Bobby Hull and George Stetson died within two days of one another this week. Canucks fans have definitely heard of one of them and not the other, yet both of their impacts are unforgettable. They were both prominent hockey dads.
I ended up getting to know Bobby through his son Bart and then the rest of the family. Old Bob and I sat next to each other at Bart’s wedding reception in Boise a couple of decades ago. The hockey tales flowed as we downed a steady stream of ‘crown and cokes’.
“Robert,” Bobby would ask me knowing the answer, “you ready for another?”
“Yes, Mr. Hull.”
He told stories and we both laughed our arses off. I made mention of some of the adventures I had with my broadcast partner and dear friend Bart and Bob responded by expressing his love and admiration for his youngest son.
Regardless of any faults he had or may have had, his kids worshipped him as a hockey god. To his core, like the rest of us fortunate enough to be in the position, he was a hockey dad. Yes, a very famous one, but again, he was able to pass down the game that he loved to his kids.
Obviously they embraced it. Brett passed him in the NHL goal scoring department with 741 to Bobby’s 610. Of course, the older Hull added 303 in the World Hockey Association (WHA) over seven seasons, a grand total Brett can’t touch.
Even Bart got a taste of pro hockey. Known more for being a college and CFL running back, Bart earned a chance to lace ’em up in the old West Coast Hockey League for the Idaho Steelheads, stepping out of our press box to get a bit of ice time on the wing.
Another son Blake, who I first got to know when he was a club golf pro’ in Phoenix, was apparently the most gifted on ice, but he only played a couple of seasons of juniors. He pursued other opportunities over hockey, as did eldest son Bobby Jr, a veteran of both the ‘Q’ and the Western League.
Speaking of 610 goals, myself and camera guy “Super” Dave Falcone just happened to be at the Joe Louis Arena shooting a travelling TV show the night Luc Robitaille passed Hull for the most career goals by an NHL left wing. We were in the dressing room and had a chance to say hello after the two posed for photographs.
I ran into ‘big Bob’ at YYZ on one occasion after we had both cleared immigration and we had a nice chat.
He was always generous and gracious with his time and words.
Then the 45-minute stretch I’ll never forget. Because Bob Verdi, a Chicago Blackhawks beat reporter, was receiving the Elmer Ferguson Award at the Hockey Hall of Fame luncheon in 2016, the club sent along some representatives in support of the honour. Bobby Hull was one of them.
When the event ended, I walked over to say hello. Big Bob’s eyes lit up and I sat down next to him, he poured me a glass a wine, and we talked hockey. Everyone trickled out. The bar closed down and was dismantled. The staff began stacking the chairs and moving the tables. We ended up sitting in an empty room on Bay Street in Toronto sipping a decent red and chatting about pucks.
He asked me how my son was doing.
We shared a cab and I dropped him off at the Ritz Carlton.
It’s the last time I ever saw him in person.
Two days before Bobby Hull passed away we lost George Stetson, a name that will mean little compared to the “Golden Jet’s”, unless you’re from New England and the Mid-Atlantic and played hockey or baseball over the last seventy years. Then there’s a chance you may have run into him along the way.
George was one of a kind and his impact will be felt by those he coached and instructed – for decades he was a prep school history teacher at Tower Hill in Wilmington, Delaware – and his ability to spin a yarn legendary.
I often felt the urge to nominate George for the Lester Patrick Award for his grassroots efforts over the years and his involvement in hockey, an unsung hero getting the nod, rather than just recognizing the big names made good.
What a life.
Somehow, and I don’t remember the specifics, but George found himself attending the Summit Series in 1972 … in Russia! An American spectator and school teacher, part of this once in a lifetime battle between Canada and the Soviet Union. It’s no surprise the affable and old-school-connected George Stetson found his way to be a part of it.
There was a connection to the expansion Philadelphia Flyers, just up the road from the Stetson home in Centreville, Delaware, and for some reason, Blackhawks defenceman Pat “Whitey” Stapleton stayed at their house once or twice, probably as part of an off-season hockey camp.
Again, bottom line, George was a hockey dad first and foremost. His sons both played college hockey, four decades after George did. His son Matt played at Colby College, the same place George had played back when the program was just getting started.
Even up until just a few seasons ago, George and his sons, the other being Richie, would rendezvous at the Frozen Four to take in the NCAA National Championship weekend whenever they could. It was almost an annual pilgrimage.
My family and I house-sat for George and his wife Marilyn one summer as we transitioned east, setting up shop near New York City to take advantage of some media opportunities and other ventures.
As a grandfather figure – my dad had passed away long before my son was born – he spiritually adopted my son, who ended up attending school where the Stetsons had attended and where George had coached and instructed.
He was a great influence. We were given sage advice and told remarkable tales by a kind, sincere man with an incredible family. An educator and an influencer long before social media existed.
A legend in his parts and another great hockey dad.