The Flyers haven’t played a single game yet on Ron Hextall’s watch as GM. But at such an early stage in the first-year GM’s tenure, it sure seems that it pays off to be related to the former goalie. Is it a mere coincidence? Perhaps it’s the familiarity of knowing what he’s getting. Or is Hextall molding the Flyers into his own version of a good old boys network? Whichever it is, being related to Flyers GM Ron Hextall can’t hurt. Or could it?
A Chip off the Old Block?
When Brett Hextall was born on April 2, 1988, father Ron was wrapping up his sophomore season in net with the Flyers. It’s only right that he joins the organization 26 years later, right? After all, he was born in Philadelphia. But despite failing to make his NHL debut in three seasons, the son of a GM was inked to a one-year deal, joining the Phantoms in their inaugural season in Lehigh Valley.
Although the newly signed Phantom carries the same last name as the commander of the roster, though, it really didn’t give Brett (26) any advantage outside of his father’s knowledge of his game.
“I thought long and hard about this,” said Ron Hextall. “If his name wasn’t Hextall it would have been done a long time ago. I went through a process here, yeah.”
One thing we’ve learned right off the bat is that when Hextall says there’s a process, he sticks to it. After vowing not to rush prospects, he stood true to his word by signing Michael Del Zotto after losing Kimmo Timonen. Hextall has stayed steadfast as well, by renovating his AHL affiliate. Hextall now adds his son to the crop of newcomers such as, Blair Jones, Andrew Gordon, and Zack Stortini.
Unlike Brett, however, the other three newcomers will be bringing NHL experience to the Phantoms, with Stortini’s 257 games leading the group. But nobody, including his own father, has catapulted Brett’s name to the top of the prospect list. What he does give the Phantoms, though, is the right type of player that fills a void at the right wing position.
“He plays hard and he had plays with a lot of sandpaper and we wanted some help on the right side,” Ron Hextall said. “Our left side is a little more full.”
#Phantoms sign some kid named Brett Hextall.
— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) August 25, 2014
With 27 goals and 26 assists in three seasons with the Portland Pirates, Brett Hextall certainly won’t challenge anyone for the AHL’s scoring title this year. But his presence in professional hockey is significant, nonetheless. Since being drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2008, Brett Hextall became the fourth generation of Hextall’s to be drafted.
“Bryan Hextall, Sr., Brett’s great-grandfather, earned Hockey Hall of Fame honors for his career with the New York Rangers from `936-1948. Grandfather Bryan Hextall, Jr. played 549 NHL games in the 1970s for Pittsburgh, and for the Baltimore Clippers and Rochester Americans in the AHL. Great-uncle Dennis Hextall also played in the AHL and NHL.
“Ron Hextall, a Flyers Hall of Famer, played in 608 career NHL games as a goalie for the Flyers, the Quebec Nordiques and the New York Islanders. He also played in the AHL for the then-Flyers affiliate Hershey Bears, the regional rival of the first-year Lehigh Valley Phantoms.” — Gary R. Blockus, The Morning Call
The Hextall edginess won’t be the only second coming to the organization, as the youngest Hextall will play under a coach who’s quite familiar with his father.
“… With the Phantoms, Hextall will play under Terry Murray, who coincidentally coached a different guy named Hextall with the Flyers from 1994 to 1997. That’s probably something he can discuss with his new coach as a way to break the awkwardness. Once a Flyer, always a Flyer.” — Jim Adair, Crossing Broad
While carrying the “Hextall” name didn’t hinder Brett’s exposure before he was drafted, he surely isn’t joining the franchise with a silver spoon in his mouth. That’s due in large part to Ron’s perspective of his son from a father’s vantage point, which was expressed when asked how important it was to him for his son to reach the NHL.
“It would be great because I think both of my boys really enjoy playing the game, but my wish list wasn’t, ‘OK, let’s have a fourth-generation Hextall,'” the Flyers’ GM said. “My wish list was I want my kids to work hard, be successful and just be really good people. That’s first and foremost. The hockey thing, yeah, it would be neat mostly because the boys both love to play the game. I don’t want to sit here and say that’s one of my lifelong dreams. It’s not. One of my lifelong dreams is for my kids to be happy and be successful and do whatever they chose to do.”
If anything, playing in the organization that your dad leads makes for challenges of their own. Brett joked about a text message sent from father to son before a rookie game at the Staples Center in 2011, which depicts what kind of pressure comes with such a pedigree.
“I knew where he was sitting because they have that corner where the management sits, but I didn’t let myself look up there,” said Brett of his onlooking father. “He sent me a text today that said, ‘Don’t make me look stupid.’”
After admitting that wasn’t the content of Ron’s actual text, it may have been an inside look at how tough it is to share the “Hextall” name.
Hey, I Know You!
Well before signing his son to an AHL contract, Hextall tricked fans and pundits alike, with the 17th overall pick in this past year’s NHL Entry Draft. And while Travis Sanheim made himself a commodity by jumping from 167th to 53rd in Central Scouting’s ranking of North American skaters, Hextall still passed over other prospects who were considered of higher value.
After Sanheim was selected, however, it didn’t take long for the pick to be a popular one. He was a diamond in the rough that prematurely exhibited his glow. Hextall’s selection of a defenseman simply added to his popularity. Lost in the delayed high five’s, though, was the reported tidbit that he was loosely related to the man who announced his name on Draft Day.
“My mom’s stepbrother is related to Hextall,” said Sanheim. “My mom grew up knowing Ron Hextall, so I did have a little bit of a connection. But we obviously haven’t seen him for a long time.”
To suggest Hextall drafted Sanheim primarily because of family ties is not only factually wrong, but misguided as well. In fact, Hextall was unaware of their relation up until two months before the draft.
“It’s difficult to predict the future of teenage hockey players, but there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that Ekblad will someday soon be a force to be reckoned with. Then again, why not this kid Travis? No matter who he knows or is related to?
“‘I didn’t even know that until a couple of months ago,’ Hextall said. ‘My mother told me. She said, ‘Do you realize that Travis Sanheim’s mom is Shelly, who you knew when you were a kid?’ I said I had absolutely no idea. It’s an interesting thing.'” — Rob Parent, Daily Times
Although Hextall was eventually aware of his link to Sanheim, it’s important to note that the first-year GM didn’t head into the draft dead set on placing Sanheim into his personal pipeline. If that were the case, then Florida GM, Dale Tallon, wouldn’t have had to decline Hextall’s offer for the top overall pick.
“The Panthers wanted Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and at least one other player, possibly Braydon Coburn. The Flyers balked at Simmonds. In return, however, the Panthers were also willing to take Vinny Lecavalier and his $4.5 million contract off their hands.
“When things didn’t pan out with Florida, multiple sources said Hextall even tried to finagle a way with Buffalo and Edmonton to get to Ekblad, who has a hard, right-handed shot.” — Tim Panaccio, CSN Philly
That led to the fates of Sanheim and the Flyers meeting. And much like his own son, Sanheim’s relation to Hextall won’t serve as his meal ticket to the NHL.
“It’s time for Travis to take the next step and work hard and eat right and develop his body and develop himself mentally and become a more impact player,” Hextall explained. “There is a growth player here.
“He is a long way from playing in the NHL.”
In the cases of both Brett Hextall, and Travis Sanheim, being related to the Flyers GM didn’t get them to where they are. And while it certainly didn’t pose as an obstacle throughout their journey, it clearly didn’t pave the way. With that being said, the pressure is now on for this pair akin to Ron Hextall. Don’t make him look stupid.
Andy is a contributor for The Hockey Writers, covering the Philadelphia Flyers. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Walsh University. He enjoys spending time with his family, golfing, and reading. He is married with a daughter. You can follow Andy on Twitter @ADudones.