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Hot Line Reunion

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1 Hot Line Reunion on Thu Aug 19, 2010 8:02 am

grumpy old man

Heh I get goose bumps just reading this. Quite the thing to see Bobby Hull all choked up during an interview yesterday. And oh my God do Anders and Ulf look old.

Some very good memories from those WHA teams. The NHL was forced, partially due to the quality of some WHA teams to swallow up the four WHA teams.
He’s a hardened, often cynical 71-year-old, with a voice as rough as Manitoba gravel and a tongue sharper than a Wiltshire.

But there was Bobby Hull, overcome with emotion, his eyes welling with tears and his voice quivering like the goaltenders he used to stare down.

All it had taken to reduce the Golden Jet to a whimper was a reunion with Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson — the first time the Hot Line had come together on Winnipeg soil since they were members of the Winnipeg Jets in 1978.

“Being together means so much,” Hull said. “I don’t think it matters where we are. You saw how emotional I got. And I don’t do that very often. I’m 71 years old. And I’m on the back nine. I’m not going to get many chances to be with three guys that made my life worth living back in 1974.”

They tell the story like it happened yesterday.

How the first time they got on the ice together, the two mystery Swedes and the 35-year-old legend from the Chicago Blackhawks, joining a University of Manitoba Bisons practice at an arena in St. James, it was like somebody waved a magic wand.

“The coach said, ‘Bobby, go with the Swedes,’ ” Hull began, choking up at the memory. “I never saw two kids come out of the corner like they were shot out of a cannon like these two guys. And we went up the ice and, bing-bang-bing, it was in the net.”

Hedberg and Nilsson, who had never played with or against Canadians, were equally stunned.

“Ulf and I were turning to each other and saying, ‘This is unbelievable. It can’t be true. We wonder what Bobby is saying,’ ” Hedberg recalled. “I get goose pimples thinking about it. Unbelievable. It fit.”

Hedberg, who would go on to play nine seasons in the NHL with the New York Rangers, says he never felt that magic again.

“Not even close.”

A 35-year-old Hull, so disillusioned with the game he was considering retirement, was reborn, and for the next four years the Hot Line terrorized WHA defences, revolutionizing the way the game was played.

Thirty-two years later, the bond between the three remains as strong as ever, even though they hadn’t been together since a get-together in Sweden several years ago.

Maybe, as Hull suggested, they appreciate it more as time slips away.

“It’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my lifetime, to come with Anders and be able to play with Bobby,” Nilsson said. “It was unbelievable to step on the ice with this old man.”

Hull and Nilsson, in particular, are close.

Where in the seventies Nilsson used to help Hull deal with his marathon autograph sessions after games, today he helps the old guy tie his shoes.

“Knee,” Hull explains, moving around like a man who’s lived his years to the fullest. “Knee and everything else. It’s awful to get 71. There was a time I thought we were infallible.”

Saying he’s not one to dwell on the past, Nilsson, 60, admitted watching Hull reminisce got to him.

“I was choking up listening to it,” he said. “It definitely has to do with being in Winnipeg.”

Why did it take 32 years for somebody to make this happen?

For film director Tim Gassen, an Indianapolis native who followed the WHA as a kid and whose latest documentary on the league and the Jets premieres, here, Friday, Wednesday’s reunion was the only reward he’ll ever need.

“It was a surreal moment,” Gassen said. “I’m not from Winnipeg. But I felt this incredible swell of pride for the people of Winnipeg. They’re here. They are so excited to be here. We could have done this in Toronto or a couple of other places. But they wanted to do it here.”

We’re glad they did.

Because some 35 years later, the Hot Line is still worth watching.

(For info on Friday’s film premiere, call the Amadeus Steen Foundation, 475-4744)

Yes, I really am that Grumpy...

It's their, they're and there; in Canada it's colour, cheque, rumour and zed...

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