Ultimately, we now have two great hockey minds in positions of power. And I coached new Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, so I would like to share my insight. He was unique as a player, with a crazy passion for the game of hockey.
I went to Winnipeg, Canada to scout him as a junior and I had heard before making the trip that he was aggressive, he read plays well, he had a good vision and anticipated where the puck was going; he could even shoot the puck well. The first time I saw him play, I think he had eight or nine goals scored against him in that game, but I still liked the way he played. Everyone has bad nights, but he still challenged the shooters, looked for the shot from the blue line, and positioned himself accordingly. He was an intelligent goaltender.
Even with those nine goals scored against him, I saw something special. His energy created a leader in him. And you need a leader at goal, a leader on defense, and a leader on offense. Hextall was that leader. You could hear him talking to his defensemen and offering them insight and guidance. He carried all of this with him all throughout his career.
I brought all of the information back to Keith Allen from Winnipeg, Canada and told him he’d be a great fit for the orange and black. We drafted him 119th overall in the 1982 NHL draft.
At this time, I was the goalie coach for the Flyers working with Pelle Lindbergh. Hextall came up to play with the Flyers in the 1984 season, played a couple years in the farm system, and after Pelle passed in 1985, Hextall had one of the best seasons I’ve ever seen as a rookie during the 1986-1987 season, which won him the Vezina trophy. Ultimately, the Flyers lost the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers, but Hextall was still awarded the Conn Smythe trophy. I knew he had it as a junior, but the progression he made was amazing.
Being a professional goalie and Hall of Famer, critiquing his play as he made it into the NHL was truly fascinating. Everything he exuded as a junior intensified in the NHL. Every skill and attribute that he had was perfected: his leadership, vision, enthusiasm, etc.
Hextall was the first goaltender to score a goal in the opposing net. He really changed the game. How incredible is that? Not to mention, he took the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals…twice.
Everyone knew what Hextall did on the ice, how loud and aggressive he was. But in the locker room, he was a typical goalie: quiet. If he had a bad game, he rarely expressed himself. But do you want to know what really showed everyone the type of player Hextall was? When he left the net to go after Chris Chelios after Chelios knocked out Brian Propp with a cheap shot. Hextall was the ultimate warrior, possessed a rare intensity and stuck up for his team members. That was a defining moment in his career.
We have Paul Holmgren as team president, who started out as a hockey player, made his way up to a scout, and then a general manager. And along comes Ron Hextall, who was one of the greatest goalies the Philadelphia Flyers organization has ever seen, who moved on to be a scout, then a successful assistant general manager with the Los Angeles Kings, and back to his home sweet home of Philadelphia as our new general manager. We now have two hockey-oriented minds making the decisions.
The best part of all of this is that these qualities stick with you, and I see all of these qualities and values expressed in Hextall’s position as general manager.
The heads of the Flyers organization have played so many roles on their way up the ladder and are experienced in all areas of the game of hockey. I think all of this passion, dedication, and team identity that radiates from Hextall will reflect into his managing.
Hextall took “don’t mess with my teammate” to the next level. Whatever it was you thought you were going to get away with, Hextall ripped that right out from under you. Not only will this resonate with the current Flyers roster physically, but having that sort of mental attitude on top of all the preparations will take this team far.
In this position of power, you are more likely to pursue athletes that play the way you played. And I can’t wait to see it come to fruition.