December 8th, 1987 was one of the most notable dates in NHL history. I remember watching this game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins and witnessing an event near the end of the game that none of us who ever followed hockey have ever seen. After lifting my jaw off the floor, I was still trying to process the first time a goaltender-my favorite goalie nonetheless, at the professional level actually shot the puck into the opposing team's net and scored a goal! This was never done before. Sure, Billy Smith was the only goalie ever credited with a goal on November 28th, 1979. However, Ron Hextall became the first one to take the puck onto his stick and fire it nearly 200 feet, placing the puck in the lower right corner of the 4 foot by 6 foot cage.
This feat provided a huge step towards the evolution of the game of hockey and the goaltending position. Goalies are tasked with making sure the puck does not enter their net from the opposition's shots- they are the last line of defense. There is a 6 foot by 8 foot area marked and shaded which is located in front of the opening of the net. This area is known as the crease. It is where the goaltender spends the majority of his or her time. One can think of this spot as a safe haven for the goalie- a place where he or she can not be interfered with.
Ron Hextall was the first one to have the audacity to leave his crease well beyond just stopping the puck behind the net. He would dart into the corners, as well as venture beyond the face off dots- unseen with goalies prior to his arrival. He chose to leave the comfort zone of his crease and add another dimension to his position. Eventually, the next wave of keepers became better puck handlers. It is now a requirement for an elite goalie to skillfully handle and shoot the puck in today's modern game.
Imagine if Hextall was not willing to leave his crease as often and as far as he did? Would today's game be more exciting and faster than it ever was before? Are you willing to endeavor outside your crease? Do you have the courage to innovate? Are you a pioneer?