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Ron Hextall was the perfect goalie for the Flyers
No. 27. Finally, a number about which there can be real debate as both Ron Hextall and the great Reggie Leach wore it for the Flyers.
The nod goes to Hextall though.
The Flyers were still reeling from the loss of goalie Pelle Lindbergh who, at the time of his death, was the best goalie in hockey. Hextall arrived in his rookie season of 1986-87 and played even better than Lindbergh.
His rookie year he led them, and there is no doubt it was he who lead them, to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against arguably the greatest sports team in history, the 1987 Edmonton Oilers. He was the runner-up for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the year, he won the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goalie and the Conn Smythe Award as the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
He followed up his rookie season with two more solid seasons, including a great playoff performance in 1989. The Flyers made it to the Conference Finals but lost in six to the Montreal Canadians.
As the team began to deteriorate around him, Hextall began to physically deteriorate as well. At 6'3" tall, Hextall played an aggressive style of goal that slowly began destroying his hamstrings and groin muscles. He suffered numerous injuries that limited him to only eight games in the 1989-90. With Hextall's absence and the rest of the roster beginning to age, the Flyers missed the playoffs for the first time since 1972.
There were contract troubles that caused a strain between he and GM Bob Clarke and eventually he was traded in 1992 as part of the Eric Lindros deal.
He came back in a trade in 1994 and was part of the franchise's resurgence in the mid-'90s.
He had changed his style of goaltending, which limited injuries and his goals against average began dropping. During his second stint with the Flyers his GAA never rose above 2.89.
He and Garth Snow combined to backstop the Flyers to the Stanley Cups Finals in 1997.
Hextall also revolutionized the position of goaltender. Never before had anyone seen someone stray so far from the net in order to play a puck in the corner, or even body check a forechecker off the puck. He handled the puck like a third defenseman and he shook up the league by becoming the first goalie to actually shoot and score a goal in 1987. He followed that up the next season by becoming the first goalie to ever score a goal in the NHL playoffs.
He holds the record for most regular-season and playoff wins by a Flyers goalie.
But beyond numbers and team records, it was a spirit that Hextall brought to the Flyers. His style, passion and heart matched the franchise and the city perfectly. Here was a goalie who would stand up for his teammates by challenging opposing players to fights. And of course he famously attacked Chris Chelios in the 1989 playoffs in retaliation for Chelios basically trying to kill Brian Propp earlier in the series.
He embodied the spirit of the Flyers and always wore his fiery heart on his sleeve.
Honorable Mention: Reggie Leach