Hull-o? Brett Hull is calling. Will St. Louis answer?

Hull-o? Brett Hull is calling. Will St. Louis answer?
Jennifer Silverberg
Brett Hull is back in St. Louis after fifteen years. "The greatest Blue of all time is here to leverage his celebrity," says Blues majority owner Tom Stillman.

Flash back 21 years ago to the conclusion of a Blues game at the old St. Louis Arena. Brett Hull and Kelly Chase have just emerged from the building when the players, ready for some postgame revelry, realize that neither of them has a set of wheels.

"I just didn't want to go to a bad city. When he said St. Louis I thought, 'Hey, I like St. Louis.'"

"I thought you drove," Hull quizzes his teammate.

"I thought you did," counters Chase.

In 1997 Hull entered his last year as a player for the Blues.
Bill Greenblatt/UPI photo service/newscom
In 1997 Hull entered his last year as a player for the Blues.

They stare at each other.

"Hold on," says Hull, reentering the arena.

A few moments later the Blues winger returns to the parking lot with the keys to head coach Bob Berry's Jaguar.

"Coach let you borrow his car?" Chase asks, surprised.

"No big deal," replies Hull with a shrug.

The two climb into the Jag and race off for some fun on the East Side.

It's 3:30 a.m. when they decide to call it a night. Coach Berry has an early morning practice slated to begin in just a few hours. But as Chase tries to open the frozen door to the Jaguar, the key snaps off inside the lock.

Not to worry, though. The security staff working the nightclub recognizes the players and brings out some beers and a bottle of rum. Someone builds a fire in an old oil drum, and just like that they're having an impromptu tailgate party.

They're all sitting there, swapping stories like old friends and passing around the bottle, when a locksmith finally arrives to fix the car. Yet Hull doesn't want the night to end. He invites the bouncers out for breakfast — his treat — at the Eat-Rite Diner.

Day is breaking a couple of hours later when Hull and Chase arrive — on time — to practice. Hull nonchalantly tosses the keys to the Jaguar on Berry's desk. It's then that Chase discovers that Hull took the keys without permission. Coach Berry is livid. But instead of blowing up at Hull, he unleashes his rage on Chase.

"You're not good enough to be doing shit like this!" he screams. "You'll go back to Peoria again for doing shit like this!"

More than two decades later, Chase, now the radio color commentator for the Blues, laughs as he sits in his office at Scottrade Center, recounting the tale.

"I thought I would be sent down to the minors for sure," he chuckles.

Similar stories abound in St. Louis about Brett Hull. His hockey talent — 741 career goals, the third most in NHL history — made him legendary. But it was his off-the-ice personality that made him a celebrity. Hull was the guy who always gave the media a colorful quote in the locker room. The guy who could be on TV with David Letterman one night and at a Dogtown tavern yucking it up with the locals the next. Hell, he might even be found huddling around a barrel fire in East St. Louis. Hull was, in short, the rarest of superstars — the one who could, and did, connect with the community.

Now, fifteen years after "the Golden Brett" left St. Louis to win the Stanley Cup for two other teams, Hull is back with his old club, and it's not to bring the Blues that elusive first championship (though that would be nice). No, Hull is here to do what he does best — schmooze.

Tom Stillman, the Blues majority owner, is a bit more tactful in his describing why he hired Hull. The greatest Blue of all time is here to leverage his celebrity, says Stillman, in an effort to win both fans and sponsors.

"We think that that's important," says Stillman. "And it helps us with more of a connection to St. Louisans who have been Blues fans for a long time and a number of fans who came onboard because of Brett Hull, because of all the excitement surrounding him and what he was doing back then."

It's a similar role that Hull had with the Dallas Stars a few years ago. One that ended in disappointment.

Brett Hull was fulfilling his destiny when, at the start of the 1987-1988 season, he landed a spot on the roster of the Calgary Flames. The son of hockey legend Bobby Hull not only had the pedigree to play in the NHL, he also had the skills to be a winner. Before joining the Flames, Hull set scoring records at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Leaving school after two years, Hull continued to light up scoreboards in the American Hockey League, tallying 50 goals in just 67 games.

"You're a lifer," Hull recalls Flames captain Jim Peplinksi telling him during his rookie season. The Flames, suggested the captain, would never part with a rising star such as Hull, even though the club was already stacked with offensive talent. Then, two weeks before the trade deadline, Flames coach Terry Crisp called Hull into his office.

"Young fella, we've made a trade," said Crisp, explaining that the team needed to improve their defense and the promising goal-scorer was expendable.

The news was surprising, but Hull wasn't disappointed. Although he was a hot prospect, the Flames had tons of veteran talent that would bring the team a Stanley Cup the following season.

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