|On November 28, 1979, former Islanders goalie Billy Smith scored the first goal by a goaltender in NHL history in a game against the Colorado Rockies (now New Jersey Devils).
“We got beat real bad that game anyway,” Smith told NHL.com. “Even though I scored, nobody really cared.”
VIDEO: Goalie goal footage
While hockey fans view Ron Hextall’s length-of-the-ice saucer shot into the net against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 8, 1987 as a defining moment for NHL goalies – it is, after all, the reason we’re now celebrating goalies with NHL goals – Smith actually was the first netminder in League history to be credited with a goal.
Only, his received no fanfare, and it came during a brutal 7-4 defeat against the Colorado Rockies in Denver. Hextall, meanwhile, was showered with gifts, including a new car, and earned a firm place in NHL history when he put the puck into a net vacated by Reggie Lemelin during a 5-2 Flyers victory.
Smith, though, doesn’t care. His four Stanley Cup rings and plaque in Toronto at the Hockey Hall of Fame are more than enough to take comfort in.
“It was just kind of like a joke. It just was not a big deal. A lot more was made of Hextall’s than what was made of mine,” Smith said. “Even the team made a bigger deal of Hextall’s than what my team made of it. I didn’t get anything. It was kind of like, ‘Oh, he got the goal,’ and than it was forgotten. It wasn’t important.”
Twenty-eight years later, Smith’s goal has taken on significant meaning.
Nine goalies have combined to score 11 goals – Hextall and Martin Brodeur have two apiece – but Smith is on record as being the first.
“That’s the thing, first guy to do it,” Smith said. “It makes a difference now.”
Smith’s goal didn’t have the same glamour effect as Hextall’s because he didn’t shoot the puck. He simply was the last guy to touch it before it went sliding into a vacated net. Five of the 11 goalie goals have been scored that way.
Colorado pulled its goalie after a delayed penalty was called against the Islanders, but after a Smith save, Rockies defenseman Rob Ramage made an errant pass down the length of the ice, and the puck wound up in the Colorado net.
Chico Resch, who said he started in net for the Islanders that night – “I was a sieve and had to get taken out,” he recalled – remembers nobody on the bench even reacting to the goal or thinking it belonged to Smith.
“I had an idea it was me, but when they gave it to Kenny Morrow I didn’t really care. I wasn’t getting any bonuses for goals scored so it wasn’t a big deal,” Smith said. “It’s just a goal, that’s all it is. I’m not a sentimental guy, so it’s not the type of thing I do back flips over.”
He does, however, have a soft spot for his place in hockey history.
He knows Hextall’s goal in 1987 widely is considered the first real goal scored by an NHL goalie, but Smith has a message for anyone who has forgotten about that game at McNichols Sports Arena on Nov. 28, 1979.
“You tell them to look in the record books to see where (Hextall’s) name appears,” he said.