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Blasts from the Past

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The Hot Line

The Winnipeg Jets number one line, consisting of Bobby Hull, Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg, has been labelled the "Hot Line". For some months, the media people toyed with various labels which they thought would be most descriptive for this exciting addition to the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club.

This line has received so many accolades since it started in the 1974-75 WHA season, primarily because of the European players. The European influence has made the Winnipeg Jets one of the most novel teams in North America. The fast skating, quick shooting, precision passing and hard work by the fastest line in major league hockey makes this line the biggest threat to opposing teams. The Hot Line has been broken up on several occasions during this short season due to injuries suffered by members of the line or as strategy moves by the coaching staff. However, the effectiveness of the line suffers and when back again, the reason for Hull, Nilsson and Hedberg is best revealed on the score board.

At present time, the Hot Line is leading all WHA teams in total production. Hull has 43 goals; 35 assists; for a total of 78 points; Hedberg has 22 goals; 20 assists; for a total of 42 points; Nilsson has 14 goals; 48 assists; for a total of 62 points; for a total of 79 goals; 103 assists and 182 points for the season.

The line has already achieved many scoring records - most points per game, most points per season - you name it, they've done it. It is not unusual for the hot line to rack up 12-15 points per night. No wonder opposing goalies have a great amount of respect for the Hot Line as opposition goalie averages tend to suffer each time the Winnipeg Jets play them.

The Swedes were suspect at the beginning of the season as rookies to the WHA. Everybody was concerned as to what would happen when they were under pressure. They were treated like rookies and it is a natural thing in professional hockey that rookies are tackled to see what they are made of. Bobby Hull, the third member of the line has never known to be a crushing checker or fighter.

All three members of the line get the job done by using their outstanding skills rather than bar-room tactics. This in itself has often been disadvantageous to the Hot Line on that opposing teams have defenced them physically but what the Hot Line has proved is that they can take the lumps of opposing players and what they hand out mostly is goals and assists, which is the most important thing when you want to win the game on the score board.

The home opener in 1974 resulted in a final score of Jets 4, Edmonton 0. The game was only 41 seconds old and many of the 7,700 fans were still filing into the Winnipeg Arena, getting a box of popcorn and casually moving to their seats. Perhaps they expected to see the usual humdrum type of hockey game they had been accustomed to. From the opening face-off, it was Hull to Hornung - to Hedberg - back to Hornung to Nilsson - shot - score! An unbelievable exposition of hockey finesse and skill. From that point on, Winnipeg fans became accustomed to sheer excitement when the Hot Line hit the ice. Anything is possible. The Hot Line gives the Winnipeg Jets the mobility it needs and it really is rubbing off on the other teams.

The individual members of the Hot Line is each a specially talented hockey player. Reports throughout the league include every known superlative.

Anders Hedberg: "Will be a star before Christmas." "Can skate like the wind." "His wrist shot has the velocity of a bullet." "Has tenacity to work in the corners." "Has the guts to take physical rebuttal and come back for more." "A gazelle on skates." "The Jets swiftest Swede." "The phantom Jet."

Ulf Nilsson: "Will o' the Wisp - leaves them gasping." "A dirty player - because he makes the opposition look that bad." "Best straight line man on the team." "The unsung hero for the Winnipeg Jets." "The quarterback of the Hot Line." "A witty little bugger and something of a joker too." "A gangly athlete who may not have received his fair share of body muscle."

Bobby Hull: Everything that possibly could have been said about Bobby Hull has probably already been said. His speed and precision and hard slap shot, plus his outstanding P.R. have truly earned Bobby the accolade of being the best buy that Winnipeg ever made. Bobby has been described as: "hasn't got a lazy bone in his body." "Work is a better tonic than rest." Hull in his unassuming manner tends to give credit rather than take it. He has stated that Nilsson and Hedberg are holy sinners the way they steal pucks and score.

"It's a real pleasure to be playing with two such talented athletes." One opposition goalie when asked to single out the one factor that lost them the game that night, simply replied, "too much No. 9."

Hull, Nilsson and Hedberg are probably the hardest working line in major league hockey. To them work is fun. The sense of humour of the three players endears them to other members of the hockey club and to the general public. Ulf Nilsson normally comes up with the best straight lines of the group. When asked what it is like playing beside Bobby Hull he replied, doubling up with laughter, "awful, just awful. He can't skate, can't shoot and he never gives me the puck."

Ulf Nilsson is the hub of the wheel that keeps the hot line rolling along. Ulf doesn't have the hardest shot. For that matter, he rarely shoots that much. He is persistent; he is dedicated to the cause and is doing more than was expected of him when he arrived from Sweden. Ulf has possession of the puck more often than any of his teammates. He makes the play happen. He sets up the plays more often than he scores them. When he skates, he does it meticulously, not with frantic leg motion or dramatic colour.

Hull and Hedberg are the two that the fans related to more often. Hull, the superstar, the Golden Jet and probably the most celebrated hockey player, and the player who has been the game's most prolific scorer. Hedberg, the blonde Swede who skates like the wind and who can leave defencemen gasping in his wake. Nilsson handles the puck like a veteran centreman. He has the quickness to spring Hull or Hedberg loose at any moment. His assist total, highest in the WHA underscores his outstanding ability as a play-maker.

Rudy Pilous has been quoted many times on the Hot Line as a delight and a pleasure to coach. In fact, Rudy has been known to say that this is the best line that he has ever coached in 35 years of professional hockey.

The Hot Line is hot and remains hot regardless of the performance of the rest of the team. They are the most consistent, hard-working line and that probably accounts for their outstanding performance to date. Opposition teams have attempted every kind of defence to stop this production line. Most recently, the strategy seems to be that if you can't skate with them or check them, maybe you can injure them and keep them out of the line up. All three members of the Hot Line have received their share of stitches, bruises and outright physical abuse from frustrated opposition defencemen. But they keep coming back for more. While there has never been any question about Bobby Hull's professional stature, his ability to stand up under strain and his consistent 110% effort each and every game, there have been questions raised about the Swedes ability to endure a whole season at the torrid pace they have been setting. The answers to these questions are becoming more evident and disbelief is turning into amazement at the continuing top class performances of the two Swedish stars.

By the end of the season everybody will know that in addition to Bobby Hull Nilsson and Hedberg are here to stay. Their performance both on and off the ice, their total points, and their exciting play will probably put them down in the hockey history books as the most exciting line in professional hockey in the 1970's.