Twenty-seven years ago yesterday, National Hockey League history was made at the Philadelphia Spectrum. In a 5-2 win by the Philadelphia Flyers over the Boston Bruins, Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall became the first goalie in NHL history to score a goal by shooting the puck into the other team’s net.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t around to see the goal.
I was in the hospital as a result of a head injury that I suffered earlier in the game.
On the play I got hurt, Boston’s Ray Bourque and Cam Neely sandwich-checked me into the stanchion along the Bruins bench. I hit my head on the metal partition (no padding in those days and I didn’t wear a helmet), and then knocked my head on the ice when I fell backwards.
I don’t have much memory of the play itself except for seeing replays of it. However, to this very day, I still have people that were at the game come up to me and say that they thought I was dead! I was out cold on the ice and lying in a pool of blood.
I was quickly put on a stretcher. The Spectrum on any other occasion was one of the loudest buildings in the league but at this time it was the opposite. There was total silence as I was wheeled off the ice.
The trainer, Dave “Sudsy” Settlemyre, worked me over with the smelling salts. My only recollection is that I came to just as I was leaving the ice. I lifted my arm, to let the fans know I was OK and the place went crazy!
Sudsy then proceeded to ask me the usual questions: phone number, address, wife’s name, etc. I knew the answers instantly. I remember Sudsy saying that I was going to be all right as I was led to ambulance and take to the hospital.
I spent the night in the hospital, undergoing observation. The main thing I remember is that I was hungry and asked to order a pizza. After all, I did just finish playing a hockey game.
The nurses and doctors had a chuckle. They told me it was a good sign.
Just as I was beginning to think I would get through the night unscathed, I thought I was experiencing a major setback. Someone from the hospital came in the room and told me that Ron Hextall had scored a goal.
At that point I really thought I must be worse off than I thought. I was honestly not sure if I was hallucinating or delirious. I don’t know if I believed the information until I later saw a replay on the local television news.
What I do know is this. When I saw the replay, my first thought was, “Damn,I wish I’d have been there to help celebrate that one.”
My wife Patty tells the story better then I do. She was at home watching the game on TV. Back then, there were no cell phones to call and let her know I was okay. Patty was home pregnant with our second son, Patrick. She was pacing, and worried.
The doorbell rang and it was our neighbour, Jimmy. He said his father told him to come over as soon as he saw the hit. He stayed with our young son, Erik, so Patty could come down to the hospital. She arrived just in time for pizza.
I only missed four games, I remember pushing the doctor for me to get back in the lineup. I had a sit down meeting with Dr. Hartzell, the Flyers team doctor. He explained to me what happened.
Basically, my brain was injured. It was bruised and that I had to protect it from further damage. It was him that said in no uncertain terms, the only way I was going to play again under his watch was to put a helmet on. I wore a helmet for the remainder of the 1987-88 season.
I usually tell that story pretty light-heartedly, but in reality it was a pretty serious injury. Looking back, I should have taken a little more time off and I was definitely affected when I got back in the line up. I didn’t play well, although I am not one to make excuses.
The fact of the matter is, as I said, it was an accident. I don’t think that Bourque and Neely were lining me up to hit that stanchion. I was trying to make a play, and things happened that the collision took place where it did. Things like that happen. There doesn’t always have to be a controversy. I never held any hard feeling toward Ray and Cam.
As for Hexy, I still had him beat in the “goal scoring race” that season. I got three of ’em to Hexy’s one!