When my friend Dan Carubia told me this story, I asked if I could use it as a guest post faster than you can say “hat trick.” Sometimes it is okay to let time play a serendipitous trick …
As soon as I saw him walk past me, my true age of 63 was reduced in my mind to 14.
I was in Toronto finishing up on a business trip and decided to stay just one extra day to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame, eat an early dinner at Gretzky’s sports bar and see the hockey at the Air Canada Centre.
The Hall of Fame tour was really cool. As I was ready to leave, I took one final picture, one of Robert Hull of the Chicago Blackhawks. I do not know why I did this, maybe because of his hard 115 mph slap shot and skating ability, maybe it was the look and design of the jersey or Hull’s matinee look. No matter I took the picture.
When I arrived at Gretzky’s, the host of the NHL Network’s call-in show was preparing for the day’s show. introduced myself to the host told him I was “Dan from Albany” and talked old time hockey for a few minutes as he was getting ready.
I sat at a small round table right in front of his broadcast space, settled in with a Molson’s beer and got ready to watch the program.
Then, it happened in a flash — I was now 14. He passed to the right of me and sat in a booth 5 feet from where I was sitting. He had about 5 or 7 books under his arm and dropped them on the table. He still had that wide toothy smile and that raspy voice. It was Robert Hull, Bobby “The Golden Jet” Hull, he of the 115 mph slap shot and the skating skills that netted him 604 goals during his career.
After his greeting to the host of the TV show, Bobby Hull sat down in the booth with his publisher awaiting his call on to the program to talk “old time” hockey and plug his new book: THE GOLDEN JET. I brought my 14 year old body over to the booth, sat down and introduced myself to Bobby Hull. I explained that I was there the night he “tickled the twine” against the NY Ranger net minder Lorne “Gump” Worsley to score the first of his three 50 goal seasons.
I asked Bobby Hull if I could buy a beer for him and his publisher for I had a story to tell him about that night so many years ago. Red wine for Bobby Hull another beer for me and the story goes like this. I was a “gopher” for Artie, who ran the visitors’ locker room at Madison Square
Garden. I cut up oranges, hung up the players’ long johns in their lockers that they wore under their uniforms and got the black tape ready for the sticks, stuff like that.
Before I could say another word Bobby Hull asked me to buy his book and showed me the picture taken that night of him blasting the puck past the Gumper. I asked if he would sign it. He did and I brought the book.
I continued my blabbering about how I was in the locker room cleaning up, packing up the equipment for the team’s return to Chicago. I asked Bobby Hull if he remembered how all the reporters and photo guys were pushing for a story and pictures, how the room which was small to begin with was now SRO and the photo guys asked for his picture with the puck that was his 50th. He remembered. Because of the crowd Bobby Hull was in a chair a few feet away and almost in the middle of the room. He needed that puck. I told him your trainer called to me to get the puck that it was on the top shelf of his locker. I was standing near Bobby Hull’s locker and I took the puck and flipped the puck to the trainer and he gave it to Hull. He laughed his laugh and drank his wine.
Bobby Hull asked me to turn over to the back of the book. There was that picture, the toothless grin, the puck with the number 50 on it and the Ranger Logo. This 14 year old kid got welled up at the sight of this picture…
….and almost cried in his beer looking at that visual memory of my youth and the event.
We talked a few more minutes about just stuff: the players of his day, train rides after a Saturday night game in Mountrail to NYC for a game on Sunday night, walking the floors of their hotels in the middle of the night, looking for some food from the room service trays that were left outside of other peoples’ rooms because everything else was closed and his work ethic that was instilled by his farmer Father.
It was time for Bobby Hull to go on the TV show and for me to make my way to the hockey game. I needed one more favor from Bobby Hull: a picture. I positioned us under a wall hanging of his jersey and a waitress took the picture. We shook hands said good bye.
Epilogue: I took in the game at the Air Canada Centre. My seat was in the upper rows of the upper deck. Now this is Maple Leaf hockey – all the games are sold out. I got into my old school thinking and said if only there was a seat that was in the front row where I could take some pictures boy would that be great. During the first period I noticed a few seats behind the net and my goal was to sit there if possible. Luck would have it I found my seat and as I have done since it was 14, got to sneak in there and be cool. That seat, first row behind the net was good for me for the next two periods.
When the game was over, a 5-0 win for the Oilers, I walked up the ramp out into the cold on Bay street in Toronto. I hailed a cab. As the cab stopped and just as I was ready to open the door I saw my reflection in the window of the cab.
Damn … I was back to being 63
All Photo Credits: Dan Carubia
For information about the book “The Golden Jet,” visit this link.