HOCKEY JUST ISN’T HOCKEY WITHOUT A ROOMMATE

Brett Hull is talking on a cell phone as he drives to the airport with his carpool buddy, Chris Chelios. I am asking about the things he has enjoyed most in his long life in hockey — which may, if a lockout comes, be drawing to a close — and he is telling me something I did not know, even though, after 19 years in the NHL, you would think there would be nothing new about Hull to tell.

“I’m a great roommate,” he says.

Roommate?

“Yeah. I’ve always had a roommate on the road. Some guys today, now that you can have your own room, they grab it. They want to be by themselves. I never wanted that. I like having someone to talk to.”

Over the years, he has shared keys with Mike Modano, Mike Keane, Kelly Chase, Adam Oates and “a few others who I can’t remember.”

Any he didn’t get along with?

“No,” he says, “but in St. Louis, I was rooming with Paul Cavallini, and he fell in love. He was always on the phone with his girlfriend. All day and all night.”

Hull clucks his tongue. “Those are prime roommate hours — and all he’d be doing is talking on the phone. So I said, ‘That’s enough of that’ and got put in with someone else.”

Prime roommate hours?

The good ol’ days and nights

You wouldn’t think such things would matter to Hull, who, at 39, is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. You’d think he might trade off his name, right? Demand the penthouse suite?

Instead, he relishes the handful of road trips he has left in his career. He rooms with Chelios, who, at 42, is one of the few players who could pull seniority on Hull for the better bed. They are sharing space in Calgary this week, during one of those rare one-city road stretches that now only come during the playoffs.

“When I first came into the league, we used to have mandatory team lunches,” Hull says. “They’d start at noon, and at 8 o’clock, guys would still be straggling out.

“Now, it’s almost impossible to find three guys to go to lunch with. In the old days, we used to always go out for a beer or dinner after a game, stay overnight in the city. Today, we finish the game and get on the private plane, fly home, go our separate ways.

“The young guys figure that’s how it works. Only the old guys remember when we burned the candle at both ends.”

And how did Brett Hull burn that candle?

“I plead the fifth,” he says.

If Hull sounds nostalgic, he’s entitled. For one thing, having grown up as Bobby Hull’s son, he’s witnessed the NHL far longer than his Red Wings teammates. Besides, don’t most guys, when the game is over, say they miss the camaraderie more than anything?

And like it or not, Hull knows his career is winding down.

“I want to put a positive spin on it. I tell myself maybe it’ll be a short work stoppage. I don’t want any of that ‘last hurrah’ stuff. So I’m looking at it positively.”

And is that a form of self-deception?

“Absolutely,” he says, laughing.

The rules of the road

Hull scored a goal in the Wings’ 5-2 victory Saturday, and has four points in the playoffs so far, one fewer than young linemate Pavel Datsyuk and one more than young linemate Henrik Zetterberg. But Hull’s playing time and productivity have been scraped by age this year, with a long scoreless streak that was uncharacteristic of his whippet shot and legendary accuracy.

Still, he played 81 of the 82 regular-season games and all the playoff nights. Pretty good for a guy who turns 40 this summer, right?

“I want to keep playing,” he says. “But I’m a realist. There might be a difference between what I think of myself and what other teams think of me.”

And if this postseason proves the last lap for Hull, he won’t go through the withdrawal symptoms some players endure. He has achieved more than he dreamed, he says, and there are things he wants to do and places he wants to see. He has never, believe it or not, been to Hawaii, or most of the hot spots in Europe. And, he notes, he could be very happy “golfing my life away.”

But he will miss the road trips — and not just the old late nights. He’ll miss hanging around, talking, as he and Chelios do, about their kids, about the movie they’re watching on TV.

“I have only two rules,” Hull says. “The room has to be cold, and no hockey on TV.

“Other than that, I can put up with anything. And I can sleep through a hurricane.”

I hear Chelios laugh in the background. I ask Hull if he’s going to miss his roommate.

“Well, I have a beautiful girlfriend,” he says. “She’ll be able to take his place.”

And redefine “prime roommate hours,” too.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. He will sign copies of “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” at 7 p.m. Friday at Borders in Novi; 11 a.m. Saturday at the Open Book, 118 S. Front, Fremont, Ohio; and 2 p.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble, 4940 Monroe, Toledo.

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