Hull Investment Starts To Pay Dividends
Season of Celebrations: Installment 2, Part I
Wednesday, 10.8.2008 / 11:37 AM CT / Feature
By Bob Matuszak
This season marks the 10-year anniversary of the Dallas Star’s first Stanley Cup championship. What follows is the second of seven installments that delves into that magical 1998-99 campaign, from training camp all the way to Brett Hull's Cup-clinching goal in triple-overtime in Game 6 in Buffalo. Part one of this installment will run today with part two on Thursday.
From the moment he laced up a pair of skates, Brett Hull has consistently been in the spotlight. Whether it follows him, or he specifically seeks it out, "The Golden Brett" has always thrived under that glare.
The son of "The Golden Jet" Bobby Hull, Brett was immediately thrown into the pressure cooker. After all, his Hall of Fame father had accumulated 610 goals in 15 season for the Chicago Blackhawks before scoring another 303 times in the rival WHA in the '70s.
So when Brett entered the league in 1986, much was expected from the young gun. He didn't waste any time delivering, scoring 26 times in 52 games for the Calgary Flames before being shipped to St. Louis in March 1988. In 1988-89, his first full season with the Blues, Hull responded by scoring 41 goals. It was a glimpse of what was to come.
He followed that production with astounding campaigns of 72, 86, and 70 goals over the next three seasons. So when the Stars came calling over the summer of 1998, they were expecting more of the same.
No maintenance, just fine tuning
Over the first month of the '98-99 season, Hull had gotten off to a sluggish start. Playing on a new line in a new position (left wing) in a new city, he was having to make plenty of adjustments. It certainly wasn't easy for someone who had been accustomed to making things look so effortless on the ice.
"It's not so much that I'm having to get used to the team's system, but getting used to Mike (Modano) and Jere (Lehtinen) and their style of play," he said. "The only time I've really played left wing before was at the World Cup in (1996), so I'm definitely having to make some adjustments being on the left wing full time."
Possessing the amazing ability to change outcomes of games with a flick of his powerful wrists, Hull was having unusual difficulty finding the back of the net early on. Sure, he had racked-up seven points in a season-opening five-game point streak, but his one goal in Dallas' first eight games left people scratching their head and wondering what was wrong with the $17 million man.
The Stars needed their hired sniper to start putting some pucks in as they prepared for their Oct. 31 encounter with Detroit, the team that knocked them out of the postseason just a few months before.
True to his clutch form, Hull obliged by notching his first two-goal game of the season in the 3-2 win. His second goal, which came with just six minutes to go, erased a two-goal deficit to help Dallas earn a win for the 12th time in its last 13 games at Reunion Arena, dating back to the 1997-98 season. Just as important, it drenched Hull's goal-scoring drought.
The winning goal was vintage Hull. After accepting a pass from Modano near the top of the left circle, he fired a blistering shot past Detroit goalie Chris Osgood.
"Mo didn't see me, he just heard me yell," Hull said. "That's the type of player he is. He's capable of making exceptional passes like that without actually seeing where you are."
"I heard him yelling," Modano added. "His voice is very unique. He happened to be in an area where he was wide open and was able to get off a great shot. His strength is shooting, and he's shown that the last 10 years. He racked up goals in bunches in St. Louis, so we're pleased he wanted to come to Dallas."
And with that one net-popping drive, Hull was finally off and running.
One grand man
As Dallas headed to Boston for a game against the Eastern Conference Bruins in mid-November, Hull found himself just three points shy of 1,000 for his career. But the Stars were in the midst of a mini-slump, having gone just 2-2 over their past four games.
In both of the losses, Dallas was shut-out, including a 4-0 blanking at San Jose on Nov. 4 in which goalie Ed Belfour allowed three goals on six shots. The Sharks, with nine total shots, set an NHL record for fewest shots by a winning team.
Following the lethargic effort in San Jose, Hitchcock shook up his lines in order to try and generate more energy as well as invoke an intense defensive spark that he thought had been lacking. Hull was moved to his normal right wing position to play alongside center Joe Nieuwendyk and Dave Reid, while gritty forward Mike Keane replaced Hull on the top line with Modano and Lehtinen.
Re-aligned, the Stars managed to beat Los Angles on Nov. 7 thanks to second-period power-play goals by Hull and captain Derian Hatcher.
Hull, though, wasn't pleased with his paltry 11:50 of ice time in the penalty-filled Kings game. For the first time since setting foot in Big D, Hull dropped his first verbal bomb, but it was hardly the only thing that Hitchcock needed to defuse.
Following a 2-0 loss at Reunion Arena to the Phoenix Coyotes, Hitchcock again tinkered with his lines. He moved Hull next to Modano again, but this time around had Hull stationed on the right side, with Lehtinen moving to the left.
The result was a four-goal first-period outburst in a 5-1 waxing of Detroit at Joe Louis Arena on Nov. 13. The next night against the Bruins, Hull, Modano and Lehtinen were the only three names found on the Stars scoresheet.
Hull was the 53rd player in NHL history to reach the 1,000-point plateau with 560 goals and 440 assists in 815 games. He and his father Bobby (1,170) became the only father-son combination in NHL history to record at least 1,000 points apiece.
"It's a weird feeling," Brett said. "You start out in this league just hoping to make it and score a few goals to prove yourself. A thousand points seems kind of mind-boggling. I can go now and say my name could be put up there with the greats of the game. You hope to get one goal in this game, but to say I have 500 goals and 1,000 points is a thrill. I'll long remember this night."
Added Modano: "It's a great thrill being on the ice with Brett when he gets such a milestone like he did tonight."
The win was Dallas' third straight on the road, and gave them a Western Conference-leading 20 points.
"We came out with two wins in two nights over two very good teams," Hitchcock said. "I like that a lot."
Tomorrow: Part 2 of Installment 2 – The wins start piling up despite the injury bug.