Saturday, January 20, 2018

Review of "The Devil and Bobby Hull"

This book and I had a strange relationship.  I had checked the e-book version out from the library three times and never got around to reading it beyond the first chapter.  Then, when I got a free credit from my audio book account and saw that this was available in that format, I decided to try it and this time I actually finished it.  I am glad that I did.  While some other reviewers felt this book was very hard on Bobby Hull, I thought it was a fair and balanced account of his hockey career and his life.  Here is my review of "The Devil and Bobby Hull."

The Devil and Bobby Hull: How Hockey’s Original Million Dollar Man Became the Game’s Lost Legend ” by Gare Joyce, narrated by Bernard Clark
Ice Hockey, professional, biography, Blackhawks, Jets, Whalers, audiobook
Publish date:
January 1, 2011

274 pages

4 of 5 stars (very good)
Bobby Hull was arguably the best NHL hockey player during the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  He scored more than 50 goals several times during that decade and was nicknamed “The Golden Jet” for his flowing locks (until they started receding) while he skated up the ice.

In 1971, he and his Chicago Blackhawks came oh-so-close to winning the Stanley Cup. He played one more season in Chicago before he signed a contract worth one million dollars with the Winnipeg Jets of the brand new World Hockey Association (WHA).  While the signing gave the new league instant credibility and Hull newfound riches, it also marked a significant change in how his career would be viewed by the NHL.  This biography by Gare Joyce is an interesting look at Hull’s career and personal life as well, using information mostly gathered during a long interview with Hull at a restaurant owned by Wayne Gretzky.

I believe the book paints a balanced picture of Hull for both his hockey career and his personal life and reputation. The latter took a beating during his 1980 divorce trial from his wife, with whom he had five children including a son who was also proficient at scoring goals in the NHL, Brett Hull.  By the time of the divorce, Hull had been released by the Hartford Whalers, another team from the original WHA along with Hull’s old team in Winnipeg, who had released him earlier that season.  The story told in the book paints a broken but determined man who is going to give the sport one last chance, despite the fact the sport had basically frozen him out after jumping from the NHL to the WHA.

This is the other dark cloud of the book – Hull’s personal rift with Bob Wirtz and Harold Ballard.  These two men were owners of the Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs respectively and he felt they were the big reason he signed with Winnipeg.  The reader will hear mostly from Hull’s side of this war, but the author does a decent job of not taking sides and writing about this fairly. 

If a reader wants to learn more about Hull the player, this book does a very good job or providing that information as well. The best hockey scene in the book comes at the beginning when the final game of the 1971 Stanley Cup finals is relived in painful detail (to Hull and Blackhawk fans) when the Montreal Canadiens won the game and Cup.  There is also some good writing about his days in Winnipeg, especially when the Jets signed Swedish players Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg to play on the same line as Hull.  They produced some of the best hockey played in the short life of the WHA before four of the league’s teams, including Hull’s Jets, were merged with the NHL.

The audio version of the book was capably narrated by Bernard Clark with the exception of some mispronounced names.  Fortunately these are few and far between and are not people that play a major role in the book.  His narration helped me envision what was taking place on the ice and also made the dark parts of Hull’s life, such as the divorce and revelations of his spousal abuse toward his wife, seem even worse than mere written words would do.

This book paints a good picture of Hull’s life, warts and all, that a reader who is not familiar with him will get a balanced look at his life and career.  Those readers who remember him and were big fans may not like the negatives written but to me these were needed to paint the complete picture.

Book Format Read:
Audio book
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