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  • Youngest Hextall shows off his "Style" Print
    Futures Watch
    Written by Dan Marrazza   
    Wednesday, 12 December 2012 13:54

    This past Saturday was the 25-year anniversary of when Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ron Hextall became the first goalie in NHL history to score a goal by shooting the puck into the opposite net, himself. On the anniversary, Ron Hextall’s son, Brett, was part of the one of the AHL’s Portland Pirates’ most exciting wins of the season—a 4-3 shootout thriller over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Although Brett is a forward with the Pirates while his father was a longtime NHL goalie, the younger Hextall embodies many of the same aggressive traits that made his father famous two-and-a-half decades ago.

    When Ron Hextall played in the NHL, he was a goaltender with his own unique style.

    His style was that of a combative, aggressive goalie whose equipment was as likely to be used to cause harm to his opponents as it was to block shots. His aggression also manifested itself in his ability to venture from his crease to play pucks, which in itself led to him becoming the only goalie in NHL history to have twice scored goals where he shot the puck into the net, himself.

    Although Hextall’s son, a 2008 Phoenix Coyotes draft pick named Brett, isn’t a goalie, he has begun establishing himself as an aggressive force in his own right while playing for the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates.

    “I can see Brett becoming a Matt Cooke type of player,” said Pirates head coach Ray Edwards. “I love his tenacity. He’s a great team player, but hard to play against. Although he’s not a 6-foot-4 goalie, the ‘Hextall’ trait is definitely in him and he has a lot of fire in his belly.”

    For Hextall, being a 5-foot-10, 190-pound right wing whose style more comes from disturbing the peace than from scoring goals, comparisons to Matt Cooke should be something he becomes used to as he attempts to carve a niche for himself in the Coyotes organization. However, Hextall took the notion of “Hextall Style” one step further earlier this season, when he was part of a “so bad that it’s good” rendition of Gangnam Style on YouTube.

    “In October, I was just sitting there watching TV,” said Hextall. “I got a Twitter notification on my phone from Andy Miele telling people that if they could get Brett Hextall up to 2,500 followers, that he’d release a video of me doing the Gangnam Style dance. I agreed since I didn’t know what the dance even was at the time.

    “All of a sudden, we had Bob McKenzie and John Buccigross retweeting Miele; that’s when I realized that I had no idea what I had gotten myself into,” added Hextall. “It only took a few days for me to get up to the 2,500 followers I needed, but it took me a few days to build up the courage to do the video.

    “We filmed it all over the place,” said Hextall. “It was so early in the season that some of us hadn’t moved into our places yet, so we shot some of it at the hotel we were all staying at. The rest of it was mostly on top of a parking garage, and on our team bus while we were on a road trip. It actually came out a lot better than I thought it would have.”

    Of course, in the technology age, the Pirates’ “Hextall Style” video went viral and spread to every corner of the hockey world within hours.

    “My family has this group-text thing I’m on with my two sisters, my brother and my parents,” said Hextall. “One of my sisters texted the link to our whole family and my father was like, ‘oh my God, what the hell are you doing?’”

    Besides producing one of the hockey world’s more ridiculous, yet kind of awesome parody videos, what the younger Hextall was doing was helping to bring his Pirates teammates together.

    “Guys just started lining up to be in it,” said Hextall. “Miele is in it and then David Rundblad gets in for a few seconds. (Alexandre) Bolduc , (Scott) Arnold and (Mathieu) Brodeur make appearances where they’re just kind of there in the background. We actually had Chris Summers edit the video, too. Then we got Chris Brown to get in and do his little yoga pose in spandex. Brown’s in spandex because you have to make rookies like him do things like that.”

    Although Brown—a 6-foot-2, 210-pound potential blue-chip power forward in the NHL—got the token rookie role in Hextall’s video, Hextall isn’t that far removed fromBrett Hextall being a first-year pro, himself. This season is Hextall’s second professional season as a grinding disturber with the Pirates, after he was one of the better goal scorers at the University of North Dakota the prior three years.

    “I have to be a different player as a pro than I was in college,” said Hextall. “I was more of a scorer in college while here, I’m just focusing on keeping it simple and getting pucks to the net.”

    “One thing we’re trying to do for Brett is to get a little more offense into his game,” added Edwards. “He’s scored a little bit this season, which has helped his confidence with the puck.”

    Overall, Hextall has just three goals and four points in 21 games this season. But despite these modest totals representing a marked improvement—Hextall had seven goals and eight assists in his 70-game rookie season, last season—Hextall knows that his ability to be a pesky agitator, rather than a scorer, will be what dictates how far he’ll be able to take his hockey career.

    Actually, besides probably never being a high scorer as a pro, Brett Hextall probably won’t ever even be the most dynamic scorer in Hextall family history, either. Besides his father’s offensive contributions as a goalie, his grand-uncle (Dennis) and grandfather (Bryan Jr.) combined for 252 career NHL goals while his great-grandfather, Bryan Hextall Sr., was an NHL forward in the 1930s and 1940s who was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969. Hextall’s family lineage in hockey runs so deep that he would join Blake Geoffrion as only the second fourth-generation player in NHL history, should he reach the NHL one day.

    “Brett was around the game a lot growing up,” said Edwards. “When you’re around the game that much, you understand the lifestyle. And not only the lifestyle, but you understand the pressures.

    “Brett’s a hard worker,” added Edwards. “His effort is one of the reasons he’s getting better. Really, I think our team is filled with a lot of guys who work hard and improve—that’s a reason that I love coaching this team. I feel like our team has guys who learn, work hard and compete.”

    Through the 2012-13 AHL season’s first two months, the Pirates have a 12-10-1-1 record and sit in the middle of the pack in a league that is filled with four really good teams, three really poor teams and 23 teams that are bunched together with similar point totals.

    However, the reason Portland stands out is because of the young talent—especially on defense—it has that should make the Pirates a championship contender either this season or in the not-too-distant-future.

    Perhaps the most promising defensive prospect on the Pirates right now is Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the former sixth-overall Coyotes draft choice who displayed poise beyond his years last season when he was one of the NHL’s best rookie defensemen. The Pirates also boast Brandon Gormley, a 2010 first-round draft pick who won the Memorial Cup with the Shawinigan Cataractes last season, and David Rundblad, a former first-round draft pick whom the Coyotes acquired from the Ottawa Senators in the highly-publicized trade that sent Kyle Turris to Canada’s national capital last winter.

    Furthermore, the Coyotes’ first-round draft pick from 2011, defenseman Connor Murphy, is currently in his final junior season with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, was recently named to Team USA’s World Junior Championships preliminary roster and could be in a position to join the Pirates at the end of the regular season this year.

    The reason those four defensemen deserve mention is that each has been ranked amongst hockey’s top 30 overall prospects at different times over the last year, which is pretty impressive considering that no other organization has ever had more than two defensemen simultaneously ranked amongst the league’s top 30 prospects during that same time period.

    “For our team, I think it’s about putting everything together,” said Edwards. “We’re a young group. I think we’ve done some really good things at times. But really, we’re such a young team that everything is a learning experience for us.”

    The Pirates’ most recent learning experience came this past week, when they rebounded from an embarrassing 6-1 loss to the Binghamton Senators last Friday by taking each of their next two contests in either overtime or a shootout—Portland overcame a 3-0 deficit to get a 4-3 shootout win in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last Saturday and took a 2-1 overtime decision over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Tuesday.

    In a way, Portland’s down-and-up week has been a microcosm of the team’s identity, too. On one hand, the team’s 6-1 loss to Binghamton—a team which entered the tilt on an eight-game winning streak—exposed the gap between the Pirates and one of the AHL’s best teams. That gap was further accentuated when Portland fell behind 3-0 in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday; however, the team’s ability to rally for a come-from-behind win in one of the AHL’s most difficult road environments and win two straight playoff-style games has showcased the type of precocious, raw ability that the Pirates have that should pay dividends in both Portland and Phoenix in the near future.

    The Pirates’ two-game winning streak has also brought them all the way from the cellar of their division to being only one point behind the Worcester Sharks for first place in the AHL’s closely-contested Atlantic Division. Additionally, if Portland could continue its currently modest winning streak by winning at home against the Manchester Monarchs on Friday and on the road against the Connecticut Whale on Saturday, it could find itself in a head-to-head battle for first place in its division when it visits Worcester this Sunday.

    But since three straight losses this weekend could also put the Pirates back in last place in the Atlantic Division, Ray Edwards would probably view his team’s next three games as “just another learning experience,” regardless of the games’ outcomes.

    After all, hockey season is much more of a marathon than a sprint, as is the overall development of a bushel of talented prospects who are just starting to find their way in the pro game.

    To keep tabs on the Pirates’ quest for their division’s top spot and the development of the Coyotes’ treasure trove of defensive prospects, the team can be followed on Twitter at @PortlandPirates.

    To add to Brett Hextall’s ever-growing number of Twitter followers—currently 2,870 and counting—he can be found on Twitter at @BHextall.

    Photos by Getty Images

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    Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 15:02