. Joining a team that had been a train wreck for a decade, he was a fresh start and the face of the future.

The relationship between players and media was mutually beneficial. If the players were heroes, the papers would sell. If the papers sold, the interest was raised and everyone got to make money. It even shows up in the cards. For most of Topps’ run as a producer of hockey cards up to this point, Bobby Hull was their number one draw.  On every one of his cards from 1958 through 1963, his card is the best-looking card in the set.  In every picture, he’s a bronzed god.  This card always stikes me as interesting because it’s the first time he’s ever shown with what could arguably be called a lousy picture.  It’s also the first set where Topps had the rights to the entire NHL.  I don’t know whether it means anything, but it’s interesting.

Sometimes the people we lionize are legitimately heroes. Sometimes they’re just very good, solid people. Sometimes they just happen to be really, really good at a sport we happen to like but lack any other quality we find desirable. Sometimes they’re great actors and we take that as the reality, finding out years later about drug-based rapes and assaults or broken ribs from what the assaulter claims was just “kinky” sex. Then we’re shocked and ask “Why didn’t we know about this?” when odds are that we should have.

Any tell-all sports book you read will depict women as things – things that were won, things that were earned or came to you as tribute for being awesome. It’s a sickness that infects not just sports and celebrity – it’s everywhere. It infects our kids, whether they’re playing junior hockey in small-town Ontario or high-school football in the States.  We punish the girls who speak out about it.  It’s insane.

Bobby Hull is arguably the best left wing of all time and quite likely the most significant player of the past 50 years.  Gretzky allowed the sunbelt strategy to exist, but Hull allowed an entire league to come into being and survive.  Four teams directly owe their existence to his decision to jump to the WHA and another four were caused indirectly as the NHL sought to capture new markets before the WHA got there.  He shattered the system by which teams owned the rights of players and ushered in the free agent market we see today.

These things are all out there.

So are the pictures of Joanne’s face.

They’re the ones I’m going to remember longer.

Bobby Hull - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

The kid brother, Dennis Hull, played 55 games for Chicago in 1964-65 and got his Topps RC in 1965-66.

Glenn Hall - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

I’ve had this card for years and this is the first time I’ve ever noticed that Glenn Hall is holding a mask in his left hand.  This makes this card the first mainline card to picture a goalie together with his mask.  The first card to actually show a goalie wearing said mask wouldn’t appear until 1971-72 when the Ken Dryden RC used a cropped game-action shot for his card.  Jacques Plante appears on a Bee Hive photo wearing a mask, but not on a card.  There’s probably a York Peanut Butter card from 1968-69 with a goalie in mask, and maybe a Toronto Star photo from 1965, but this is the oldest hockey card.

What’s particularly odd about it is that from what I can gather (and find online), Hall didn’t actually wear a mask in 1964.  The first time he wore one in a game, he was a St. Louis Blue and it was 1968.  So what is it doing here?  There were netminders who would have a mask for practice (why take stitches when it wasn’t necessary) and ditch it for games. Presumably this is his practice mask and it may tell us something about how or when the photo was taken.

by 1964, the goalie mask was no longer a sign of weakness.  Jacques Plante’s intestinal fortitude had been questioned when he began wearing his mask in games back in 1959, but the sheer number of games he won silenced his critics.  Don Simmons adopted one shortly thereafter and by this time, Terry Sawchuk wore one as well.  Momentum was building and the only odd thing was how long the full conversion took.  Andy Brown was still going bare-faced in 1974.

I don’t know when exactly Glenn Hall picked up the name “Mr. Goalie,” but he was certainly known that way by the time he retired.  He was such a good prospect for Detroit that he was able to push Terry Sawchuk out of the way, but just two years later he took the fall (rather unfairly, I think) for an early Red Wings playoff exit and was sent off to Chicago, with whom he’d win a Stanley Cup in 1961.  Coming off the 1963-64 season, he was the reigning First-Team All-Star goaltender.  His seven First Team selections are still an NHL record for goalies.

1964-65 was the only season between 1955-56 and 1965-66 that Hall wouldn’t play at least 64 games.  His iron-man streak of 502 straight games in goal (all maskless) will stand for an extremely long time.

By 1966-67, Glenn Hall was 35 and Chicago had Denis DeJordy waiting to take over.  Glenn was left unprotected in the Expansion Draft and became a Blue.  He gave them far and away the best netminding of any expansion team (particularly playing alongside Jacques Plante starting in 1968) and St. Louis represented the West in each Stanley Cup Final between 1967 and 1970.  It’s Hall in net for the famous Bobby Orr flying goal of 1970.  He won the 1968 Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP despite the Blues getting swept in the Final by Montreal.

Glenn Hall retired in 1971 but remained connected to the game, most recently as a goalie coach and consultant for the Calgary Flames.

Glenn Hall - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

Bill Hay - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

Bill was a rather lanky individual

As a kid, looking at the iconic players of the 1960s Black Hawks, it always was a no-brainer for me that Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita played together.  It just made too much sense – one of the best centres in league history was a teammate of one of the best wingers ever to play the game.  Between them, they combined for seven scoring titles and four MVPs.  Mikita was one of the great setup men of his era while Hull was the premier goal scorer. How could they not have been linemates?

Except they weren’t.  As I clued in later, Mikita spent the majority of the 1960s on the Scooter line with Mohns and Wharram, while Hull was part of the Million Dollar line with Murray Balfour and Red Hay.  The guy feeding that Bobby Hull slapshot and setting up all those goals wasn’t Mikita, it was Hay.

Hay is an interesting person to look at in the context of the “typical” NHL player of the 1960s.  His story is far better suited to today.  Coming out of junior, he opted for US college hockey, finishing a degree in geology at Colorado College.  He was also a two-time All-American. Upon graduating, Montreal (who owned his rights) loaned him out to Chicago’s WHL affliliate in Calgary.  After a year of watching him, Chicago swung a deal for his services.

Hay joined a Hawks team that was on the rise in 1959 and won the ’59-60 Calder as a 24-year-old rookie.  At 6’3″, he was a really big player.  Never a huge goal-scorer, he put up very good assist totals (being Bobby Hull’s centre helped), peaking at 52 in just 60 games in 1961-62.  He retired at 30 to go into business, was talked back into a half-season, then called it quits again when his rights were picked up by St. Louis in the 1967 Expansion Draft.

In total, Hay would score 113 goals and 386 points in 506 NHL games.

He would later become a part owner of the Calgary Flames and the long-time president/CEO of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

H/T to Joe Pelletier for a lot of the backstory.

Bill Hay - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

Hay’s father played senior hockey at a time when that really mattered.

Elmer Vasko - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

A nickname like “Moose” really isn’t flattering, even when meant to be so.

(originally published Feb 8, 2012)

Elmer Vasko was a coveted prospect – a big defenseman with good mobility and hands. During Chicago’s peak years in the 1960s, he played on the top pairing with Pierre Pilote and was the defensive consicence of the unit. Despite never putting up huge offensive numbers, he was twice a second-team NHL All-Star (1963 and 1964).

He came up through the Hawks’ junior team in St. Catharines in the early 1950s and joined the big club as a 20-year-old in 1956. He stood out because of his size and the Chicago fans took to him, dubbing him “Moose” and cheering it loudly when he’d rush the puck (almost every card he has in the early years mentions the Chicago crowds and their “Mooooooooooose” calls).

A lot is made of the sheer difference in size between players of the past and players of today. While there were always a number of skaters in the 6’1″, 200-lb category, they were offset by a bunch of others who were 5’7″, 150. Elmer Vasko had good size by anybody’s standards. At 6’3″ and 210 lbs, he could skate on any modern blue line (though he’d probably play about 15 pounds heavier). When you see him in old clips, particularly with the thinner equipment, he looks like a mountain out there.

I get the feeling, just by reading between the lines a bit, that the thing that kept Vasko from achieving a Chara-like status was that he didn’t really show a big mean streak. He fought rarely, topped 100 penalty minutes just once in his career and generally had fewer minutes in the box than games played. If a player of that size had had a bit of Gordie Howe in him, he might have been a legend. As it was, he was a highly-respected defenseman for a lot of years.

He walked away from the game after 1965-66, saying the thrill had gone. He was enticed back by the expansion Minnesota North Stars, who were not one of the better teams. They finished dead last in 1968-69 and Vasko was singled out at one point by GM John Muckler for not being physical enough. He still represented them in the 1969 All-Star game.

Elmer Vasko died of cancer in 1998.

His rookie card from 1957-58 is one of my favourites, rating up there with Wendel Clark’sfor sheer attitude displayed. Look at this expression. Who wouldn’t want a player like this on their blue line?

Elmer Vasko - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back