A goalie’s job is to stop pucks, not shoot them. Yet, on December 8, 1987, Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall became the first to purposefully shoot and score a goal. He had already tried a shot during a game the previous season (against the Washington Capitals), but “Scott Stevens knocked the puck down with his glove before it had gone 60 feet.” This time, his shot on the Boston Bruins’ net succeeded. Philadelphia celebrated the feat with multiple-paged spreads (by four different reporters) in the Philadelphia Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Al Morgan began his article stating, “After one of the most emotionally draining regular-season games ever played in the history of their storied franchise, the Flyers and an exhausted crowd of 17,345 left the Spectrum last night in a frenzy.” Jay Greenberg of the Philadelphia Daily News, pointed out that it was not smart of those guests who left early. “Hextall had been promising for more than a year that he was going to do this very thing. All he needed was a two-goal lead so he could risk the icing, the puck on his forehand and just a little bit of luck.” His fellow reporter, Elmer Smith, pointed out that everyone treated Hextall’s goal as inevitable. “Hextall is the only NHL goalie to fire a successful shot at the other goal with the intention of scoring. Yet, in the aftermath of Hextall’s feat, you couldn’t find anybody in either locker room who had not known he was going to do it. They didn’t know it would be last night or that it would against the Boston Bruins at the Spectrum. But they knew it would be soon.” True enough, Flyers coach Mike Keenan said, “I thought it was inevitable. He shoots as well as anyone in the league, if not better. It was just a matter of time.”
For the shot itself, it came with 1:12 left in the game. With 1:19 remaining, the Boston Bruins, who trailed 4-2, pulled their goalie, Rejean Lemelin. Hextall thought about making the shot after Ray Bourque’s shot on net, but, as he said, “They were too close. I didn’t have time. I just had to get it out of our zone.” So, as Greenberg reported, “Hextall banked the puck off the glass back out to center, where Bourque retrieved and fed cross ice to Kluzak, who was on the red line when he flipped it in. Hextall jumped out of the crease to the bottom rim of the circle and laid the shaft of his stick flush against the ice to block the puck. The closest Bruin, Lyndon Byers, was still 15 feet away. The crowd was already realizing what Hextall was going to try to do, when he climbed up off his one knee, stood and wristed the puck on its way. It lifted about 20 feet in the air, straight up the middle of the ice, with enough force to send it on a fly to within a foot of the Boston blue line. Bourque, the closest Bruin, was near the boards and had no way to cut it off.” Jere Longman described the shot for the Philadelphia Inquirer, noting that Hextall lifted “the puck 120 feet from the Flyers’ goal to the Bruins’ blue line. From there, the puck trickled 60 feet into Boston’s empty net.” It had drifted so that the puck slid in “just inside the right post.” Greenberg commented that it was worth the delay-of-game penalty for the “shriek that had accompanied it on its path turned into an explosion. Hextall leaped into the air.” According to Longman, “After he scored, Hextall pumped his right arm up and down and was mobbed by his teammates. One of them retrieved the puck for Hextall, and he said it would never be for sale. ‘No price,’ he said. ‘That’s mine.’”
The two newspapers included many locker-room quotes by Hextall, including:
- “I don’t mean to sound cocky, but I knew I could do it. It was just a matter of when. I always said I would try it if we had a two-goal lead.”
- “When they pulled their goalie, it crossed my mind. I’ve always said that when we were two goals up, I’d go for it. I did. What the heck. I got lucky.”
- “The way I shoot it, the spin I put on it, the puck always curls off to the right. This one did, too, quite a bit at the end. It may have even hit the post.”
- “Really, I thought it was going to hit the post. It was just inside. I was kind of holding my breath for a minute.” “It was a thrill, one of the things I’ll talk about when I leave hockey. I can’t wait to look at the stats before the next game to see my one goal.”
- “It’s hard enough to believe. I mean, I scored a goal. I mean, it just doesn’t happen every day.”
- “It’s really surprising, when you think about it, that nobody has ever done it before. It’s not the biggest thrill of my career, but it is pretty great. It’s something I’ll have when I finish hockey. And I may even get a few more.”
Hextall’s goal brought the Flyers up to a 5-2 win over the Bruins. As Morgan noted, “The victory also marked the first time this season that the Flyers had won a game in which they trailed after two periods. They had previously been 0-8-0 in such games.” Meanwhile, Elmer Smith summarized Hexall’s accomplishments, stating, “He got 37 W’s last year, the highest tally ever by a Flyers rookie goaltender and the fourth highest ever for any NHL rookie netminder. He led the NHL in wins, games played, minutes and save percentage (.902). When you win the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the Flyers’ MVP, the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP and the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender all in your rookie season, even last night’s brush with history pales by comparison.” In fact, Hextall would go on to score again, on April 11, 1989, as the first goaltender to score in a playoff game.
- Al Morgan, “Flyers win as Hextall scores goal,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 9 Dec. 1987, p. D-1 and D-3 (49 and 51).
- Jere Longman, “A long shot into NHL record books,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 9 Dec. 1987, p. D-1.
- Jay Greenberg, “Hextall’s Goal One For Books,” Philadelphia Daily News, 9 Dec. 1987, p. 93-94.
- Elmer Smith, “For Hextall, It Was Just a Matter of Time,” Philadelphia Daily News, 9 Dec. 1987, p. 95.