"......a teammate is defined by the Orange and the Black and not the name on the back"
-- Ron Hextall 2/6/2008
Ron Hextall, a true Flyer, was inducted into the Flyer Hall of Fame last night between the 1st and 2nd period of the game between the Flyers and Caps. Ron Hextall embodied everything Philadelphia fans love about their sports heroes: tough, gritty, and passionate. But most of all, it can be summed up by his hatred of the feeling of losing. Winning is great, but to avoid the pain of losing means that you would do anything on the ice if it meant you would win. Even learn to stick handle like a forward, argue like a coach, and fight like a goon. And yes, make the occasional 10-bell save. Hextall could do all of those things.
Especially in his prime.
His Flyer career is really split up into two parts; both parts included a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Both parts were equally bittersweet.
In his first act, he was part of the Dave Poulin-led Flyer teams, who were the perpetual underdogs. Those teams found ways to win. Those teams were always among my personal favorite, because even when the hockey establishment thought the Oiler dynasty would roll right through them, nobody told the Flyers. Especially rookie goalie Ron Hextall. He jumped, dove, and lunged his way into hockey immortality by being one of the only players from a losing team to win a Conn Smythe trophy as MVP of the playoffs (ironically, the other to do it is a Flyer as well; Reg Leach). He even went on to score a couple of goals during Act 1; of course, we all knew with the way that he handled the puck that this was inevitable. He continued to push, hack, slash, and bang those pipes and embody the Flyer spirit.
This first act ended with the groin injuries that robbed Hexy of his flexibility and Hexy's inclusion in the monumental Eric Lindros deal.
Act 2 in Hextall's Philadelphia story would begin 2 years later, with Bob Clarke, his spiritual godfather, coming back to Philadelphia as GM. Clarke reacquired Hexy for Tommy Soderstrom. Before you knew it, the chants of HEXY, HEXY filled the Spectrum again. It was good to have him back; it felt right. His second act was not always a solo act; sometimes Garth Snow was around to help. He wasn't completely the same; no more fights for, well, just because he felt like it. His reflexes weren't what they were before, either. In the old days, when he was out of position, his God-given reflexes made up for it. Not anymore. But the intensity and the will to win was still there. He gave up the occasional soft goal at the wrong time; the Detroit series was no fun at all. What people forget is that those Flyer teams and specifically, that Detroit series, is that they probably would not have been in the lofty positions they occupied through the mid-90s without Hextall.
Last night's ceremony inducting Ron Hextall into the Flyers Hall of Fame was special and I was glad I got the chance to catch it. They even got him to do that little song he used to play off of the goal posts with his stick just one more time.
Unfortunately, the 2007-2008 version of the Flyers did not follow up the ceremony with a spirited effort. As a matter of fact, it was tough to find any spirit with this team until mid-way through the 3rd period as they lost to the Capitals 4 - 3. The score was not indicative of how this game progressed; the Flyers played with little energy and almost no passion.
It was a shame that on a night where the Flyers honored one of their own who personified passion and energy that the current edition of the Flyers could not sum up those qualities when they needed them.