But as it was with Montreal's immortal Maurice (Rocket) Richard, Hull is rarely without company in a game. Everywhere he goes somebody either goes with him, or tries to. In recent years this has become a particularly sore point with the normally good-natured Hull, for as his goal production has expanded so has the fouling by his escorts. Four years ago Hull won the NHL's Lady Byng Trophy, given annually to "the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct...." It is unlikely he will ever win it again; Hull has to fight back continually merely to survive.
"Everybody knows Bobby's shadows," says Scotty Bowman, the coach and general manager of the Blues. "Bryan Watson, when he was with Detroit, Ed Westfall of Boston, guys like that. They're put out there just to slow Bobby down, trip him up, foul him if they have to. Bobby always compliments Claude Provost, his shadow in Montreal, because Claude will skate with him and go for the puck if he gets the chance. Well, Claude watches Bobby as close as anyone; he's just a lot less noisy about it. We play Bobby in a similar manner. I saw his father in Chicago the other night and he said, 'Scotty, I respect you and your team; you don't haggle Robert like the others do.' We don't exactly leave Bobby alone, but we don't want to make him mad, either. Sometimes I'm almost tempted to tell my guy to hum to him, sing to him if he has to—just don't make Bobby mad. You make a Hull or a Howe or a Mahovlich mad and they'll kill you."
In back-to-back St. Louis-Chicago games last week the effectiveness of this tactic proved to be only so-so. Bobby scored the winning Black Hawk goal in the first game but was shut out in the second as the Blues romped 6-1.
Ironically, the player who has made Hull the maddest this year is a Montreal teammate of Provost's. John Ferguson is one of the roughest scrappers in the league, and his careening style invariably brings him in contact with everybody at one time or another during a game. Last Dec. 7 he and Hull provided the main event on a card at the Montreal Forum, Hull coming away with blood streaming from a deep gash on the bridge of his nose. Hull said Ferguson inflicted the gash with his stick; Ferguson denied it. So, on Jan. 4—despite Hull's already fractured jaw—they fought again in Montreal.
Chances are they'll meet again, but whether his jaw has healed or not, Bobby will not consider himself fully fit. The problem is a finger on his right hand—the one that is still stiff from a car accident of several years ago. When the gloves come off, Hull can't make a complete fist with his right hand, which adversely affects his overhand right cross. When he is asked about the undue turbulence, Bobby flexes that right hand and says, "If only this finger would bend."