What was more offensive to Philly fans during last night's induction of Ron Hextall into the Flyers Hall of Fame: Losing to the now first-place (!) Washington Capitals, 4-3, or the fact that none of the Bullies dropped the gloves in his honor? What an insult; that's like attending Elton John's birthday party and not wearing assless chaps. Fact is that the legacy of psycho goalies like Hextall has been tarnished, ignored and legislated out of the game. I spoke with one of the cheesesteak-lovin', battery chucking knuckleheads from The 700 Level to find out more about the Legend of Hexy and why inglorious bastards between the pipes have gone the way of Crystal Pepsi.
Growing up in Jersey, I should have been predisposed to loathe Hextall as a cheap-shot nogoodnik. And don't get me wrong, there were those moments watching Patrick Division hockey when I would have liked nothing more than to see Hextall
get liquored up and crash his Porsche get hurt somthin' real bad. But my father was an Islanders fan, so I approached players like Hexy through the Billy Smith filter: Goaltending by any means necessary, short of Chris Simon padded-cell goonery. Smith, Hextall, Jamie McLennan, Garth Snow before the desk job, to a certain extent Patrick Roy and Ray Emery today — whether they were any good between the pipes didn't matter, because their aggression was the selling point. (Although it helps that Roy and Smith have put their name on a cup more times than Robert Downey, Jr.) This kind of player, and their kindred spirits at other positions, helped bring me to hockey; and their slow extinction is, partially, why I feel like today's product is an adventure in tedium.
Matt Pesotski has been doing some great Hextall retrospective work on The 700 Level this week, so I decided to pester him: Where did this breed of Devious Psycho Goalies go?
"In order to increase scoring, which the NHL sees as a catalyst to higher ratings, the league changed the rules to allow — if not encourage — players to camp out in the crease. The sanctuary was invaded, and its inhabitants became an endangered Darwin-fish species," he said. "I miss the days when Hexy would pop a guy in the back of the helmet, knocking it over his eyes, and sometimes I'm still surprised when a feisty guy like Marty Biron doesn't do the same."
But that's what separates Biron from someone like Hextall. (And I'm talking vintage Hextall, not the guy from the mid-1990s who had a Slip-'n-Slide that led through his five-hole.) Goalies lead today with a big save, or in ConkBlock's case simply not being an inconsistent sieve like Marc-Andre Fleury; 20 years ago, goalies would lead the same way while also using their stick as a croquet mallet on some guy's shin. It's the difference between being a disposable player and being a cult icon. Like when Pesoski was nine years old, and all he and his friends could talk about was Hextall throwing his waffle board at Chris Chelios during an act of vengeance in the '89 Conference Finals (video). "It was an amazing and memorable act at a level that a great save could never achieve," he recalled. "When else have you seen a goalie take on the enforcer role, and do it several games after the infraction? Once it was pretty likely the Flyers weren't going to win that series, Hexy said, 'Fuck it, I'm going deep,' and jumped Chelios. If that had happened today, he might have gotten a 40-game suspension, if not worse. And why doesn't anyone call it a 'waffle board' anymore?"
Indeed, why not? So to honor one of the most reviled, sneaky bastards to ever appear between the pipes, a pair of videos. First up is a classic interview after the Flyers' Game 7 loss to the Oilers — when Hexy snagged the Conn Smythe — in which the late Tom Mees of ESPN meekly attempts to avert his gaze from a very naked Hextall, whose pubes appear to be auditioning for the Budweiser Hot Seat:
And I was going to follow up with the thug-tastic bliss of his attack on Chelios. But his goalie fight with Felix Potvin is transcendent, like an Arcade Fire cover of "Thunder Road." They just don't make 'em like this anymore.
* Colorado goes into San Jose and beats the Sharks, 3-1, to climb within a point of third overall in the Western Conference. They've been missing their top three players for the last three weeks. Jose Theodore has better numbers than Rick DiPietro. People wear hats on their feet and hamburgers eat people.
* Why hockey doesn't need its own Tiger Woods: "Until we get out of the mentality that there are only certain sports we're suppose to play, you won't see that many Black Americans playing hockey." That sound you just heard is Willie O'Ree taking up stamp collecting. [Black Athlete]
* Calgary locks up Dion Phaneuf for six years, and Flames fans still find something to complain about. I spoke with Walter the Hockey-Loving Parrot, and he thinks this deal is fucking awesome. Then again, he shits on newspapers. Well, at least less than some of the bloggers I know. [Five Hole Fanatics]
* If you have an extra 15 minutes, I suggest you read the contentious and hilarious debate we had about the Hart Trophy candidates on FanHouse, in which Ovechkin is deified, Kovalchuk is pissed on, and Western Conference fans act like someone kicked their grandmother in the labia for not already carving Lidstrom's name on the trophy. [The FanHouse]
* Finally, and speaking of the Red Wings: I don't want to say that Detroit is facing some attendance challenges, but an Original Six team that's 17 points better than anyone else in hockey has resorted to holding a "Celebrate the 1980s Night" at the Joe, with retro fashion and karaoke contests. I'm sure if it's a success, they'll have more like it. To that end, I present an exclusive promo photo from next month's Red Wings "Flashback to the '70s Night":