"When you mention he used to play forward, it doesn't surprise me because he's worked on it over the years and has it perfected. If I had advice for a youngster coming up, I would tell them to watch Marty Brodeur."
-- Ron Hextall
"My dad (a former Canadiens team photographer) came back one night after working a game against the Flyers in Montreal and he said, 'Watch this guy, he's like a third defenseman out there,'" Brodeur said. "That stayed with me. I was always looking to see what he was doing. It was Ron Hextall."
Hextall played the way Brodeur wanted to play. It was a style no one had yet seen in the NHL, a hybrid mixing creativity and aggressiveness.
As soon as Hextall broke into the League in 1986, Brodeur was hooked. His affinity for playing the puck, for being a reactionary, stand-up goalie, and for avoiding the butterfly at all costs was vindicated. Hextall was proof that it worked.
"I love the fact that he was playing the puck," Brodeur said. "He was one of the first goalies that came out and played the puck. He was a little rough for my liking, but it was entertaining. The playing of the puck was the big thing."
As a young goalie in the NHL, Hextall would always get asked about his style, about how it was new and different and how it was changing the way people looked at goalies. At that time he said he didn't realize he was an innovator. He was just being himself.
"What are you going to say? It's just the way I am. It's me," Hextall told NHL.com. "I don't have a way to explain why, other than I love the game and I loved being involved in the game. I spent a lot of time in an outdoor rink with a skaters' stick.
"I had a coach in juniors tell me if I continued to move the puck I would never play in the NHL. About a month later he saw the value in it. It was against the grain I guess."
Eventually, Hextall figured his way of playing the position would serve as an inspiration for the next generation of goalies.
Who knew one of those inspired teenagers would be a French-speaking kid from a quiet, modest Montreal suburb who, two decades later, would be called arguably the greatest to ever stand between the pipes?
"It's funny how that works out," Hextall said.
But not as unexpected as you may think.
First off, Hextall was changing the way people viewed goaltenders and it was inevitable that someone was going to try to emulate him, or at least take some of his tactics and meld them into their own game to create a new style.
Brodeur did that.
"When you're the top guy you're the top guy, but for goalies there are different ways of stopping the puck and different beliefs," Brodeur said. "It’s up to you to find what works for you to be successful. Ron put something new into the game."
Secondly, as Hextall said, he grew up with a skaters' stick in his hands, firing pucks at nets while skating on various ponds in and around Brandon, Manitoba. He grew up around hockey as his father, grandfather and uncle all played in the NHL.
Brodeur also grew up with a skaters' stick in his hands, firing pucks on unsuspecting buddies in the legendary road hockey games on Mauriac Street in St. Leonard, QC. His father was an Olympic goalie.
While Brodeur said part of his style came from watching Hextall, the former Flyers goalie can't quite pinpoint where or when he picked up his style. It probably just came from being around a lot of goalies throughout his life while attending practices with his father, a forward.
"I remember Jimmy Rutherford shooting the puck at the glass and I thought that was cool how he was lifting it," Hextall said. "I'm not sure why it caught on with me. Because of my attitude and fire, I liked to be involved in the game. And, hey, sometimes as a youngster you are down there (on the other end) and you get bored.
"People ask me, 'Where does it come from? I don't have an answer other than I was outside with a skater’s stick all the time and I loved to play the game."
Kind of like Brodeur.
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com