IT SEEMS LIKE just yesterday that Ron Hextall was slinging that puck into the Bruins net, or running Chris Chelios in the corner, or trading punches with Felix Potvin and Rob Pearson, or holding that, uh, very revealing interview with the late Tom Mees in the locker room following Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
It seems like just yesterday, and for good reason. All these memories, and many, many more, are available to see right now, on YouTube.
Over and over and over again.
"That YouTube is so dangerous," the man of the hour was saying from Los Angeles, where he is the assistant general manager of the Kings. "My kids, and the people I've met since I've been out here in LA see that and they look at me and . . . well, they look at me."
It's always been hard to reconcile that fiery guy of those clips with the soft-spoken, introspective - dare we say gentlemanly - man who will appear on ice tonight, honored as the latest inductee into the Flyers Hall of Fame. Hard unless you were his teammate, his wife or child, or any of the endless number of people in the Delaware Valley who came across him during his two stints in a Flyers jersey.
"He is one of the best teammates ever," said former Flyer Keith Jones. "And off the ice, a real gentleman. When you're traded to his team, that's what you learn."
Jones became a Flyer late in both men's careers, after stops in Washington and Colorado. Before that, he knew that other Hextall, the tough and sometimes nasty competitor who gave as much as he got, the subject of 46 YouTube videos submitted by hockey fans. Some highlight his saves, particularly during the Flyers' improbable Stanley Cup finals run of 1987, when Hextall became the fourth player from a losing team to be named Most Valuable Player. Some chronicle the first-ever goal to come directly off a goalie's stick that year, or his repeat of that feat against Washington during the 1989 playoffs.
Most, though, chronicle how he played the game, complete with slashes, in-crease donnybrooks and an enforcer's outlook on the game.
In fact, that's Jones on the bottom of the pile during the Pearson fight, and Jones and Hextall will tell you the nastiness between them before becoming teammates was often personal.
"Always," Jones said. "Anytime I ever played against him, I always tried to get under his skin."
"Without a doubt," Hextall said. "I wanted to kill him."
The intent was to distract, and for sure, that happened. But there were also times when Hextall was at his best when those emotions bubbled. It's why so many viewed him as a frustrated forward, a premise he continues to dispute. "My dad tried hard to make me a forward," he said, recalling his oft-told story of throwing socks against the stairs from the time he could talk. "I was meant to be a goalie.
"I think that's the biggest misconception about goalies, that they shouldn't be aggressive," he said. "A goalie's got to compete hard. You use your strength to push people so you can see pucks, you move a lot just to get in position. There's a lot of battle in goalies."
There also is a mentality that's hard to understand. Who would want to stop hard rubber discs traveling nearly 100 mph, night after night? Who would want the danger that entailed, finding yourself contorted or prone while a skater crashed into your net?
Over a 13-year career that included two trips to the finals, Hextall suffered a half-dozen injuries to both groins, and almost as many hamstring pulls, as well. It's a big reason why the most games he ever played in a season were the 66 he was involved in during that first season, before the wear and tear of his aggressive style of play began. It might also explain how he could make a series of spectacular saves in a game, then allow a mundane one to slip through.
Certainly it explains the mixed emotions that often greeted his play. Flyers fans will forever remember him for that 1987 Stanley Cup run, when he backstopped a band of overachievers to a near-upset of the mighty Edmonton Oilers, prompting Wayne Gretzky to describe him as "probably the best goaltender I've ever played against in the NHL." But the
local enthusiasm was muted
during those frustrating runs
of the Lindros-era 1990s, when Hextall's play both saved and sunk the Flyers in the playoffs.
Through good and bad, he was always there afterward, answering even the most heartless questions through a soothing, physician's voice. "I always viewed myself as part of the team," he said. "I understand that a lot of people don't. I think the part that a lot of people don't realize is that a goalie's success is due to the team's success. I know in '87 I got a lot of the credit, but damn it, every night there were 20 guys out there taking away space, blocking shots, clearing the crease. I really was a reflection of that."
He was more, of course. He was an extension of it, part of the lineage that began with those Stanley Cups of the mid-'70s, a lineage that seems to be having resurgence with the current group. He never won that Cup he so coveted, but not for a lack of effort, or emotion. "I wore my heart on my sleeve," he said.
"There's a mentality from being in the Flyers organization that will never go away," he said.
It is why his induction will feel like a coronation tonight, why his fondest memory has nothing to do with that '87 run, or the goals he scored, or even those countless YouTube moments.
"I think of something so far back," he said. "Pulling on a Flyers jersey for the first time. We were playing in Montreal, my first year out of juniors [1984, in an exhibition game]. That was pretty special. I had a good night that night, too. I think we beat them." *
Send e-mail to
For recent columns, go to