"There's a limitation to what one guy can do. I don't know why he wants to take it upon himself to do everything. I just wonder why he wants to be portrayed as such a bad guy."
Truth is, Hextall doesn't. "It bothers me that anyone would think that off the ice, I'm the way I am on it," he says. "I don't think I would be real happy with myself if I was."
Ron's wife, Diane, a former competitive figure skater and Hextall's sweetheart from his hometown of Brandon, Manitoba, swears the maniacal version of Hextall is never to be confused with the doting dad who treasures his time with Kristin, 3, and Brett, 19 months. "He doesn't beat his head against the wall," she says. "We don't have padded doors. I have never seen him lose his temper with the kids. We haven't had a good fight in a long time."
But Diane freely admits she was up and cheering when her husband mugged Chelios. She thinks the Montreal defenseman had it coming for giving Propp a concussion that kept him out of the next game. Diane's view is shared by Hextall's father and his mother, Fay. They are nice people, but they are also hockey people.
Even more jarring than the sight of Hextall going after Chelios was watching him try to defend his actions in the locker room after the game. Limited remorse began to settle in within a few days. Six months later, he is contrite.
"It was wrong," he says. "I'll admit I'm not a good loser, and I'm not proud of it. I've had two incidents that have hurt myself and our club. I know I've been suspended twice, and if I do something else, I will be suspended again. I have to cut that stuff out.
"I thought about [Chelios] for a few minutes before I did it and told myself that as long as I didn't use my stick, we'd both probably get five-minute penalties. I didn't think it all the way through. Two wrongs don't make a right, but what Chelios did to Brian Propp was certainly a lot more harmful than what I did to Chelios."
Obviously the only real apology Hextall has offered is to his teammates. Most of his ethical considerations center on their effect on the team. Hextall has never allowed a goal that he figured wasn't directly his fault. He has 33 one-goal games in his three NHL seasons, but the only lost shutouts he laments were two 1-0 defeats. "It's tough to explain to anyone who has never been on a team," he says. "But you'll do anything for your teammates."
That value reflects his upbringing, though it turns out that Grandpa was something of a pacifist. Bryan Hextall Sr. was a strong player who three times was voted first-team All-Star right wing during an 11-season NHL career that ended in 1948. But he repeatedly lectured his sons, Bryan Jr. and Dennis, to stay out of the penalty box. "He was a tough player. He just didn't like fighting," says Ron. "He'd really get frustrated with my dad and uncle."
Bryan Sr. died in 1984, but Hextall's grandmother, Gert, still lives in Poplar Point, Manitoba, and it is she who claims credit for introducing the mean genes into the family. Instilled with her fire and their father's quiet determination, Bryan Jr. and Dennis hung on to have lengthy NHL careers. And they stuck those Hextall noses in places where they often came away bleeding. One of the outstanding remembrances of Ron's youth was watching the Broad Street Bullies beat on his father and uncle. "I hated the Flyers." says Hextall.