Twenty years ago Saturday, on December 8, 1987, the Philadelphia Flyers' Ron Hextall became the first NHL goaltender to score a goal by shooting the puck into the opposing net.
Hextall’s goal that capped a 5-2 win over the Boston Bruins at the Spectrum was the first of its kind. The Islanders’ Billy Smith had been credited with the first goaltender goal in NHL history, but his goal on Nov. 28, 1979 didn't have the same impact because he didn’t shoot the puck; he simply was the last Islanders player to touch it before it went sliding into the Colorado Rockies' vacated net.
Just two months into his sophomore NHL season and with Bruins goaltender Reggie Lemelin on the bench for an extra attacker late in the third period, Hextall realized his chance. The Bruins' Hall of Fame play-by-play man Fred Cusick anticipated Hextall's feat in his memorable call: "Bourque pops it back in, 1:28 left. And Hextall is able to clear it out. Boy, he could score a goal sometime in a situation like this. Hextall is so strong in clearing. (Hextall) traps it. Here he goes, bidding for one. Here's the clear. There it is. He scores!"
"My teammates all came off the bench and that was the special part for me,” Hextall, now the assistant GM in Los Angeles, told NHL.com. “I remember Scott Mellanby just screaming. I started thinking; ‘Maybe this is bigger than I thought.’"
The hockey world had seen it coming. When Hextall broke into the NHL in 1986-87 as one of the League's top rookies and captured the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs, puckhandling skills generally were not part of an NHL goaltender's job description. Hextall's active role in stopping the puck behind the net, clearing dump-ins and passing up-ice -- often venturing far beyond his crease to do so -- was revolutionary, and had commentators soon referring to him as a 'third defenseman' and speculating when he might score into an empty net.
Two years later, Hextall did it again, becoming the first goaltender to score a playoff goal on April 11, 1989 against the Washington Capitals at the Capital Centre.
“Somebody told me the other day that it had been over 100 games since I had scored," Hextall quipped after the game. "I guess it was time.”
Since then, only four other NHL goaltenders -- Chris Osgood, Martin Brodeur, Jose Theodore (on the backhand!) and Evgeni Nabokov -- have accomplished the rare feat of firing the puck into the net from the opposite crease. They can thank Hextall for being the innovator.
“I didn’t realize it would cause the stir that it did,” Hextall said.
NHL GOALTENDERS CREDITED WITH SCORING A GOAL
Billy Smith, NY Islanders (Nov. 28, 1979 at ColoradoNYI 4 at COL 7)
*Ron Hextall, Philadelphia (Dec. 8, 1987 vs. BostonBOS 2 at PHI 5)
*Chris Osgood, Detroit(Mar. 6, 1996 at HartfordDET 4 at HFD 2)
Damian Rhodes, Ottawa(Jan. 2, 1999 vs. New JerseyN.J. 0 at OTT 6)
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey(Feb. 15, 2000 vs. PhiladelphiaPHI 2 at N.J. 4)
*Jose Theodore, Montreal(Jan. 2, 2001 at NY IslandersMTL 3 at NYI 0)
*Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose(Mar. 10, 2002 at VancouverS.J. 7 at VAN 4)
Mika Noronen, Buffalo(Feb. 14, 2004 at TorontoBUF 6 at TOR 4)
Chris Mason, Nashville(Apr. 15, 2006 vs. PhoenixPHX 1 at NSH 5)
Stanley Cup Playoffs
*Ron Hextall, Philadelphia(Apr. 11, 1989 at WashingtonPHI 8 at WSH 5)
*Martin Brodeur, New Jersey(Apr. 17, 1997 vs. MontrealMTL 2 at N.J. 5)
* - shot the puck the length of the ice into an empty net