Monday, November 14, 2011

Are You There Ron Hextall? It's Me, Ryan Miller

"Sometimes in life you just have to give people a whack on the leg to let them know you aren't to be messed with." - Ghandi.

(Or maybe it was Ron Hextall?)

There has been a lot of controversy recently over an incident on November 12th when Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic drilled an unsuspecting Ryan Miller in a game between the Bruins and the Buffalo Sabres. Hits happen all the time in hockey, but the reason there is so much controversy is because Ryan Miller is... wait for it, a goalie!


Lucic was given a charging penalty for the hit, and Miller ended up leaving the game in the 2nd period (he has since been diagnosed with a concussion). After the game in the media scrum, Ryan Miller unleashed this gem on the world in regards to the hit, Lucic as a person, and his stance on feces.

Miller: "I just want to say what a piece of shit I think Lucic is. Fifty pounds on me, and he runs me like that. It’s unbelievable. Everyone in this city sees him as a big, tough, solid player. I respected him for how hard he played. That was gutless. Gutless, piece of shit.”

Wow. Hey bad guy from "Demolition Man", can I get an "Oh Snap!"?

(Thank you.)

Ryan Miller unleashes what passes as a salvo attack for a goalie these days. I'm not going to get into the legality of the hit, if you want that, check the rest of the internet (I'm sure you will find at least 400 people writing at length about it). For the record, I did not like the hit, but what I really want to do is ask the question:

What happened to tough goalies like Ron Hextall?

(Also, on an unrelated topic, Queen was an awesome band.)

Ron Hextall playing in Philadelphia might have been the most perfect marriage of player and city in sports history. The "Broadstreet Bullies" had a franchise goalie who set the bar for attitude and toughness in that position as far as I'm concerned. But he wasn't just a "cheap shot artist" or a "freak show attraction", the guy was a phenomenal goaltender, that cannot be denied. Something else that cannot be denied is that he was a madman who played the game with more fire from the goal crease then anyone who came before or anyone who has come after. Need proof?

(Not a doctored photo. The Devils player looks like he got trapped by a spider.)

Nobody messed with Ron Hextall. He was a different kind of goalie. He wouldn't wait until he was in the safety of his dressing room to take a guy to task, he would handle his business on the ice. I understand Ryan Miller was shaken up from the hit and couldn't really contribute to any sort of "standing up for himself" until his post game interview, but still, is anyone on the Sabres surprised that Lucic pulled off that hit?

Miller was way out of his net to play the puck away from Lucic. You can't hit a goalie when he is in the crease and the rule on "incidental contact" when they are out of the crease is pretty vague. When in doubt, the standard has been set that the majority of contact with a goalie, while outside his crease, will result in a penalty.


Goalies, you have a safe zone. If you want to be safe, stay there. If you want to venture out and be a more active participant in the game, things like this are going to happen. Hextall didn't care. He played with attitude.

(Pictured: Attitude.)

Some of the stuff he did was cheap, sure, but he played in a time where goalies weren't that protected. Teams had players whose sole reason for being on the ice was to sneak in cheap shots on goalies or just to flat out run them. They were interfered with and pushed around constantly and it was a regular occurrence to not see any penalties given out. In an environment where he felt threatened, Ron Hextall did what the manliest of men do: he forged his legacy with machismo, and players knew that he was a dangerous man not to be trifled with.

(Note: I'm not sure, but I think that might be the first time anyone has ever used the phrase "he forged his legacy with machismo...")

Ron Hextall changed the game. Not only was he someone offensive players had to keep an eye on in the Flyers' zone, he contributed on offence too. I joke whenever the Canucks lose a game by being shut out that Luongo needs to contribute to the offence more. Hextall actually did.

("Back off guys, I got this.")

There are a few in the league that play with a fraction of that fiery intensity. I fear they are all but extinct in the current game. It is more commonplace to see a "cool headed" goalie. A real "ice man". I enjoy those goalies as well, but the fact remains NOBODY exhilarates like "27" used to. He was the first goalie to score a goal on an empty net, and he even did it once in the playoffs. I'm pretty sure this classic scene from "Mighty Ducks 2" was directly inspired by Hextall's style of play.

(clip courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures and things that are awesome.)

Hextall was "THE GOALIE!" in his day, but he wasn't the only one throughout history. A lot of people look at these players as classless jerks or goons in pads. While I'm not going to disagree with that, do you think Milan Lucic would have the stones to take a run at Patrick Roy? Or Ray Emery?

Ray Emery was "Ron Hextall 2: Electric Break-your-face-aloo". He was a tough, skilled, entertaining goalie who wouldn't wait until after the game to chirp a guy and go calling him out. While he wasn't as proficient as Hextall, he certainly was fun to watch. Who can forget the time the guy tried to fight the entire Buffalo Sabres team?

Pure bedlam. Marty Biron getting in there and standing up to accomplished goalie fighter (and did I mention lunatic?) Ray Emery was a huge highlight there.

Goalies being treated like NFL Quarterbacks is the norm these days, and that's alright in theory (you have to protect your assets), but the Ryan Miller hit just makes me think they are coddled way too much in today's NHL. Look at those masks, they basically have a free pass to act like one of the bad guys from "The Road Warrior" but everyone is super passive now. With one hit, all that came to light again.

Goalie fights are special events. I fondly remember Canucks backup Kay Whitmore sticking up for himself and beating the tar out of Red Wings forward Dino Ciccarelli. And who could forget the epic matchup between Patrick Roy and Chris Osgood? Of all the things I love about hockey, high on that list is goalies meeting at center ice to settle their differences.

(Isn't this how "Rocky III" ended?)

There are amazing dramatic overtones behind the center ice showdown and you know when you see it happen, it's rare. Even more so nowadays. A different class of player I suppose, but the fact remains:

If goalies are going to venture out of their net and get involved in the game, they need to be more like Ron Hextall.

He would've brutalized Lucic... and Chara... and anyone else who felt the need to mess with him.

(His own team was probably afraid of him.)

I can only imagine how the conversation went the first time he suited up and played as a child:

"Okay Ron, this is your net. Keep the puck out of it. And this is your goalie crease."
"Do I have to stay in it?"
"What? Well... no I guess not."
(Has an awesome career)

(Much respect to Felix Potvin for hanging in this fight. Didn't know he had it in him.)

With goalies like Hextall, Emery, Garth Snow and Patrick Roy, if you are going hard to the net with ill intent, you better bring a shotgun and some backup, cause they will stand up for themselves. Yes, Hextall was a goof at times, but you can't help thinking of him when you hear all the incessent talk about the Ryan Miller hit and violence against poor helpless goaltenders.

(Or when you listen to "Bohemian Rhapsody".)

Thanks for reading.

- jB
Follow me on twitter @jbowmancouver. It is essentially the travel sized version of j.Bowman Can't Sleep. Requires universal adapter kit in foreign countries though.


  1. You forgot to mention the original tough goalie in nhl history Billy Smith. He was much smaller and twice as mean as Hextall.

  2. Love this post!! I'm a goalie coach and Hexy was my hero growing up and I was telling some of my keepers about him today, about playing with a little edge and tenacity. Obviously, I can't tell 10 year olds to lead with the blocker, but what's there to love about these oversized French Canadiens who just sit in the crease and let the puck hit 'em? Ron lost it more than once, but he also was a kick ass goalie who backed it up with his play. I wish keepers today had more of that competitive edge. Thomas comes close, but when will see the "Nextall?" Great writing buddy, really enjoyed it.