June 26, 2020

Pucks On The 'Net

It's been a long while, but it's time to put some Pucks on the 'Net.
  • Congratulations to the Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2020. Jarome Iginla and Kim St. Pierre were no brainers in my opinion. Marian Hossa is a solid choice who probably should have been made to wait (like continued oversight Alexander Mogilny). I thought the Hall of Fame had drawn a good line when Kevin Lowe and Doug Wilson were left on the outside looking in. Very good players yes. True greats? No. 
  • Why is the bar for goaltenders set so high? Mike Vernon, Mike Richter, Tom Barrasso, Ron Hextall, maybe even Andy Moog and Chris Osgood all have strong resumes. If the bar for skaters was a high as the bar for goaltenders, the Hall of Fame would truly be reserved for the absolute best of the best. 
  • As for the whole Covid-19 monkey wrench in the hockey season, I do not know that I am qualified to say a whole lot and maybe that's why I haven't said anything. 
  • I think it's crazy that the NHL wants to have the season continue in two countries. Eliminate the border crossing concern and hold it in one country. That will clearly increase the chances of getting the season completed. 
  • And that country clearly should be Canada. The United States handling of all of this is an absolutely disaster. The only advantage they have there is finding local health authorities who will turn a blind eye if players start coming down with mass cases of the virus. 
  • The Canadian health authorities should be the biggest reason the NHL has both host cities north of the 49th parallel. But it seems to be a deterrent as the league just wants to complete the season and secure the monies from the broadcast deals.
  • I'd be okay if the season never does get back on the ice. Let's move forward and get the future right. But man oh man there is so many question marks about the future of the game and of all of professional sports. The implications are simply mind-boggling. 
  • To be 100% honest, I don't miss hockey. I think that's because it is completely out of my control so I can't do anything about it anyway. As Todd Bertuzzi always said, it is what it is. Just like how I didn't miss hockey during the lockouts. It'd be different if hockey was on and I wasn't able to watch because my TV broke or something like that. 

June 22, 2020

Bernie Federko

Bernie Federko is one of the greatest players to play in the NHL, only not everyone knows it.

Federko recorded 11 straight 20-goal seasons and four 100-point seasons in his illustrious NHL career. He became the first player in National Hockey League history to record 50 assists in 10 consecutive seasons. 13 of his 14 NHL seasons were spent in St. Louis where he is considered to be arguably the greatest Blue ever. When he was traded to Detroit late in his career, he was the Blue's all time leader in seasons, games played, goals, assists and points.

Yet recognition was hard to come by for the native of Foam Lake Saskatchewan. Being over shadowed by some of the NHL's greatest offensive forces (Federko played in an era of 150 point scorers like Gretzky, Lemieux, Bossy, Kurri and Yzerman), Federko's skill was often overlooked in St. Louis. Another reason that Federko was overlooked was that his team never came close to accomplishing much in the playoffs like the Oilers or Islanders did. It didn't help that St. Louis was one of hockey's smallest markets either.

Federko was one of the game's best playmakers in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. His outstanding hockey sense and anticipation combined with his soft hands placed him among the league's elite playmakers. Unselfish is probably the best adjective to describe Bernie, although under-rated also comes to mind. Wayne Gretzky of course popularized using the area behind the net (better known as Gretzky's Office) as an area to set up plays, but Bernie was also adept in that area, and actually used that area to his advantage earlier than Gretzky did.

Bernie was an average skater, a step slow in comparison to the Gretzkys and Yzermans of the league. He however had great balanced which made him hard to knock off the puck, despite his average size. This also enabled him to excel in traffic. Federko was never a physical player, but was always willing to take or give a hit in order to make a play.

Bernie was an under-rated goal scorer as well. He was a consistent 30 goal threat during his prime. He peaked at 41 in 1983-84 and scored more than 20 in 11 consecutive seasons. His wrist shot was particularly deadly. .

Federko's career started by playing three spectacular years with the WHL's Saskatoon Blades. In his final season with the Blades, 1975-76, Bernie recorded 72 goals and 187 points in 72 games. In total Bernie scored 133 goals and 211 assists for 344 points in just 206 games. His incredible numbers earned Federko the 7th overall selection by the Blues in the 1976 Amateur Draft.

After starting the year with the Blue's farm team in Kansas City of the CHL, Bernie debuted with St. Louis in 1976-77 in 31 regular season games, notching 23 points.

Federko went on to play 12 full seasons with the Blues. He notched seven 30-goal seasons and he had nine seasons with at least 80 points, including a career best 107, also in 1983-84. He became Mr. St. Louis Blue, leading the team in all major career scoring statistics.

After 13 years in St. Louis, Bernie was traded to the Detroit Red Wings prior to the 1989-90 campaign. Federko and fellow veteran Tony McKegney in exchange for Paul MacLean and Adam Oates - a younger but very similar player to Federko. He played just one season in Detroit, scoring 17 goals and 57 points in 73 games. It was a tough year for Federko.

"It was kind of a different year for me after being in St. Louis for 13 years. It was really kind of a shock to be traded first of all. And to end up in Detroit and on a team that didn’t make the playoffs … we had made the playoffs the last 10, 11 years straight that I was in St. Louis and we didn’t make the playoffs in Detroit. It was almost a really kind of a rotten year."

One of the few highlights for Federko in Detroit was playing in his 1000th career NHL game, which also happened to be his final game in the NHL.

"It was the last game of the season and it happened to be 1,000. And I think when I look back now, if I hadn’t hit the 1,000 mark, if it would have been 999, I may have decided to play another year because I think it was important to get to 1,000. And I think when I look back on it, if I hadn’t have got it, I would have been very disappointed. So as it turned out, it was 1,000. I think maybe it was the writing on the wall that it was time to retire.”

Upon retiring from the NHL in 1990, Federko had recorded 369 goals, 761 assists and 1,130 points in 1,000 regular season games. He added 101 points in 91 playoff contests. Bernie also played in the 1980 and 1981 NHL All-Star Games.

After retiring, Federko returned to St. Louis where he has become a fixture on St. Louis Blues broadcasting programs. The Blues also retired Bernie's #24. It was a bittersweet moment for Bernie, as he told NHLPA.com.

“It was a special moment. There’s no question it was a special moment. But it was kind of … I still had that little boy in my heart that I wanted to finish my career in St. Louis. So I think that as I look back, even though the banner’s hanging there, it isn’t as special as it would have been if I would have played my whole career in St. Louis. But it was a really special moment when they asked me to do it. But it was something that was always missing and even today, it still is always missing, the fact that I played my 1,000th game in another uniform. Because it was a dream … especially after being here for 13 years, that I wanted to finish here. And everybody knew it but because of the nature of the business, it didn’t end that way. But I don’t think there’s anything greater, a more flattering incident, then when they do hang your jersey up. The St. Louis Blues were my life even though I played that one year in Detroit. The Blues were still my life. It’s almost something that was not there, like that year did not happen."

May 02, 2020

Darius Kasparaitis

Talented, feisty on the ice and a free spirit away from it, Darius Kasparaitis was a highly competitive defenseman from Lithuania. A strong skater who mostly concentrated on the defensive side of the game, Kasparaitis had an infectious enthusiasm for the game.

Kasparaitis succeeded Ulf Samuelsson as the NHL's resident controversial hard hitting defenseman. He loved nothing more than to lay a booming hit and he preferred to target the other team's superstars. Just ask Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros and Mark Messier, among many others.

When he was not seeking victims with his deadly hip checks or flying shoulders, he was known to use his stick liberally and yap constantly. Dirty? Sure. Tough? Definitely.

"I think they no like me," he said of his opponents. "First year, it's good. Second year, maybe people know me as good player, tough guy. When I come in N.H.L. I must sell my name: 'Kasparaitis, this guy is no easy player. This is hard player.' Be ready for me. Hockey is man game."

"It's my game, my style," he said. "Sometimes I hit guy in first period and guys want to hit me back all night and make me hurt. I must be always ready, careful."

Somehow Kasparaitis survived 14 NHL seasons with the Islanders, Penguins, Avalanche and Rangers. Going to battle 863 times in the regular season and another 83 games in the playoffs as the most hated man on the ice could not have been easy.

But Kasparaitis loved the role and every minute of every battle.

Kasparaitis was the first and only Lithuanian to play on the national team of the former Soviet Union.

Kasparaitis had left Lithuania at the age of 14 to play hockey for Moscow Dynamo. He had to overcome extreme homesickness to continue on to become the first Lithuanian to play in the National Hockey League.

"I come home for holidays, I tell my mom, 'I don't want to play hockey and live with Russian people,'" Kasparaitis recalled. "My mom cry and say: 'Go back. It's your job. Go back to Moscow.' I go back. Cry. I was 15 years old. Now, I very thankful to my mom."

He quickly became one of the top defensemen in the Soviet Union. Representing the national team and competing at the Olympics became his goal.

At the 1992 Olympic Winter Games in France, Kasparaitis represented the Unified Team, a team consisting of Russia and of former Soviet territories that were trying to figure out their political futures after the collapse of communism. The former Soviets ended up beating Canada for the gold medal.

But to play in those Olympics Kasparaitis had to sign away his eligibility to play any sport for a Lithuanian team.

“I had a choice to play in Olympics (for Russia) or represent Lithuania (not in the Olympics). I made a choice to play on the highest level.”

"You feel good when you win Olympic Games," he said. "You can be rich guy but you never buy Olympic championship. Big title, for all life. Have children, show children picture and medal. Gold medal. It's great."

The New York Islanders drafted Kasparaitis fifth overall in 1992. With the changing political world seeing Soviet stars allowed to freely pursue careers in the NHL, Kasparaitis immediately began focusing on his new goal.

"Win world junior championship, win Olympic Games, play in world championship," he said. "Then, drafted by New York Islanders. Come and see America. Play in NHL. Unbelievable! Hockey is a great life."

After a career being one of hockey's most punishing hitters, Kasparaitis retired and moved to Florida. In his playing days he was known as a big spender, blowing his high paychecks on clothes and cars and nights out. But he has settled down and started his own real estate development company.

April 29, 2020

Paul Coffey

The first thing everyone thinks about when the name Paul Coffey is mentioned is his skating ability. Wearing skates several sizes too small, this guy was simply amazing. In a couple of strides he was able to glide through the neutral and offensive zones faster than those dogged checkers chasing him. He was every bit as silky smooth as he was lightning quick.

Scoring exploits are also always remembered. He retired as the 10th highest scorer in NHL history, even though he was a defenseman. Coffey tallied 396 goals and 1,135 assists for 1,531 points in 1,409 regular-season games. He added 196 points, on 59 goals and 137 assists, in 194 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He eclipsed the 100-point mark five times in his career, and set the single-season goal-scoring record for defenseman with 48 goals in 1986.

Given the green light to play offensively from the blue line while skatinging alongside the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier and Steve Yzerman allowed him to attain such lofty career numbers. The three time Norris trophy winner and eight time All Star was a brilliant passer, often triggering transition offense with amazing and instinctive breakout passes. While everyone will remember him for his skating and his puck rushing, Coffey may have been the best first-pass defender in league history.

The Oilers drafted Coffey 6th overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. It took a little patience, but soon Coffey was a key member of hockey's last great dynasty.
"Joining the Oilers was a great opportunity for me to get a chance to play on a young team that had a lot of talent," Coffey said. "I was always a good skater, but I was not as offensively oriented as a junior as I was as a pro. That was the style Glen Sather wanted me to play. My first partner was Gary Lariviere and he gave me a lot of confidence. I had the green light every time I was on the ice. Then, working with Charlie Huddy, we took it to another level. He allowed me to play the way they wanted me to play. Charlie was a very good defenseman and we had a lot of fun playing together."

"It was exciting to be on the ice with him and watch the way he could skate," Huddy said. "The great thing was he would take a few strides and then he'd just glide most of the time. He would glide by people, which is fairly unusual. He was such a powerful skater that it was fun to watch. He could come out of our end and find guys in the middle of the ice and the pass would be right on the tape. There weren't very many times that it wasn't right on the tape.

"His ability to see the ice and make those kinds of plays was remarkable. You know, it was something different every game. You never knew what was going to happen. It was exciting for me to be part of it."
The Oilers exploits need no introduction. With Coffey on the blue line the Oilers won the Stanley Cup in 1984, 1985 and 1987. In 1985 he set playoff standards for all defensemen with 12 goals, 25 assists and 37 points in 18 playoff games.

Following a contract dispute, Coffey was traded to Pittsburgh after the Oilers were eliminated in the 1986 Playoffs. It was a blockbuster deal that gave Pittsburgh a top-notch offensive defenseman and Edmonton a good scorer in Craig Simpson.

"Going to Pittsburgh was a great opportunity and great challenge for me," Coffey said. "GM Eddie Johnston acquired me and that was awesome. I saw him play with the Bruins and the Maple Leafs and now I was getting a chance to play with a superstar in his own right in Mario Lemieux, but we didn't know how to win yet. I went from a team that was a perennial Stanley Cup champ to a last-place team, but one with all the right people in place. They didn't know quite how to get to first-rate status. My first week there I realized what a big challenge this was for me. I was thinking, 'What the heck have I done?' I kept my nose to the grindstone and management kept acquiring players until we had a team that could win."
Coffey would get a lot of credit in turning that franchise around, helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 1991. But a lot of people forget that Coffey was actually traded prior to the Penguins successful Stanley Cup defense in 1992. Late in that season Coffey was moved to Los Angeles where he would be reunited with his old Edmonton running mates Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri.
His stay in California was short, just 60 games spread over parts of 2 seasons. Before the Kings went on their magical march to the 1993 Stanley Cup finals, Coffey was traded to Detroit where he played strongly for four seasons.

Coffey became a vagabond player after that, playing in stints with Hartford and Philadelphia, Chicago and Carolina and finally in Boston in the 2000-01 season. Though he was a shadow of his former self, his experience and leadership undoubtedly proved to be valuable assets.
Coffey had his share of detractors - he did play with some awfully great players to help pad his stats, he wasn't the greatest defensive player, and outsiders labelled him as a difficult personality in dressing rooms. These suggestions may all have some merit to them, but at the same time I think are somewhat exaggerated. But for whatever reason, Coffey isn't quite considered with Doug Harvey or Ray Bourque or even Nicklas Lidstrom as the best defenseman in NHL history not named Bobby Orr.

Watching Coffey speed through the neutral zone and penetrate the offensive zone and carry that puck to the net was a great treat. For me he will always be an Oiler, and I was glad to see he and the organization patched up their relationship and had his jersey #7 retired.

I will also always think of Paul Coffey as a legend of Team Canada. He starred in the 1984, 1987 and 1991 Canada Cups in particular, he was also part of the 1990 world championship entry and the 1996 World Cup team.
Most people will remember Coffey's magnificent 1984 blocked pass on a Soviet 2-0n-1 break and his subsequent transition on the offense to set up Mike Bossy for the overtime winning goal. It's funny how his defensive play was considered spotty in the NHL, but with his amazing speed he was a key defender for Canada against those powerful Soviet teams in the 1980s.

April 21, 2020

Joe Mullen

Joey Mullen quietly spent his career as one of the most complete players in the National Hockey League. He excelled at the finesse game as he was an outstanding skater and super sniper. He was dangerous with the puck, and consistent. He was a 35-45 goal threat almost every year in his prime. But he was very conscious of his defensive responsibilities and played a tough game despite his small size.

Yet Mullen was overshadowed by some of his peers. Despite having 6 consecutive 40-plus goal seasons he was only once selected for post season All Star status at right wing. Even in what everyone knew would be his final game he received next to no fanfare. That might be expected though when you retire on the same night as your teammate - Mario Lemieux!

That type of exit seemed to symbolize the career of Joe Mullen. Despite all the great contributions Joey made to his team and to hockey, he rarely got the credit he should have. The ultimate team player who never sought the individual spotlight, is now getting that recognition though. He has been elected to both the Hockey Hall of Fame and the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

Not bad for a kid from New York’s tough Hell’s Kitchen. Who would ever guess anyone from that neighborhood would ever make the National Hockey League! He and his brother Brian (who also enjoyed a lengthy NHL career) used to have to carry axes in their equipment bags as a form of self protection.

Joe, who perfected his game on rollerblades as a kid, began at Boston College where he recorded 212 points in 111 games for the Eagles and led the team to a league title.

Mullen was never drafted by the NHL, but the St. Louis Blues were bright enough to sign the little forward to a free agent contract in 1979. He then played three years with Salt Lake of the CHL where he was named the league’s top rookie during the 1979-80 season. The following year, he led the CHL in scoring with 117 points and was named the league MVP.

Mullen made it to the "bigs" by 1981-82 and in total played parts of five seasons with St. Louis. In that time he scored 151 goals over five seasons, including back-to-back 40-goal seasons in 1984 and 1985.

Somewhat surprisingly Mullen was part of a 6 player trade that landed him in Calgary during the 1985-86 campaign. It is with Calgary that Mullen enjoyed his best years. In 1986-87, Mullen scored 47 goals and he won the Lady Byng Trophy, becoming the first American-born player to win the Trophy since 1936. He went on to post 5 consecutive season reaching the 40-goal plateau. His best year was 1988-89 when he scored 51 goals and 110 points en route to leading the Calgary Flames to their first Stanley Cup. Mullen led all post season sharpshooters that year in goals with 16. He was selected to the NHL First All-Star team and won his second Lady Byng Trophy. That year, he also became the all-time leading American-born scorer.

Mullen was traded to Pittsburgh prior to the 1990-91 season and his experience and timely offense helped lead the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. In 1991-92, he recorded his seventh season with 40-or-more goals and in 1993-94 he notched his tenth season with 30-or-more goals.

Mullen spent a couple of seasons late in his career bouncing around between Boston and Pittsburgh. He wasn't much of a scorer at that point, but he remained a leader and defensive forward.

Mullen's 16-year NHL career was spent with the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins. Although never flashy, he was a consistent goal scoring threat and a great team player. A gentleman on the ice, he was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy on two occasions. But he will always be remembered as the first U.S.-born player to score 500 career goals and the first American to record 1,000 career points.

Joe Mullen is the arguably the greatest American born player to date. He helped generate hockey interest in the US and paved the road to success for many of today's American superstars. For his efforts Joe Mullen was named to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in September of 1998 and Hockey's Hall of Fame came calling 1999.

April 20, 2020

Ryan Walter

Ryan Walter was a born leader.

Born in New Westminster, BC, Ryan, one of the nicest people you'll ever meet, played his minor hockey in Burnaby, British Columbia, before going on to play junior in Langley and Kamloops. However it wasn't until he moved to the WHL's Seattle Breakers that Ryan became noticed by NHL scouts. He scored 54 goals and 125 points and he captained Canada at the 1978 World Junior Hockey Championships.

His outstanding play in the WHL prompted the Washington Capitals to select him second overall in the 1978 Amateur Draft. A year later, he was named team captain, the youngest captain in NHL history at that time.

Walter described his style of hockey:

"I was a bit adaptable I think over 15 seasons In the beginning, I think it was I was pretty aggressive and a Rick Tocchet type of player that scored goals and had to sort of play a very rounded game. I played center and wing in those early years.

"Coming into Montreal, early in my time there, I was playing with Guy Lafleur and Doug Wickenheiser and so it was more of an offensive bent obviously. And then, about half way through my time there, I ended up being a bit more of a defensive specialist and that continued through Vancouver."

Walter was a deceptively strong person, with leg power and balance being the trademark of his skating. He was a tenacious checker who was able to drive through his checks. He also possessed a great understanding of the game, and was able to read the play and anticipate his check's moves ahead of time. His vision enabled him to position himself perfectly to break up plays. Never possessing the quick release needed to become a top shooter, Walter was an opportunistic scorer who scored 264 goals in 1003 NHL games.

Walter enjoyed his best NHL season with the Capitals in 1981-82 when he set career-highs in all offensive categories with 38 goals, 49 assists and 87 points. He would be named as the Caps MVP, top player and fan favorite. However playing in Washington was like playing on the moon - you didn't get noticed there no matter how good you are, at least in those days. Ryan was one of the NHL's best kept secrets.

The Montreal Canadiens knew about him however and on September 9th, 1982 traded for him in a blockbuster deal. The Habs sent a young Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin to Washington for Walter and Rick Green. While Walter and Green performed well for Montreal, the trade would be dubbed by many in the Montreal media as the worse trade the Habs ever made as Rod Langway went on to become a standout on defense, twice winning the Norris Trophy.

Ryan spent nine seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, and won his first and only Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1985-86. He helped the Canadiens reach the Cup Finals again in 1988-89.

When Walter left Montreal he finished out his career in his home province playing two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. Walter, a devote Christian, was named the Bud Light/NHL Man of the Year in 1991-92 when he was also the Canucks' nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy and an alternate captain for the Canucks.

When Ryan left the NHL after the 1992-93 season, he had seven 20-goal seasons over his career and finished his playing days with 264 goals, 382 assists and 646 points in 1,003 regular season games. He also had 16 goals and 51 points in 113 playoff contests.

Walter has been busy experiencing many new facets of life since retiring as a hockey player. A devout Christian, Walter has been a leading figure for World Vision, Athletes for Kids and Hockey Ministries International as well as many Christian hockey camps. He authored three books: Off the Bench and Into the Game: Eight Success Strategies from Professional SportSimply the Best: Insights and Strategies: From Great Hockey Coaches, and Leading Strategies for Winning Teams. He became a motivational speaker, a corporate leadership coach, and dabbled in broadcasting. He served as a technical advisor for the Kurt Russell's Hollywood blockbuster Miracle, making a cameo appearance as the referee. He also became an board game entrepreneur with his critically acclaimed Trade Deadline Hockey.

April 16, 2020

Ron Hextall

With his masterful stickhandling, goaltender Ron Hextall helped revolutionize the game of hockey.

Ron Hextall's career started out like gangbusters. As a rookie he challenged Grant Fuhr for top status as the games best goalie in the late 1980s. He was incredible and made the Flyers a true Stanley Cup threat. Over time Ron's play leveled off to the point where he continued to play solidly, but was a victim of his own early success.

Hextall should be remembered as one of the most exciting goalies to watch play. He excited fans in a way that Dominik Hasek or Tony Esposito did. Fans will also remember Hexy for his uncontrollable temper. He set an NHL record for goaltenders with 113 PIM in 1988-89. Memorable skirmishes with Edmonton's Kent Nilsson and Montreal's Chris Chelios always stick out in the minds of many hockey fans.

Hextall revolutionized a game. He certainly wasn't the first goalie to handle the puck, but he was so good at handling and shooting the puck. Teams couldn't dump and chase against the Flyers because Hexy would roam behind the net to stop the puck and then lift it over everybody into the neutral zone where a quick Flyers forward like Brian Propp or Ilkka Sinisalo was waiting to pounce on a loose puck.

Also, Hextall was the leader of strong Flyers teams of the late 1980s. The Flyers came oh so close to knocking off the might Edmonton Oilers. Hextall's fiery play definitely characterized that team, something which is extremely rare for a goaltender to do.

Ron of course comes from a famous hockey family. Ron's grandfather is Hall of Famer Bryan Hextall. Sr. Bryan Hextall Jr. was Ron's dad, who also played in the NHL, as did Ron's uncle Dennis Hextall.

But right from an early age Ron wanted to be a goaltender.

"I remember going to my dad's practices, sitting behind the glass and watching the goalie the whole time," said Hextall in Dick Irvin's great book "In The Crease." "I can't explain it, can't pinpoint it. I twasn't like I watched a certain guy one time and said "I want to be a goalie like him." It was there from the start."

Although he and his brother were rink rats at the NHL practices, Ron never actually started playing hockey until he was 8 years old. At that point his hockey was played in Pittsburgh where his dad played for the NHL Penguins. Later Hextall would play low quality hockey in places like Atlanta and Detroit before his dad retired from hockey and returned to his native Brandon, Manitoba when Ron was 12.

The family bloodlines and the hanging out with NHLers must have made up for the lack of regular hockey training as Hextall made it to Major Junior hockey. The Brandon Wheat Kings were a pretty weak squad during Ron's tenure, which oddly enough Ron credits as a major reason for his development. A goaltender faces lots of shots while playing for a bad team, and can really develop. Where a goalie playing for strong team may have strong junior statistics, but isn't nearly as good a goalie or is behind in his development comparatively.

The Flyers selected Ron in the sixth round (119th overall) of the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, but it wasn't until 1986-87 when he made his NHL debut, playing in 66 games and posting a league-leading 37 wins, a career-high. He played in the 1987 All Star game, a rarity for a rookie. He was named to the NHL First All-Star Team and All-Rookie Team and won the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender. In the playoffs Ron's fiery play backstopped the Flyers to the '87 Cup Finals where he was named as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as Most Valuable Player in the playoffs despite the fact that the Flyers lost to the Edmonton Oilers in a memorable 7 game series. Despite all this, somehow Hextall didn't win the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, as a young Luc Robitaille notched 45 goals in his rookie campaign.

Hextall seemingly came out of nowhere to accomplish one of the greatest individual seasons in hockey history. He was surprised to even make the team. The Flyers had Bob Froese, who had been runner up for the Vezina Trophy the season before, and cagey veteran Chico Resch returning. Coach Mike Keenan played a bit of a hunch by starting with the rookie, and it obviously paid off.

Despite playing just one NHL season, Hexy was named to Team Canada in the 1987 Canada Cup. Hexy and the Islanders Kelly Hrudey never played however as Grant Fuhr went the distance. But it was still a definite honor for the big goalie. In 1987-88, he again played in the NHL All-Star Game and was awarded his second Bobby Clarke Trophy as the Flyers' Most Valuable Player. Ron would win that award again in 1988-89 when he posted his third straight 30 win season.

1987-88 was also memorable because Ron fired the puck into an empty net to become the first goaltender in NHL history to actually shoot the puck to score a goal. Nearly 10 years earlier Billy Smith was credited with a goal when he was the last player to handle the puck before the Colorado Rockies accidentally put the puck into their own goal. Hexy's goal came against Boston on December 8th, 1987. On April 11, 1989, Hextall duplicated this feat by scoring the first goal by a goalie in the Stanley Cup Playoffs!

Hextall downplays the importance of the goals.

"Everybody wanted it more than I wanted it. As much as I thought, yeah, it would be great, it would be fun, this and that, I didn't think it was that big a deal when I actually scored the goal. It was a thrill and when I look back it will still be a thrill. But it won't be in my book of the greatest memories of my career. I doubt if either of my goals will be there."

1989-90 was not a good season for Ron. He appeared in only 8 games. He was forced to sit out the first 12 games of the season due to a suspension for an incident in the previous playoffs. Hextall charged Montreal's Chris Chelios in a memorable battle in game 6 of the Wales Conference Finals. Ron later was felled by nagging groin and hamstring injuries, resulting in his most disappointing season ever.

"It was an awful feeling for me to sit out," confessed Ron to Dick Irvin. "I remember thinking that there I was, 25 years old and my career might be finished. I'm not a real spiritual guy but I must admit I said a prayer or two just to play until I was 32. At that point I was scared, very scared, that I was finished."

Hexy returned in 1990-91 to play 36 games, but some say he was never quite the same after his battle with the injuries. The stats support that argument, as Hextall struggled for the next two seasons. But in all fairness the Flyers team had deteriorated to the point where they were no longer playoff contenders.

Hextall's life changed on June 20, 1992 when the Flyers and Quebec Nordiques shook the hockey world with perhaps the biggest trade ever. Hextall was traded to the Nordiques with Peter Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, first round picks in the 1993 and 1994 drafts, and $15 million in exchange for the rights to a young phenom named Eric Lindros.

Hextall had a good season in Quebec, He went 29-18-6 and played a big role in turning around the once sad-sack Nords and bringing them back to the playoffs.

"Until the playoffs we had a great year," said Hextall of his lone season in Quebec. "We had 104 points. I still don't know what the hell happened in the playoffs. I played good for 4 games and then the wheels fell off. But overall we had a fun year. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

However Hextall's stay in Quebec lasted exactly one year as on June 20, 1993, he was traded with Quebec's first-round draft pick in 1993 to the New York Islanders in exchange for Mark Fitzpatrick and a first round draft pick in 1993.

In 1993-94, Ron played 65 games for the Islanders, one game shy of his career high. He also compiled a career-high five shutouts with an impressive 27-26-6 record on an average Isles team.

On Sept. 22, 1994, Ron returned to city of brotherly love. He was traded with the Islanders' sixth round choice in the 1995 draft to Philadelphia in exchange for Tommy Soderstrom. Ron celebrated his return by posting a league and career-best 2.17 goals-against average in 1995-96. He also posted 31 wins that year, the second highest of his career.

Towards the end of his career, Ron played more of a backup role. He shared the nets with Garth Snow for a couple of years before becoming a true backup to John Vanbiesbrouck in 1998-99. At the end of 1999, Hextall was bought out of his contract by the Flyers. The Flyers were looking to make room for a younger goalie to be brought up in their system.

Ron played in 608 NHL contests with a decision record 296-214-69. He had 23 shutouts and career goals against average of 2.97. He led the NHL in wins once and in GAA once. He is also the most penalized goalie in hockey history with 584 minutes, plus another 115 in the playoffs. He even scored 2 goals!

All in all fiery Ron Hextall will be remembered as a great competitor and a very good and entertaining goalie. He epitomized Flyer's hockey.