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Hull remains goal-oriented

At 39, Red Wing gets the job done

DETROIT -- Brett Hull snakes around the ice, sneaks into open space and then winds up for a slap shot or leans in for a wrist shot.

 

Opponents know exactly what the Detroit Red Wings star likes to do and how he does it. But they still can't stop him, even at the age of 39.

Just two players in NHL history -- Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe -- have scored more goals than Hull.

"It's very surreal to hear my name mentioned with those two guys because I have so much respect for them," Hull said. "I'm not usually at a loss for words, but it's tough to describe how it feels."

Hull moved past Marcel Dionne for third place on the league's all-time list with his 732d goal -- and 106th game-winner -- on Dec. 8 against Los Angeles.

And of course, he scored on a one-timer.

Luc Robitaille has seen Hull do it, as an opponent and teammate.

For years, the two played against each other. Then they joined forces for two seasons and helped the Red Wings win the 2002 Stanley Cup. Now, Robitaille is back with the Kings, who gave up Hull's milestone goal.

"Everybody wants to check him, but he always finds that spot," Robitaille said. "Pretty amazing how he does it."

Hull, the son of Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, learned to shoot at a young age.

"That's all I worked on because I knew I wasn't going to beat anybody with my skates," he said.

All that work is paying off.

As he has been for most of his career, Hull is among the NHL scoring leaders in his third season with the Red Wings. Coming into the weekend, Hull had 16 goals and 21 assists for 37 points, tied for sixth in the league.

"Especially with our injury situation, Brett is a big reason we've remained among the top teams in the Western Conference," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said.

Hull scored 26 goals with Calgary before being traded to St. Louis during the 1987-88 season.

It was with the Blues that the blond-haired Hull became known as "The Golden Brett," a takeoff of his father's nickname, "The Golden Jet." In 10-plus seasons in St. Louis, Hull scored 527 goals.

He had 72 goals in 1989-90, 86 the following season -- the highest total for a player not named Gretzky -- and 70 goals the next year. His 228 goals over that span trail only Gretzky's three-season total of 250 from 1981-84.

Before the 1998-99 season, Hull signed as a free agent with Dallas and ended the year scoring the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in triple overtime.

"Not only has he had a phenomenal career with his numbers and an MVP award, but he's also won championships," Red Wings coach Dave Lewis said. "And, he's been a star and a spokesman for the league. It's tough to beat what he's done."

Hull is only 5 feet 11 inches, and, although he's listed as 203 pounds, he says he doesn't really know how much he weighs. Perhaps because he hasn't hovered around 200 pounds in years.

"I am not the prototypical professional athlete because I was not blessed with a great body," Hull said. "I may be slow afoot, but my brain is fast. All of my high-twitch muscles are in my head."

His remarks drew chuckles from teammates Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, and Curtis Joseph, who were sharing a table with Hull during a post-practice lunch.

"Ah, c'mon," said Datsyuk, who was tied for second in scoring.

"His one-liners are unbelievable," said Boyd Devereaux.

Hull admits he's not "real subtle" but doesn't regret anything he's said. He has criticized officials and the league, and may be the only professional athlete to ever say his colleagues make too much money.

"It's the owners' fault for not evaluating talent better," Hull said. "When they give somebody $50 million that doesn't deserve it, they end up paying somebody who does deserve it even more."

The issue of player salaries is part of the NHL's looming labor problems. The league's collective bargaining agreement with players expires before next season, and many expect a work stoppage.

"There's no question we're headed for a lockout," Hull said. "There's more I'd like to say, but we're not supposed to really talk about it. You can imagine how tough that is on me."

If the NHL goes on hold for an extended period, Hull may retire. If the contract is settled relatively quickly, he could conceivably play for years and retire as the league's second-leading scorer. Gretzky's record of 894 regular-season goals is safe, but Hull could pass Howe (801) in a few years.

"I never fathomed my career would be like this," Hull said. "When I first started playing for Calgary [in 1986], I just wanted to be able to make the team and stick around. Everything since has been a blur."

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