In a 5-2 win over the Boston Bruins at the Spectrum on December 8, 1987, Ron Hextall carved out a special place in NHL history. He became the first goaltender in NHL history to score a goal by shooting the puck into the opposing net.
Hextall was not the first NHL goaltender who was adept puckhandler, and not the first who was willing to venture far out of his crease to play the puck. But he took it to whole different level both with his skill and aggressiveness. Hextall was eminently capable of triggering the breakout with a long stretch pass or intercepting a dump-in by the attacking team and clearing the right back out of the defensive zone.
And then there was his shooting ability. Hextall was so adept and physically strong that he developed the ability to routinely be able to fire the puck from goal line to goal line using his goalie stick.
Video: What happened on December 8th, 1987 in Flyers history
From the time Hextall arrived in the NHL in 1986-87, many people said that it was only a matter of time when he became the first NHL netminder to score a goal by shooting the puck. in 1979, the Islanders' Billy Smith was credited with a goal by virtue of being the last Islander to touch the puck on a delayed penalty call in which the Colorado Rockies accidentally put the puck into their own net after an errant pass by Rob Ramage.
Hextall's puckhandling ability became a major asset for the Flyers' defense. The team's defensemen certainly appreciated the goalie's ability not only to stop the puck behind the cage but to take it himself and pass it to safety.
"Hexy really was like a third defenseman out there for us," Mark Howe recalled in a 2009 interview. "He saved me a lot of wear and tear."
On his history-making goal against the Bruins, Hextall corralled the puck near his own net, and saw a clear shooting path down the ice. He measured his aim momentarily and fired a dart that went straight down the ice into the center of the vacated net.
Earlier in the game, Peter Zezel (two power play goals) and Brian Propp (power play and even strength goals) tallied for the Flyers. On the same night, Flyers defenseman Brad Marsh suffered a frightening head injury on a sandwich check by Ray Bourque and Cam Neely, as his unhelmeted head crashed into the stanchion and hits the ice. Marsh was hospitalized for precautionary reasons.
On April 11, 1989 Hextall became the first NHL goaltender to score a goal in a playoff game, accomplishing the feat in Game Five of the Flyers' 1989 first-round playoff series with the Washington Capitals.
December 8: Through the Years
- 1967: Doug Favell records a 24-save shutout and the Flyers make the most of 19 shots on goal to record a 3-0 road win over the Los Angeles Kings. Claude Laforge opens the scoring in the first period and later sets up a Pat Hannigan goal early in the middle frame. Less than two minutes after the Hannigan tally, Gary Dornhoefer rounds out the scoring in the game. The two teams take only one penalty between them -- a Joe Watson holding minor late in the second period -- in the entire game.
- 1973: Bernie Parent is brilliant in making 31 saves en route to a 3-1 Flyers road win over Toronto in Maple Leaf Gardens. Goals by Tom Bladon (power play), Bob Kelly and Rick MacLeish lead the attack on a night in which Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber are kept off the score sheet. Late in the game, Dave "the Hammer" Schultz fights Toronto star Lanny McDonald and then taunts the Maple Leafs bench and the fans while being escorted off the ice by linesman Ron Finn.
- 1977: Trailing the New York Rangers by a 2-1 score after two periods, the home Flyers erupt for six goals in the third period en route to a 7-4 win. Don "Big Bird" Saleski, Ross Lonsberry and Reggie "the Rifle" Leach notch two goals apiece, while Bobby Clarke has a goal and an assist.
- 1984: Peter Zezel notches a goal and two assists and Brian Propp has a goal and an assist to spur the Flyers to a 4-2 win over the arch-rival New York Rangers at the Spectrum. Defenseman Mark Howe has an assist on defense partner's Brad McCrimmon's goal to open the scoring and the duo is plus-three for the game in about 32 minutes of ice time. Subbing for Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Pelle Lindbergh, backup netminder Bob Froese (32 saves on 34 shots) outduels John Vanbiesbrouck (32 saves on 36 shots).
- 1998: Trailing the arch-nemesis New Jersey Devils by a 5-3 score in the third period, the Flyers rally for an Eric Lindros power play goal and a Rod Brind'Amour even-strength goal to salvage a 5-5 road tie against Martin Brodeur's team. Earlier in the game, Lindros opens the scoring with his first of two power play goals. Second-season NHLer Dainius Zubrus and fourth line winger Jody Hull also tally for the Flyers.
- 2001: The Flyers score twice in the first period and three times in the second period en route to a 5-1 home win over the Minnesota Wild. After Luke Richardson opens the scoring with his first goal of the season, Jan Hlavac scores twice for Philadelphia, while Mark Recchi has a goal and an assist. Keith Primeau closes out the scoring. Winning goalie Roman Cechmanek (31 saves) yields only a goal to former Flyers forward Wes Walz in the opening minute of the second period.
- 2003: Trailing the Montreal Canadiens by a 1-0 score at the second intermission, the Flyers go on to win by a 3-2 score in regulation. Kim Johnsson tied the score early in the third period only for the Habs to answer back and regain the lead at 2-1. With 3:19 left in the third period, defenseman Marcus Ragnarsson re-knotted the score at 2-2. With 1:13 remaining, John LeClair gives the Flyers the only lead they'll have -- or need -- in the game. Former Habs goaltender Jeff Hackett earned the win on 36 saves. A mid-third period fight between Flyers center Michal Handzus and Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek is an emotional spark for the Flyers (trailing 2-1 at that point).
- 2011: The Flyers built a 3-0 lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Wells Fargo Center and then hung on for 3-2 win. A hippity-hop goal by Danny Briere against Marc-Andre Fleury early in the first period is supplemented by a second period Wayne Simmonds power play goal and a Scott Hartnell tally before the Penguins began a comeback that fell just short. Winning goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov made 25 saves.
December 8: Flyers Birthday
Forward Matt Ellison was born December 8, 1983 in Duncan, British Columbia. The former Cowichan Valley Capitals (British Columbia Hockey League) and Red Deer Rebels (Western Hockey League) standout was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks with the 128th overall pick of the 2002 NHL Draft.
Ellison became a solid American Hockey League player but struggled to make an impact in 43 National Hockey League games. On December 5, 2005, he was traded by the Blackhawks to the Flyers for Patrick Sharp and Éric Meloche. Ellison primarily played in the AHL for the Philadelphia Phantoms but appeared in seven NHL games for the NHLers, recording one assist, over portions of the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons.
After moving on from the Flyers' organization, Ellison found success as an import player in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).