Monday, January 17, 2011

Hull to Gretzky

Last week, came word that Ted Bearer passed away at the age of 82. The former sports editor of the Brantford Expositor was credited as being the first journalist to cover the exploits of a young Wayne Gretzky. Some 42 years earlier, in January 1969, the hockey world lost the scout credited with discovering the legendary Bobby Hull. His name was Bob Wilson.

Bob Wilson started his scouting career with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. He was responsible for tracking down and recommending players for both the Toronto Marlboros and St. Michael's College.

While working for the Chicago Black Hawks, Wilson received a rather routine assignment. He was to journey to Belleville, Ontario and observe a player Chicago had interest in. Instead, he made another discovery - Robert Marvin Hull.

In his wonderful autobiography (1967) - Hockey Is My Game -  Hull tells the story.

 I didn't know it at the time, but I was first scouted by the Chicago Black Hawks that second year of Bantams in Belleville. My parents tell me that Bob Wilson, then the chief scout, was in Belleville to look at another team and got to the rink early. I was on the ice and it's said Wilson decided after a couple of minutes to place me on the Black Hawks negotiation list. Dad kept it a secret for nearly a year, and even now I have trouble believing it.
 I know Bob Wilson has a reputation for being the best of all hockey scouts, but I don't know how he could have seen any real potential when I was twelve. I might have been the fastest kid on the ice, and I must have been scoring goals, but that is no way to measure stability, hockey sense, and the urge to play the game. Bob (I found out) thought I could be taught the refinements and just hoped I had the other ingredients. Once he told a magazine writer that he knew from the first moment I would make it in the NHL. If he really did, it is one reason why Bob is such a great scout.

After his time in Chicago, Bob Wilson joined the expansion Oakland Seals. He was hired by former Hawk coach Rudy Pilous, who became general manager of the Seals. In anticipation of the expansion draft, Wilson scoured eastern Canada for talent. Two of his finds for the Seals were goalie Chris Worthy and defenceman Francois Lacombe. At the time of his passing, Wilson was chief scout and director of player development for Oakland.

And the first sports writer to single out Bobby Hull?  That was George Carver of the Belleville Intelligencer. He wrote "Bob Hull stole the eyes of the early morning rail birds." Like Gretzky, Bobby Hull never forgot his "first mention" and how much it meant to him.

Bob Wilson passed away on January 1, 1969 at the age of 66.

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