Hextall had a phenomenal rookie year. In fact, it has to go down as one of the greatest goaltender debuts in NHL history. He was absolutely riveting to watch because he made saves that can only be described as miraculous. At a time when pads were not inflated to the size of beach balls, goaltenders were successful only because of one thing: talent.
In the 1986-1987 season, Hextall made believers out of everyone. He became a household name for his play against the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup finals.
Almost single-handedly, Ron Hextall led the Philadelphia Flyers through games that most teams would not have won. He was seriously on fire.
Nothing showed the world his talent more than having to play against one of the greatest teams of all time: the legendary Edmonton Oilers of the 1980's. The Oilers were a scoring powerhouse with a stacked lineup of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey. Most of the time, the Oilers were unbeatable and were always the league leaders in stats.
No one gave the Flyers any chance of beating the Oilers.
But then again, no one knew much about Ron Hextall.
Through a grueling first four games which had the Oilers taking a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, Hextall seemed like the only guy on the ice who was determined—and actually had the ability—to stop them and turn the series around.
Boy did he ever turn it around.
Hextall miraculously won the next two games practically by himself, despite a barrage of shots and Oiler offensive genius. The Oilers had never seen a goaltender like this before. Hextall made saves like the one above. It was almost inhuman. He was that good. His play inspired his teammates greatly who in turn brought their best game to the table.
Hextall also had his detractors who saw him as being violent. In particular, he was criticized for his retaliation on a cheap Glenn Anderson slash in which the referees called no penalty. Hextall, infuriated by referee indifference on what should have been a penalty, tomahawked the nearest Oiler he could find, Kent Nilsson. From this point on, Hextall became known for his temper.
Ultimately, the Oilers did defeat the Flyers in a tough 7th game at Northlands Colliseum in Edmonton. Hextall was awarded the Conn Smyth trophy for MVP of the playoffs in the losing effort. Wayne Gretzky went on to say that Ron Hextall was the greatest goaltender he ever played against.
When the player awards were handed out shortly after, Hextall took home the Vezina trophy for the year's best goaltender, but he was robbed for the Calder trophy for rookie of the year.
In the span of that single year, Hextall went to the top of the league to become a goal-tending superstar. He was a different goaltender. A complete original.
Still to this day, I have not seen any other goaltender in my life of watching hockey make the kind of saves that Ron Hextall did in the spring of 1987. I have seen all of the so called greats play: Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Dominic Hasek, Grant Fuhr, etc. and none of these players, in my opinion, ever came close to playing the way Ron Hextall did in 1987. It was exciting, it was desperate and it was an absolute thrill to watch.
No one wanted that Stanley Cup victory more than Ron Hextall did.
Once again, I gotta say, it is completely ridiculous that he is not in the Hall Of Fame.