"He is fine."
From Granite City, Hull drives to a hotel in downtown St. Louis, where he spends two hours posing for pictures with a hundred or so local Coca-Cola retailers. After everyone has had his picture taken with him, Hull collapses onto a couch, massaging his smile-fatigued face. "My cheeks are killing me," he says.
Were all the appearances starting to wear him down? "As long as I can get my quality relaxation time, I'm fine," he says. "If it ever comes to a point where you can't relax your mind, you're in a world of hurt."
The next night, Feb. 28, a crack appears in Hull's calm. Despite shelling New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter with 11 shots, including a point-blank cannon blast in overtime, Hull failed to score in a 4-4 game. "Did he even see that shot?" demands Hull, annoyed with himself for hitting Richter and not a corner of the net.
Down the hall, Richter is ebullient in stalemate. "The more I play against Brett," he says, "the more I realize, it's not the heaviness of his shot—up here, a lot of guys have a heavy shot—it's his release. It's so quick! Also, Brett is incredibly skilled at getting open. Somehow he's always sneaking into the slot, quiet as a mouse, and getting tap-ins."
Richter and Hull were teammates on Team USA at the 1986 world championships. Then a sophomore at Minnesota-Duluth, Hull joined Team USA, he recalls, as "pretty much an unknown carrying around a big name." His fondness for taking quality relaxation time in his own end did not endear him to coach Dave Peterson, who would scream at him, "Hull, we know you got a big goddam shot, now show us what else you can do!"
Richter can't recount those days without laughing. " Peterson's telling the team to skate hard, hustle, go in the corners, and there's Brett, this guy nobody's even heard of, doing figure eights, making the puck come to him and putting it in the net."
Hull's laid-back attitude and his seemingly effortless style have annoyed coaches throughout his career. "My personal philosophy has always been to expend more brain energy than body energy," he says. But after drafting him in the sixth round in 1984 and signing him in '86, the Flames didn't care much for Hull's personal philosophy. What they did care about was, Could he backcheck? Muck along the boards? Fit in among the team's legions of grinders? When it became clear that Hull couldn't—or wouldn't—his days in Calgary were numbered.