Flanked by former teammates, Golden Brett greeted loudly by sold-out Scottrade Center
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- As Brett Hull sat in front of a media throng Tuesday afternoon, he was as raspy, brash and colorful as he was when his blonde flowing locks peeked underneath his playing helmet.
Hull, arguably the greatest player to don a Blues jersey, has been through much since his playing days ended in 2005.
He had his No. 16 retired here in St. Louis, and in November, he was inducted into hockey's Hall of Fame.
On Tuesday night, the Blues brought 'The Golden Brett' back once again to honor him for his Hall of Fame induction, and they also invited a few of Hull's friends to help him bask in glory.
The cast included (those in attendance) Brendan Shanahan, Curtis Joseph, Wayne Gretzky, Garth Butcher, Phil Housley, Nelson Emerson, Al MacInnis, Bernie Federko, Tony Twist, Kelly Chase, Bob Bassen, Grant Fuhr, Geoff Courtnall, Sergio Momesso, Guy Carbonneau, Jeff Brown and coach Bob Berry.
Hull and a cast of 'Dream Team' members of past Blues players took the ice in a pregame ceremony honoring his recent Hall of Fame induction. And team minority owner Tom Stillman, on behalf of majority owner Dave Checketts, announced that a statue of Hull would go up in the future alongside those of Al MacInnis and Bernie Federko.
But on Tuesday night, Hull once again took the stage, as he has done many times throughout his 10 seasons as a member of the Blues, where he scored 527 of his 741 career goals and 936 of his 1,391 career points.
"I can't even put into words how great it is," Hull said Tuesday afternoon. "We went out last night and we had dinner. From Butchie, and Chaser and Twister and Shanny's here, Nelson Emerson, Wayne Gretzky came ... I can't even put into words how great a feeling it is because even though it's not the old Arena, it's home for me, and it'll always be a part of my life."
How unique was Brett Hull? He was part of the only father/son tandem to score 600 goals, 1,000 points and Hart Memorial Trophy recipients.
"Brett, he had it all. Shooting and smiling, I think he had the book," said Joseph. "He was always smiling and scoring and had the great personality and smart guy.
"He was the whole package. It was great to play with him. I'm glad I didn't have to play against him during those heydays. But certainly being a part of that and being a part of the circus and him being MVP was a great thrill."
Hull, who unwillingly departed as a free agent in 1998 and went on to win two Stanley Cups in Dallas and Detroit, admits his career would probably have taken a different turn had he not been traded to the Blues in 1988.
"I honestly don't think I would have (exploded onto the game like I did) if I wasn't here," Hull admitted. "From Susie Mathieu right to Mr. (Ron) Caron, I met one of my best friends in the world Kelly Chase here. You just don't have the success you have unless you're surrounded by great people, great fans, great city. This place ... St. Louis is indelibly etched in my life."
Hull, who won't hide his straightforward approach no matter what the issue was, clashed during his tenure here with Mike Keenan, still regarded as one of the most hated villains in St. Louis sports history.
"I saw Mike this summer and we've made amends," Hull said. "I'm way too old. I don't hold grudges. We had a great talk ... I always said this, I hated him as a coach, but he's a really good human being. We had a great talk and I've got no problem with Mike anymore."
"I'll go to my grave saying he didn't have a clue to what he was doing," Hull went on to say. "I never understood what he was doing, and it showed, I think, in what happened. If you look at the record and the people that went in and out and how things ended up, I think you'll see that."
Most of the Blues greats that were here Tuesday crossed paths with Keenan one way or another. They sometimes wonder what would have happened had they kept the core group together when the Blues were on top of the league in the early 1990s.
"Yeah, a little bit. We had some good pieces, but you just never know," said Shanahan, who went on to win three titles in Detroit after Keenan traded him in 1994 to Hartford for Chris Pronger. "I'm not going to get all dreamy and say we were on the cusp because you never know. Making yourself a contender is one thing, but getting to the championship ... it's really hard for all teams.
"We moved on. Ironically, I think we were all getting to the point where we wanted that. Three years after I left, I had already won two Stanley Cups. There was a part of us where we all wished we won one here. But it just wasn't meant to be."
Shanahan continued, "We were emotional, all of us. We all sort of left kicking and screaming. We were all pretty much heartbroken, but it's the business of hockey. Sometimes when new people come in, they want to have their stamp on the team and they don't want to have a team that another architect is responsible for. Sometimes change just happens. But we all just were talking about how much we cared."
Chase was among those that was dealt during his tenure here as well.
"There's a group of the guys where they were like, 'I don't really know what the reception will be because I didn't finish here,'" he said. "(Guys like) Cujo and Shanny and Gretz and I told them all the same thing. I said, 'You come into the greatest sports town. Nobody's booing you when you come here. You're coming here for Brett and you never left because you wanted to leave. Every one of you left because of circumstances you couldn't control.'
"The people here appreciate the athletes that were here. They're grateful that you played here. It's going to be awesome. I just think it's really neat that these guys all showed up for Hullie."
For all the great teams Hull was a part of, from winning his first Cup with Ken Hitchcock in Dallas to playing for the greatest coach in the game Scotty Bowman in Detroit, he says he'd put this cast up against any of them.
"Best ever," he said. "And think about the players we've had come through here. From the greatest player that ever walked the face of the earth -- Wayne Gretzky -- to Brendan Shanahan to Scott Stevens to Adam Oates to the two toughest guys I ever met in Chase and Twist ... good luck. They couldn't beat us."
Hull toured the arena and met current Blues favorite T.J. Oshie, whom Hull says reminds him of him. He says this group needs to do this more often.
"They're probably sick of seeing me, but I love being back," Hull said. "... You're going to have some of these great Blues now, they're going to be Hall of Famers, their jerseys are going to be in the rafters and hopefully, I came come back and be a part of their ceremonies.
"Right now, this is probably the last time I'll be on that ice and it's going to be a great feeling because I can't wait to be out there. It doesn't matter of you're scoring a goal or standing there in a suit, for them to cheer, it's the greatest feeling ever."
Hull is the Executive Vice President and Alternate Governor for the Stars and wants to win a Cup as an executive.
"Yeah, I wanna win a Stanley Cup as a non-player and hopefully that can happen in Dallas, but we'll have to wait and see," he said. "It's the hardest thing in sports to do. It's not like you can just say you're going to do it. Everything has to come. We have Joe Nieuwendyk as our GM now and I think he's a guy that knows what he's doing and we're going to get her done."
How about a move back here one day? He wouldn't rule it out.
"Would I give up those rings to be a part of the St. Louis Blues? It's hard to say," Hull said. "Winning a Stanley Cup is pretty special, but to be a part of this organization and this city, I think that is just special.
"I would never rule that out -- ever. It's a wonderful place. I'll always have a Bluenote on my heart forever."
"This is home for him," Chase said of Hull. "This is where he cut his teeth in the league."