Thursday, April 17, 2014
Born into a hockey family on this date in 1943, Dennis Hextall was the son of New York Rangers great Bryan Hextall Sr. Dennis began is road to the NHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League in 1961-62. He returned for a second season, which saw his point total more than double from 29 to 67.
Hextall then enrolled in the University of North Dakota, where he would play from 1963-64 to 1965-66, where his best season saw him score 53 points in 33 games. Fate was on his side, as after one season in the minor leagues with the Knoxville Knights of the Eastern Hockey League, where he scored 76 points while amassing 202 penalty minutes in 61 games, the NHL expanded from 6 clubs to now 12, creating roughly 240 new jobs for players in the NHL.
Still, Hextall wasn't deemed quite ready just yet, as he spent the entire 1967-68 regular season with first the Omaha Knights of the Central League before spending the majority of his season playing in 60 games for the Buffalo Bisons in the American Hockey League. Following 5 playoff games for the Bisons, Hextall made his NHL debut with the New York Rangers for a pair of playoff games, becoming only the second player to make it to the NHL after playing college hockey in the US after Red Berenson.
He would again return to Buffalo for 1968-69, scoring 65 points in 60 games as well as appearing in 13 games for the Rangers, which included his first NHL goal and four additional assists.
He was then traded to the dismal Los Angeles Kings, who would finish with 38 points, 20 back of the Oakland Seals for last place in the league. While with the Kings' organization, he would play in 28 games for the parent club as well as 10 games for the Springfield Kings of the AHL before being dealt in January of 1970 to the Montreal Canadiens organization, where he was assigned to the Montreal Voyageurs of the AHL, where he average a point per game for the 29 games he was there.
He was then sold to the renamed California Seals for the 1970-71 season where led the club in scoring with 21 goals and 52 points although it was the Seals turn to sink in the standings to last place. The toughness in Hextall's game emerged that season as he also led the club in penalty minutes, with 217, over 120 more than his next closest teammate and enough for second place in the entire NHL.
On the move once again, Hextall was then traded to the Minnesota North Stars for two players
just after the season, but was limited to only 33 games with Minnesota and an additional 5 with the Cleveland Barons of the AHL due to a knee injury.
Minnesota stuck with Hextall and he responded to finally having some stability and the leadership role the North Stars put him in, as he set a career highs with 30 goals and 82 points to lead the team in scoring while also having the most penalty minutes with 140, the only one on the roster to even break 100.
He duplicated his 82 points in 1973-74 thanks to a career best 62 assists, and followed that with 74 points the next season, leading the team in scoring for the third consecutive season and earning his second consecutive appearance in the NHL All-Star Game. His 147 penalty minutes allowed him to regain the team lead after having finished second the previous year to Dennis O'Brien.
After qualifying for the postseason the first two seasons, the North Stars had slipped out of the playoffs the previous two seasons and their situation was no better in 1975-76 and changes were in the making. After 59 games, which included three months playing with his brother Bryan Jr. after his arrival from the Detroit Red Wings, and the team clearly going nowhere fast, Hextall was one of the few North Stars with some trade value and shipped to the Red Wings late in the season.
Unfortunately for Hextall, it was now the Red Wings turn to hit rock bottom, finishing even below the dreadful Colorado Rockies. Detroit was unable to produce much offensively, which naturally affected the now 34 year old Hextall's numbers, as he scored 46 and 49 points. His rugged style of play remained however, as he racked up 158 and then 195 penalty minutes while serving as one of the team's captains.
In 1978-79 Hextall played 20 games with the Red Wings before signing with the Washington Capitals as a free agent to finish out the season. He would return to the Capitals for 1979-80 for 15 games before retiring with 681 games played with 163 goals and 350 assists for 503 career points along with his 1,398 penalty minutes.
Despite starting his 13 year NHL career in the playoffs with the Rangers, Hextall had the unfortunate timing of joining a succession of teams while each were at low points, which limited him to only three other playoff appearances.
Today's featured jersey is a 1973-74 Minnesota North Stars Dennis Hextall jersey as worn during the season he tied his career high with 82 points.
The North Stars green jerseys acquired a white shoulder yoke in 1968-69 and this style lasted throughout Hextall's time with the North Stars until being replaced by a new style in 1975-76, Hextall's final one with the club.
Today's video segment begins with some of Hextall's many penalty minutes, as he fights with Stan Jonathan of the Boston Bruins.
Next, Hextall is interviewed by Hall of Famer Sid Abel while with the Red Wings, although the synching of the audio is off enough to make you question who's voice it is you're hearing!
Finally, Hextall discusses getting back outdoors and playing some pond hockey in Colorado.