LOS ANGELES - When the Flyers' group of carefully selected alumni walk out of the Phillies clubhouse and onto the ice at Citizens Bank Park on New Year's Eve to take on the New York Rangers' alumni, they will do so with a goaltender who only a few hardcore fans remember.
Mark "Trees" Laforest, who played 38 unremarkable games in Philadelphia from 1987-89 with an 87 percent save percentage, will man the crease for the Flyers. In fact, it's a rather fitting fate for a franchise that has featured a lot of unremarkable names in net over its 44-year history.
Ron Hextall is jealous of "Trees," who was his backup for those two seasons.
Hextall, now 47, was the Flyers' first choice in goal. Sadly, he will be unable to play after undergoing back surgery last summer.
But that doesn't mean he didn't think twice about accepting the invitation.
"I'm really disappointed to not be able to take part in the game," Hextall said in an interview last week while the Flyers were on the West Coast. "When I saw the rosters come out for the game, I told myself that I've got to play. But that would be thinking with my heart and not my head. I had surgery and the doctor told me to be careful for about a year.
"It was tempting. I know I could stand in there, but I wouldn't be able to do much. It's not my nature to only play halfway."
Hextall is the assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Kings, where he is a key decision-maker on Dean Lombardi's staff. He remains in close contact with Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren and senior vice president Bob Clarke, saying they speak "consistently."
Somehow, Hextall - who left the Flyers in 2006 to head west - is on a staff that includes coach Terry Murray, assistant John Stevens and Lombardi (a former Flyers scout) in addition to players like Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Justin Williams. A few years ago, Murray said the Kings wanted to model themselves after a franchise like the Flyers.
Hextall sees it as more of a coincidence.
"Honestly, it just sort of evolved," Hextall said. "It all played out with a lot of us out here, but we wanted to bring in a bunch of quality people. They all just happened to have Flyer ties. They were the right people at the right time. And the inside info that we had for players like Mike and Simon, from our time there, certainly factored into our decision-making. We knew they were good people."
Hextall has witnessed Richards' rebirth with the Kings this season. Prior to Richards getting knocked out of last Thursday's matchup with Florida with what is believed to be a concussion, Hextall and the rest of the Kings' staff were thrilled with Richards' production.
"He had a little bit of a slow start and I don't think that was totally unexpected," Hextall said. "When you have a player who bleeds for one organization, that first trade can really hurt. And I believe it did. He's played really well, he's been really involved and he's been smart."
When he's in Los Angeles, Hextall helps Lombardi with all of the day-to-day operations of the team. He also spends about 5 to 7 days per month in Manchester, N.H., where he is the general manager of the AHL's Monarchs.
Flying from one corner of the United States to another is probably not one of the joys of his job. But it provides Hextall with the unique opportunity of watching his son, Brett, in the AHL.
Brett Hextall, 23, is aiming to become just the second fourth-generation player from one family to skate in the NHL. Nashville's Blake Geoffrion, the son of Danny Geoffrion, grandson of "Boom Boom" Geoffrion and great-grandson of Howie Morenz, became the first to do that last season.
Ron Hextall, his father Bryan and his grandfather, Bryan Sr., combined to play more than 30 NHL seasons. Bryan Hextall Sr. is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Brett Hextall, who was raised in the Philadelphia area, was Phoenix' sixth-round pick in 2008. After wrapping up a 3-year career at the University of North Dakota last spring, he has collected six points in 18 games for the Portland Pirates.
"The one good thing is that I have seen him more this season already than I probably did in the last 3 or 4 years combined," Ron Hextall said. "I caught him in two rookie games, two preseason games and once in Manchester. But Brett's going to have to answer whether he'll make it to the NHL or not. He's got a real good shot."
Ron Hextall just wanted one more shot at the Rangers, outdoors on New Year's Eve.
"It would have been great," Hextall said. "The friends that I've made in Philly are friends for life. I will try and wrangle my schedule to get there for the celebration. I just wish I could be on the ice."
Andrej Meszaros did not practice yesterday after sustaining a nasty hit with 19 seconds left in Saturday's game in Phoenix. The Flyers are officially calling it a "maintenance day" . . . Danny Briere and Brayden Schenn also missed practice . . . James van Riemsdyk (muscular tear in midsection) skated in full drills with his teammates for the first time since Nov. 24. He could return to the lineup as soon as tomorrow night in Buffalo.