Before he was ever given the nicknames the Golden Brett, the Great Brettzky and the Incredible Hull, Brett was known as Pickle, a reference to his bulbous shape. By age 18 he was 5'10" and packed nearly 220 pounds.
"I'm basically a lazy person," Hull admits. His sloth almost cost him his career. After he finished midget hockey in '81, the 16-year-old Hull's prospects were so dim that he virtually dropped the sport. He finally latched onto a Tier II junior team in Penticton, B.C., and began opening eyes.
In 1984 Hull accepted a scholarship to the University of Minnesota at Duluth, where as a freshman he scored 32 goals in 48 games. "He scared the hell out of every goaltender in college," says New York Ranger scout David McNab, who followed him as a scout for the Hartford Whalers. "At every level he could get by on talent and that shot. The thought was that if he could get himself in shape and work hard, he'd be a star."
Hull showed up at his first training camp, with the Calgary Flames in 1986 (the Flames had made him a sixth-round draft choice in '84), looking like the Pillsbury doughboy. He did appear in 57 games for the Flames over the next two seasons, scoring 27 goals, but played lackadaisically and was shipped to St. Louis in a 1988 deal that brought defenseman Rob Ramage and goalie Rick Wamsley to the Flames.
"He would score, but he was one-dimensional," recalls Blues general manager Ron Caron. "But I liked what I saw and made the trade. His future is unlimited if he keeps working."
Last season Hull scored a team-leading 41 goals and had 84 points, but his labored skating and lack of attention in the defensive zone were liabilities. After the season, Sutter took Hull aside and told him how important he was to the club and how much he could improve if he concentrated on it.
It worked. Brett says he cut back on his partying, dieted and spent the summer running, doing aerobics and skating with members of the U.S. Olympic team. Instead of red meat, he ate chicken; instead of a baked potato, he went for rice. Brett reported to camp at 197 pounds, the roll of flab around his waist a bad memory, his attitude new and improved. Although he weighed only eight pounds less than he did in 1988, he added muscle and redistributed the weight to the right places.
The results have had an immediate impact on his game. Hull's skating is dramatically better, and while he's still not end-to-end fast, a new quickness is evident. No more does Brett depend solely on his slap shot. "I think I scored one goal with it this year," he says.
Hull's quickness allows him to dart in and out of traffic, and as often as not, he can be found in the slot waiting for center Peter Zezel or left wing Sergio Momesso to pass him the puck.
That's how Hull scored the first of the Blues' goals in a 3-1 win over the Rangers on Dec. 13. With time running out on a St. Louis power play, Momesso took the puck from Ranger defenseman Ron Greschner and backhanded a pass to Hull, who had his back turned to goaltender Bob Froese. In one quick motion, Hull turned and snapped the puck over Froese's shoulder. It was truly a goal scorer's goal.