Hard to believe it was 22 years ago today that Ron Hextall really lost it for the first time in his career.
Unlike his slash across the back of Kent Nilsson’s legs in Game 4 of the ’87 Finals against Edmonton that was a spur-of-the-moment brain cramp, Hextall’s attack on Montreal Canadiens defenseman Chris Chelios in the waning moments of Game 6 in the 1989 Wales Conference Finals was payback for a specific incident earlier in the series.
In Game 1 at Montreal, in the second period, Chelios unloads onto Flyers forward Brian Propp:
Even though we’ve been desensitized to traumatic injuries with the twin blessings of Instant Replay and YouTube, it’s still jarring to see Scott Mellanby’s hand totally covered within seconds of lifting Propp’s head off the ice. To me, it still looks like ketchup rather than blood.
He never had a chance. Didn’t see the elbow. Hit once into the boards which presumably knocked him cold, the loss of control with the absence of consciousness caused his had to bounce gruesomely off the Forum ice surface.
Since the hit was behind the flow of play, there was no penalty called.
Since there was no penalty, there was no review. That meant no possibility of further sanctions.
Today, that would have been a major for elbowing, a game misconduct, a meeting with the NHL office and a suspension. Chelios made a career out of being flat out dirty, so Philadelphians have no singular beef with the Chicago native, but it did cost our club a legitimate shot to win the series.
Revenge was presumably on the minds of the Flyers for the remainder of the set, but without Propp, Philly hung on to win the first game but lost threestraight — two of which they failed to score against Patrick Roy. Propp came back for a surprise Game 5 OT win in Montreal, then played well in Game 6.
Though they scored the first goal of the game, the Flyers were just about out of gas, losing 4-2 at the Spectrum as the clock wound down on their miracle playoff run.
It was then, that Hextall decided to mete out his beloved brand of justice.
The price for defending his teammate was unusually high. A 12-game ban from the beginning of the 1989-90 season.
The ripples of this incident affected Hextall and the Flyers for the next three years.
Hexy’s inability to be fully ready for a season that would see a late start led to groin issues that robbed him of part of his prime. Contract issues during this period also had to have an effect on his performance.
We had to deal with Pete Peeters redux, Ken Wregget, Bruce Hoffort and Dominic Roussel as potential backups/replacements for Number 27 until he was dealt to Quebec in 1992 in the Lindros package.
Do you see any key player, let along a goaltender, risking his career to take care of business these days?
No, you don’t.
Stuff like this is now in the arena of marginals like Trevor Gillies, who do their dirt to protect their teammates and slink away while the scribes dither in the aftermath about their worth to the supposedly-reformed game.
Sometimes, nostalgic bloodlust is a good, cleansing exercise. Especially when your team gets swept in the second round.