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It'll be a Hull of a time

Golden Jet, Nilsson, Hedberg promoting DVD, raising funds

The press conference didn't begin until the Golden Jet arrived. Naturally.

"Gentlemen!" Bobby Hull announced, as he strode into the room. "Prefer blondes."

Everybody laughed. Pure Hull.

It was a meeting room halfway up the Radisson Hotel Wednesday morning, where for the first time in over 30 years the heart, soul and history of the original Winnipeg Jets convened together in the city that made them whole.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/8/2010 (2592 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The press conference didn't begin until the Golden Jet arrived. Naturally.

"Gentlemen!" Bobby Hull announced, as he strode into the room. "Prefer blondes."

Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull (from left) share a laugh on Wednesday.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull (from left) share a laugh on Wednesday. Purchase Photo Print

Everybody laughed. Pure Hull.

It was a meeting room halfway up the Radisson Hotel Wednesday morning, where for the first time in over 30 years the heart, soul and history of the original Winnipeg Jets convened together in the city that made them whole.

Bobby Hull. Anders Hedberg. Ulf Nilsson. The holy trinity of Jets hockey.

All three were are in town this week for two reasons; to promote the premiere of a DVD documentary recounting the rebel league's early years — WHA Legends: Remembering the Winnipeg Jets — and to attend fundraising events for the Amadeus Steen Foundation, the brainchild of former Jets star Thomas Steen and son Alexander, now a productive member of the St. Louis Blues.

But the gathering was not only emotional, but a sentimental glimpse at the passage of time, how some bonds never break, even if the once immortal bodies do.

The last time Hull, Hedberg and Nilsson were together in Winnipeg, the latter two were headed off to the NHL and the big lights of Broadway, still in their 20s. Hull was already in his late 30s, with only a few games left in him.

They were all relatively young back then. But time plays no favourites. Before the press conference began, Hull said to no one in particular, "Now it's time to get my shoes laced up."

So a man once known for his brute strength and blistering speed put a foot up on a stool and barked out, "Ulfie!"

Without hesitation, the 60-year-old Nilsson whisked over to tie the Golden Jet's shoes. Still with the teamwork.

"Knees or hips?" someone asked Hull.

"Knee," he replied, resigned, "and everything else." Hull paused for a second, thanking his old linemate, then uttered. "It's awful to get to 71. There was a time we thought we were infallible."

Yes, there certainly was. It was back in 1974, in fact, when Hedberg and Nilsson first arrived in Winnipeg, recruited by Dr. Gerry Wilson, a former Montreal Canadien who went on to sire one NHL son (Carey) and one NHL grandson (Colin).

That fall, the Jets held a practice at the St. James Arena with the University of Manitoba Bisons, and the first pages of hockey history were written on a sheet of ice in Winnipeg.

Hull was tooling around with the puck in front of the net. Hedberg and Nilsson, two unknown youngsters from Sweden, stepped on the ice.

Hull was 35 and looking for a spark. The Bisons' head coach yelled out, "Bobby, go with the Swedes!"

At this moment, recounting the story, Hull's voice begins to break. "Hold on," he says, as the tears start coming. "I get a little broken up here because... I never saw two kids come out of the corner like they were shot out of a cannon. And we went on the ice and bing, bang, bing, it was in the net. Not one time did we not put the puck in the net."

 

After the practice, Hull was asked about the Swedes. "I told them," he recalled, "that this year there will be three putting them in the net and four fishing them out."

Between them, Hull, Hedberg and Nilsson scored 362 points in that ground-breaking, revolutionary 1974-75 season. As the saying goes, they never looked back.

But now they often do.

"These guys were the best I ever played with," Hull said. "God, it was fun. Even in practice."

On either side of Hull, Hedberg and Nilsson were getting a little verklempt, too. A lot of memories were flooding back.

"It was an unbelievable feeling," Hedberg noted, of that same practice in 1974. "Three guys. It just fit."

Have you ever felt that way again?

Replied Hedberg, who scored 458 points in just 286 WHA games: "Not even close."

After '78, the Hot Line went their separate ways, of course. They've kept in touch over the years. Nilsson attended Hull's 70th birthday party in Florida last year.

Alas, our heroes shouldn't get old, but they do. Everybody does.

Hence the sentiment.

"Maybe I am getting more emotional," Hull allowed, after the press conference had ended. "Because my life is getting more valuable now. I know that this isn't going to happen again (a Hot Line reunion in Winnipeg). I'm on the back nine and I don't have a lot of time.

"I'm not saying I'm ill," the straight shooter added, "I'm just saying if I get another 10 years I'll be luckier than a (bad word)-house rat."

Bobby Hull is the Grey Jet now.

The memories, still golden.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Randy Turner.

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