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Backchecking With Ron Hextall

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

First of a Two-Part Interview

Zack Hill

Ron Hextall recently sat down for an in-depth interview with to discuss his playing days, his present position with the Flyers and what he sees in the future for hockey.

The following is the first of a two-part interview:

Question: What do you do now for the Flyers?
"I am the director of pro personnel. I do a lot of scouting in the AHL and NHL. I basically compile a scouting book and work in the office with General Manager Bob Clarke and Assistant General Manager Paul Holmgren. I do a fair amount of traveling, but there is a lot of work that I can do locally with the New York teams (Islanders and Rangers), the New Jersey Devils and the Washington Capitals, not to mention watching our games at the Wachovia Center. I also scout the AHL teams including the Philadelphia Phantoms, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hershey. I don’t spend a whole lot of nights on the road, but I am at a lot of games."

Question: How is the Hextall family?
"Great. Kristin, my oldest at 18, is a freshman at LaSalle University. She is playing Division I soccer for the Explorers. Brett is 16 and he is attending Milton Academy in Boston. He’ll be playing for their hockey team. Rebecca is 12 (13 in January) and she is playing competitive soccer in Voorhees, NJ, and hockey at Ice Line in Aston, PA. It’s the rink that (former Flyer) Jimmy Watson operates. Jeff is our youngest at nine and he plays hockey in High Ridge. My wife, Diane, is the director and teacher of the "Learn to Skate"program in High Ridge."

Question: OK, let’s rewind in time and go back to your playing days. What type of goaltender were you?
"That is a loaded question. I went out and played hard every night. I worked as hard as I could in practice. I just tried to be the best I could be every day. I was a very emotional athlete as most people know. I wore my heart on my sleeve."

Question: Speaking of emotional, you were known for your fiery temper. Where did you get that fire?
"I’m not too sure. I think something like that is born and bred in you. I always loved to play the game of hockey and I always took it serious, whether I was in minor hockey, at the junior level or NHL level. I just naturally brought that emotion to the game."

Question: What was going through your mind when you decided to take matters into your own hands by going after Chris Chelios after he hit Brian Propp?
"We were down in the series and it looked like it was going to be Chelios’ last shift. I’m not sure really what happened. I just felt the need to go after him, partly out of what he did to Propp and partly out of frustration with the situation we were in as a team."

Question: Did you regret that incident?
"Of course I did. I got suspended the next year for 12 games (to start the 1989-90 season). So essentially you cost your team your services at the start of the next season. I regret it, but reflecting back, I believe it was the right thing to do at the time."

Question: When you were between the pipes, which player did you least likely want to see barreling down on you on a breakaway?
"I do not know if I can say there was a player that I did not look forward to playing against. The guy that I respected the most for his offensive abilities was Mario Lemieux. Back in the 1980s and the early 1990s, there were a lot more breakaways than there are now. The coaching of the defensive game was not nearly as in-depth as it is now. There were a lot more opportunities back then. I remember nights when there would be three or four breakaways. I looked forward to the challenge of facing Mario Lemieux. I obviously had a lot of respect for his natural ability, size and strength. He had unbelievable hands, not only passing the puck, but he could really snipe, too. He was scary to face."

Question: How about a team? Were there any teams you thought, ‘Oh man, not these guys.’
"Edmonton back in the 1980s was tough when they had (Wayne) Gretzky, (Mark) Messier, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri and company. They just kept coming at you. It was not just Gretzky’s line. His line would go off and then you would have to face Messier’s line. It was a loaded team. They were relentless."

Question: Who would you say is the best, Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky?
"I think Wayne Gretzky was the best player who ever lived, but without a doubt in my mind, Mario was the most talented player who ever lived."

Question: What is the difference?
"First of all, Mario has a lot more size and strength. Gretzky had great hands and great vision, but as far as his shot and his touch in close - everyone knows that on breakaways he was not that good. As a one-on-one finisher, Wayne was not that great. Sure, he scored 92 goals during the 1981-82 season, but it was more on brains that it was due to his hands. Mario’s ability to finish was unbelievable."

Question: Do you have any regrets from your playing days?
"I would like to re-replay Game Seven over against Edmonton in 1987. Let’s have us win 3-1 instead of them winning 3-1. Any professional who retires without winning a championship will regret it. I certainly regret it. The opportunity against Edmonton in 1987 was my best and certainly our best as a team. Those Edmonton teams were probably the greatest teams of all-time. I think back to that year and I strongly believe if we faced any other team we would have won the Stanley Cup. Edmonton was just so great. What are you going to do?"

Question: If there is one memory that sticks in your mind about the ’87 Stanley Cup Finals, be it good or bad, what would it be?
"Obviously, the Game Six win was a great memory. But after Game Seven it was devastating. I was sitting in the locker room with whole bunch of grown men probably as upset as they have ever been in their lives, outside of a death in the family. There were a lot of tears in that room. I have extremely fond memories of the way we battled together as a team and picked each other up. Despite the fact that we did not win, there was a bond on that team that you don’t have on a yearly basis."

Question: Was it any consolation winning the Conn Smythe Trophy (as Playoff MVP) even though the Flyers lost?
"It was nice to get acknowledged for your play, but the goal was to win the Cup and we did not. So that it was sticks in my mind."
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