Fourteen years ago I had just finished journalism school and was writing a weekly hockey column for the Hamilton Spectator. My girlfriend, now wife, had just started working with a publishing house in Toronto called ECW Press. Since I didn’t have a ton of work at the time, the publisher, Jack David, asked if I wanted to help write a book they had signed up — the autobiography of Dennis Hull. Hull, a one-time Blackhawk and younger brother to the Golden Jet, had made a third career (he worked as a teacher after hockey finished) as an after-dinner speaker at banquets. His schtick was basically being self-deprecating and telling hysterical stories about his career and that of his brother. Perhaps most significantly, Dennis had an infectious laugh and would always chuckle at his own jokes. When I met him he was doing more than 100 engagements a year. We spent a few evenings together with a tape recorder running and I put his random anecdotes into order. The book came out in 1998 and sold a quite respectable 7,000 copies. It might have sold more, but one of Dennis’ remarks about his brother struck a little too close to home and he decided to let it go out of print. The Third Best Hull: or I would have been fourth but they wouldn’t let my sister Maxine play became a tough book to find in time.
More than a decade later, I got a call from the publisher. Dennis, it seemed, wanted to put the book back in print. It was commanding prices of $100 on eBay (which made me wish I’d had more than two copies) and it was decided an update was in order. One thing led to another and I found myself driving down the highway from Los Angeles to Hull’s winter home in Indian Well, Calif.
On the flight to California I reread the book, something I hadn’t done in years. Rereading a book you’ve written is not a worthwhile exercise in my opinion. What is done is done. But so much time had passed that I thought it worth considering how the book was written and whether it could be improved. Turns out Hull is still a funny guy and his stories still made me laugh.
I’ve just spent the last couple of days listening to Dennis bring me up to date on his life. He’s remarried since the book came out, and is as busy as ever. He’s put on a few pounds, but that infectious laugh is still ever-present. We’d sit on his back patio, which overlooks the Indian Wells GC (where they once played a PGA Tour event) and talk about the 40th anniversary of the 72 Series, his brother reconnection with the Blackhawks under Rocky Wirtz, and trying to get Glen Hall, who has a terrible lisp, to congratulate Dennis on his 66th birthday. Oh, and he also talked about Paul Henderson’s goal in the 72 Series: “Paul Henderson always says God helped him score that goal. I always tell him, ‘Paul, Bobby Orr was nowhere near the bench when you scored.'”
The book, which will still be called The Third Best Hull, will come out sometime early next year. Hull is still one of the key after-dinner speaks across Canada, commanding a good buck to tell his whimsical take on hockey. I’m sure the book, my first of five that I’ve written, will do well.
Interestingly, Dennis remains a passionate golfer. We played yesterday with his friend, Jim. The pair often play 36 holes — or until it gets dark — whatever comes first. In this instance we played the front nine in two-and-a-half hours. So instead of sticking behind the slow groups, we went back off the front and played in an hour. Interestingly, on the 17th hole we found ourselves behind the group that had been in front of us on the first nine — except we’d played an additional nine holes.
Dennis is a treat — and playing golf with him was equally special.
Tomorrow, before flying home, I’ve got the chance to tee it up at LA Country Club, one of the Top 100 courses in the world in Golf Magazine. The course had an extensive restoration under Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford, and is regarded as a real rival to Riviera as the best in Los Angeles. Here are a couple of photos to show off the remarkable work Hanse and Shackelford pulled off: