On December 8, 1987, goalie Ron Hextall shot the puck and scored for the Philadelphia Flyers in their 5-2 win over the Boston Bruins. He was the first National Hockey League netminder to shoot the puck into the opposing goal.
At the time of the game, the feisty Hextall had already had one NHL first under his belt. During his rookie season, he became the first NHL goalie to amass over 100 penalty minutes when he collected 104 over 66 games. This goal-scoring first, though, came with a bit of an asterisk.
Before Hextall’s goal, the NHL did have another goalie goal-scorer: Billy Smith of the New York Islanders. However, Smith’s goal, which was scored in 1979, came after an opposing Colorado Rockies player shot the puck into his own empty net on a delayed penalty. Because Smith was the last Islander to touch the puck, he was credited with the goal (Colorado wound up winning that game 7-4, and Smith remains the only goalie to be credited with a goal in a losing effort).
This meant that by the time of Hextall’s successful attempt, the league had never seen a goalie score a legitimate goal off a shot attempt. His shot didn’t come without warning, however.
In the early part of 1987, Hextall hinted in a New York Times article that he intended to shoot the puck goalward if the Flyers were up two and facing an empty net. And on that December night at the Spectrum the Flyers’ aggressive goalie did just that.
The goal itself came with 1:12 remaining and after Philadelphia overcame a 2-1 deficit entering the third period. The Flyers rally was led by two power-play goals by Peter Zezel, whose first effort tied things and then his second found the net for the lead. After Brian Propp’s score with 2:27 to go made things 4-2 in favor of Philadelphia, Boston coach Terry O’Reilly pulled goalie Reggie Lemelin—setting up Hextall’s chance.
To start the scoring play, Hextall knelt left of his crease to snag a Bruins dump into the Flyers’ defensive zone. After controlling the puck, Hextall rose from his knee and set up to hurl the puck down ice. According to Jay Greenberg of the Philadelphia Daily News, the crowd rose with Hextall, sensing what he was attempting to do.
Hextall’s shot was a wrister that sent the puck flying 20 feet high in the air before bouncing at the Bruins blue line. Once hitting the blue line, the frozen piece of rubber then skirted the rest of the way and entered the Boston net just inside the left post. No Bruins player was anywhere close to stop the puck before it reached the safety of the net.
After his shot went in, Hextall leaped in celebration and teammates emptied the bench to mob the first-time goalscorer. The post-goal festivities saw the Flyers dinged with a delay-of-game penalty, but it mattered little—Hextall had gotten his goal, and Philadelphia a win.
While many Flyers players cheered on Hextall’s historic goal, there was one notable absence. Early on, Philadelphia defenseman Brad Marsh left the game when he suffered a “severe concussion” after getting checked into the boards by a pair of Bruins in the first period. The nine-year veteran Marsh—who was one of 13 NHL players who didn’t wear a helmet in 1987—would end up missing only four games.
It’s not the biggest thrill of my career, but it is pretty great. It’s something I’ll have when I finish hockey. And I may even get a few more.
Flyers goalie on his first NHL goal
According to the Philadelphia Daily News, the Hockey Hall of Fame asked Hextall to donate both the puck and stick used for the shot. The Daily News reported that while Hextall was uncertain at first about handing over those items, he later said he would probably “lend the stick and puck” to the Hall of Fame. However, according to an article on NHL.com in 2007, Hextall apparently put a tag on the puck sometime after the game and has kept it in a closet since.
Two days after the historic score, Flyers president Jay Snider gifted Hextall a 1988 Mercury Cougar. As a surprise for the goal-scoring goalie, the car was driven onto the ice of the Spectrum before Philadelphia beat the New York Rangers 5-3. The club also ordered up plaques for every player registered on the game’s scoresheet.
One season later, Hextall incredibly scored a second NHL goal. That effort was another first: because it came in the playoffs, Hextall became the first-ever NHL goalie to score in the postseason.
The playoff goal aided a 8-5 Philadelphia win over the Washington Capitals during a first-round, Game 5 meeting. The Flyers beat the Capitals in six games, but later bounced out of the 1989 Stanley Cup Playoffs in the conference finals.
Since Hextall’s two goals, nine goalies have been credited with a goal in the NHL. Only five, however, have scored via a shot-on-goal. They are:
- Chris Osgood (Detroit Red Wings in 1996 versus the Hartford Whalers)
- Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils in 1997 versus the Montreal Canadiens)
- Jose Theodore (Montreal in 2001 versus the New York Islanders)
- Evgeni Nabokov (San Jose Sharks in 2002 versus the Vancouver Canucks)
- Mike Smith (Phoenix Coyotes in 2013 versus Detroit)
It’s also noteworthy that while Hextall is the leading scorer for pucks shot into the net by goalies, he is second in overall goals scored. Brodeur leads that honor with three goals, as his shot into the goal was supplemented by two credited goals in 2000 and 2013.
As for Philadelphia’s 1987-88 campaign, the Flyers finished the season 38-33-9, good for second place in the Patrick Division. They would ultimately fall in seven games to Washington during the first round of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Boston (44-30-6) fared better down the stretch in 1987-88 and made the Stanley Cup Finals before getting swept by the Edmonton Oilers.
Hextall played NHL hockey until 1999. He spent most of his career with the Flyers, although he broke up his time in Philadelphia with the Quebec Nordiques (1992-93) and the New York Islanders (1993-94). Besides being the first goalie to shoot a puck into the net, Hextall also leads goalies in total career penalty minutes with 584. His 113 penalty minutes obtained during the 1988-89 is another NHL record.
I knew he’d score one eventually. I mean I’ve been expecting it. But when it happened, I never thought I’d be that excited.
Flyers forward on Hextall’s goal
The television coverage of Hextall’s goal is available to watch on YouTube:
As far as I’m aware, no images of Hextall mid-shot exist (of his first goal, at least). However, several papers did publish photos of Hextall leaping in celebration afterward, such as this picture that ran in the Philadelphia Daily News:
When they pulled their goalie, it crossed my mind. I’ve always said that when we’re two goals up, I’d go for it. I did. What the heck. I got lucky.
Flyers goalie on his first NHL goal
- By 1987, only one NHL goalie (Billy Smith of the New York Islanders) had been credited with scoring a goal. However, that score came off an own-goal and not by a goalie shooting the puck into the net.
- In a December 1987 game, Philadelphia Flyers netminder Ron Hextall became the first goalie to shoot the puck directly into the net when his goal sealed a 5-2 win over the Boston Bruins.
- Hextall later scored a second goal, during an 8-5 win over the Washington Capitals in the 1989 playoffs.
- Five goalies have since repeated Hextall’s shoot-at-goal-and-score feat, but none have scored twice.
- “Hextall’s Goal One For Books”, Philadelphia Daily News, December 9, 1987 via Newspapers.com
- “Despite Scare, Marsh Unlikely to Try Helmet”, Philadelphia Daily News, December 10, 1987 via Newspapers.com
- “SLEEK NEW ZAMBONI?”, Philadelphia Daily News, December 11, 1987 via Newspapers.com
- “Huffman Scores His 1st NHL Goal”, Philadelphia Daily News, December 14, 1987 via Newspapers.com
- “A long shot into NHL record books”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 9, 1987 via Newspapers.com
- “Flyers win as Hextall scores goal”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 9, 1987 via Newspapers.com
- “Flyers’ six-week slump provided some vital lessons”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 13, 1987 via Newspapers.com
- “Hextall gets a goal, Flyers a win”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 12, 1989 via Newspapers.com
- “Hexy Scored a Goal, I Had My Head Examined”, HockeyBuzz
- “HEXTALL MAKING HIMSELF HEARD”, The New York Times
- “Ron Hextall has vivid memory of being first NHL goalie to shoot puck for goal”, NHL.com
- “NHL Goalies ‑ All-Time Penalty Minutes Leaders”, QuantHockey
- “List of goaltenders who have scored a goal in an NHL game”, Wikipedia