Hextall does seem more at peace with himself. He has cut his tics and mannerisms by half since his return to Philadelphia at the start of last season and is now controlling his superstitions and temper instead of the other way around. Last year when Hextall broke his stick over the crossbar after a goal, Flyers assistant coach Keith Acton joked, "He's matured. He used to do it over people."
Even the mellower Hextall doesn't accept giving up a goal. Ever. He swears he has never allowed one in practice—"Ten years without being scored on," Hextall says, mirth tempering his cold blue eyes—and Flyers forward Russ Romaniuk, in playful homage to that streak, has composed a Top 10 list of excuses Hextall has given teammates who have seemingly beaten him in workouts. The best ones are No. 10, The whistle blew; No. 7, That hit both posts; No. 4, Illegal stick; and No. 1, You'd never try that move in a game.
At a February practice, when Flyers defenseman Karl Dykhuis scored on a move he wouldn't try in a game, a shake-and-bake breakaway, Hextall fired back the puck, which hit Dykhuis above his right eye, causing a gash that required six stitches. Hextall says he was trying to hit Dykhuis in the leg. Really.
Of course Hextall comes by his emotions honestly. His grandfather Bryan Hextall Sr. is in the NHL Hall of Fame. His father, Bryan Jr., and his uncle Dennis also were NHL forwards, and both had nasty dispositions. Ron took over the family business in 1986-87, winning the Vezina Trophy that season. However, he piled up 104, 104 and 113 penalty minutes his first three years in the league—the three highest totals ever for a goaltender. Hextall has also been suspended three times for a total of 26 games.
"I think Ron liked his on-ice personality," Clarke says. "Sometimes he seemed to go out of his way to be the goalie people thought he was." Hextall demurs. He says he never relished being regarded as a raving lunatic. Even now that he has quieted down, Hextall doesn't particularly care what anyone—except his teammates and family—thinks.
At home Hextall wouldn't hurt a spider. "He can't," says his wife, Diane. "I have to kill them." When his teammates played golf on an off day recently, Hextall took his four children fishing instead. He skips the gambling trips with the guys to nearby Atlantic City. A big night on the road for him is calling home. "He is the absolute perfect father and husband," Diane says. "We wouldn't have four children if he weren't." And if on some nights his behavior has seemed, well, childish, Hextall has told his kids, "Listen, Dad made a mistake. He's human. Parents make mistakes too."
Kids, more than the rest of the hockey world, are willing to forgive.