Two goalies come to mind when it comes to the greatest Philadelphia Flyer goaltenders of all time: Bernie Parent and Ron Hextall. Both were the backbones of their respective teams, and their skill set the tone for the games they played in. They were both able to take over games themselves and provided that extra boost for both the defense that supported them as well as the forwards. Who was the better Flyer though?
Parent started his NHL career before the Flyers even existed. He debuted with the Boston Bruins, getting trained by fellow Hall-of-Fame goalie Jacques Plante. When the Flyers joined the league, Parent was selected by the team in the expansion draft to be their goalie. Aside from a couple of seasons in-between with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the World Hockey Association’s Philadelphia Blazers for one season, Parent would spend the rest of his career with the Flyers organization.
Parent, in particular, played spectacular throughout the 1974 postseason, helping lead Philadelphia to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history. Guys like Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Andre Dupont, and Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, among others, did what they had to do on their end, while Parent provided stonewall saves to add more momentum onto their side. The Flyers beat their netminder’s old team (the Bruins) in six games, and Parent was acknowledged for his solid performance with the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the player considered to be the MVP of that postseason.
The exact same timeline happened the following season. The Flyers entered the 1975 playoffs wanting to defend their Cup championship. Winning back-to-back Cups is a rare achievement, but the Flyers found a way to pull it off, with Parent taking the helm at the backend once again. This time they shut down the Buffalo Sabres, an expansion team themselves from 1970, in six contests. Like the previous season, Parent had played so successfully that he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy yet again.
Other accolades Parent won over the course of his Flyer tenure are the Vezina Trophy both in 1974 and 1975, as well as participating in five All-Star Games. His number one was retired by the Flyers in 1979, and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984.
His stats over the course of his time in Philadelphia are below:
- 1967-68: 15 wins, 17 losses, 5 ties, 2.49 GAA, and .926 Sv% in 38 games
- 1968-69: 17 wins, 23 losses, 16 ties, 2.70 GAA, and .925 Sv% in 58 games
- 1969-70: 13 wins, 29 losses, 20 ties, 2.80 GAA, and .921 Sv% in 62 games
- 1970-71: 9 wins, 12 losses, 6 ties, 2.77 GAA, and .912 Sv% in 30 games
- 1973-74: 47 wins, 13 losses, 12 ties, 1.89 GAA, and .932 Sv% in 73 games
- 1974-75: 44 wins, 14 losses, 9 ties, 2.04 GAA, and .918 Sv% in 68 games
- 1975-76: 6 wins, 2 losses, 2 ties, 2.35 GAA, and .907 Sv% in 11 games
- 1976-77: 35 wins, 13 losses, 12 ties, 2.71 GAA, and .899 Sv% in 61 games
- 1977-78: 29 wins, 6 losses, 13 ties, 2.22 GAA, and .912 Sv% in 49 games
- 1978-79: 16 wins, 12 losses, 7 ties, 2.71 GAA, and .893 Sv% in 36 games
He retired having won a career total of 271 games (between both the Flyers, Bruins, and Maple Leafs). He had a total of 54 shutouts.
Hextall was drafted by the Flyers in 1982 and made his debut during the 1986-87 season after spending a few years between the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League (AHL) and the Kalamazoo Wings, who played in the now-defunct International Hockey League (IHL). He established himself as the next goalie for the organization and was a factor in them making the postseason three consecutive times (1986-87 to 1988-89). During those playoff runs, he posted the following wins and losses:
- 1986-87: 15 wins, 11 losses, 2.76 GAA, .908 Sv%, and 2 shutouts in 26 games
- 1987-88: 2 wins, 4 losses, 4.75 GAA, and .847 Sv% in 7 games
- 1988-89: 8 wins, 7 losses, 3.32 GAA, and .890 Sv% in 15 games
What made him so special off of the bat was that, as a rookie, he led the 1986-87 Flyers team to the Stanley Cup Final. They would end up losing to Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, and the Edmonton Oilers, but it was a sign that Philadelphia had their goalie of the future. He continued to play pretty well in between the pipes for the Flyers, and it looked that they had a significant answer in net.
Hockey can be unpredictable though, not just on the ice, but through transactions as well. In a big move trying to land a solid name to provide offensive stability for the future, the Flyers landed former first overall pick Eric Lindros from the Quebec Nordiques. The package in return to Quebec was massive, and Hextall was one of the pieces going back.
He spent the 1992-93 season with the Nordiques, before playing the following year as a member of the New York Islanders. The separation between him and Philadelphia ended right after though, and Hextall found his way back to suiting up for the Orange and Black starting in the 1994-95 season.
He was reunited with his old team and was a force during his second run with the club. The organization, now with their Legion of Doom line among other weapons, took another run at the Stanley Cup in 1997. The offense was run by guys like Lindros and winger John LeClair, while Hextall did his thing behind them. Like before against the Oilers ten years prior, the Flyers fell in the Cup Final, this time losing to Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, and the Detroit Red Wings. Hextall played a couple more years for Philadelphia before hanging up his skates in 1999.
Unlike Parent, Hextall had his own bit of a temper that flared when he played. In fact, some believe he had one of the shortest tempers in league history. He was not afraid to fight back and had gotten into a few scraps of his own.
Goalie fights are a rare spectacle and nowadays fighting, in general, has been pretty much eradicated from the sport. Hextall was a tough customer during his time and had even gotten suspended by the NHL on multiple occasions. He would get rough and he would start the physicality toward opponent players. He made the Flyers that much tougher to play against with everything that he brought night in and night out.
Hextall wrapped up his Flyer career winning 240 regular-season games for the club with 18 shutouts. Honors and awards that Hextall secured included the Vezina Trophy during his rookie season in 1987, as well as the Conn Smythe Trophy that same year. He also was nominated to the NHL All-Star Game in 1988, and was inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame in 2008.
Finding the Way onto the Scoresheet
Only a handful of goalies have been able to say that they have tallied a goal in a game. Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators was the most recent example to successfully do it, netting an empty netter during the 2019-20 season. Hextall is another who has pulled this off; however, not only can he say he notched a goal in his career, but he did it twice.
The first time he scored came against the Bruins. Goalies had scored goals prior to Hextall’s, but Ron was the first to actually take a shot at the empty net. This goal was in the regular season, but the second goal Hextall scored a couple of years later was in a playoff game. Hextall scored on an empty net to help seal the victory against the Washington Capitals during a game in the 1989 playoffs. Not even Parent, as great of a goalie and as great of a career as he had, can say that he scored a goal of his own in the NHL, let alone two.
Stability Between the Pipes
Both Hextall and Parent became household names with Philadelphia, and are the two best Flyers to ever step foot in the crease for the franchise. With that being said, between the two men, Parent was the better of the two if I had to choose.
While Hextall was able to play a big role in the Flyers returning to the Stanley Cup Final on multiple occasions, they never did walk away with the big prize, something that Parent was able to do back-to-back years. It is not fair to pin it on Hextall for those losses, but they are a difference between the two men. Parent was able to achieve more honors in the cupboard than Hextall did overall, not just including Stanley Cups.
I also like the style of play that Parent had as well over Hextall’s, the latter which was more physical and getting in opponents’ faces. This is nothing against Hextall; these are just my thoughts. Regardless, both goalies are Flyers staples, and what they both did for the organization will always be honored by the Philadelphia faithful.