I disappointed a lot of readers by not returning from last month’s Philadelphia visit with even one story about how Philly was full of Pitttsburgh-hating jerks.
Sorry, but everyone I met was perfectly sweet so I defend Philly.
Maybe it’s because I once defended arguably one of the biggest Philly jerks of all time.
Yes, at one time I defended Ron Hextall.
And he had my back!
I played defense on a peewee hockey on a team with Hextall, who went on to play goaltender for the Philadelphia Flyers and was described by none other than Wayne Gretzky as “the best goalie I’d ever faced.”
I mention this now because today is the final day to vote for Rostraver Gardens to win $150,000 from Kraft Hockeyville as the best hockey venue in America. Rostraver and Bloomington (Minn.) Ice Garden are the remaining finalists culled from 1,300 entrants.
I just signed up and voted Rostraver 50 times, which is the limit and after I’m done with this I’ll try and think of a way to submit another 5,000 votes.
Rostraver Gardens means a lot to me and most every other kid who grew up playing hockey in Pittsburgh. It’s where I learned hockey fundamentals, the values of teamwork, leadership and persistence.
It’s where Hextall screamed at me so cruelly I nearly crapped my hockey pants.
I was 10.
He was 8.
I’ve known Marines who were less profane.
Hextall was the son of former Pittsburgh Penguin Bryan Hextall and the grandson of NHL Hall of Famer Bryan Hextall Sr. He had a very proud pedigree.
I was the son of a South Hills optician and was proud when I learned to tie my own skates.
In those pre-Mario Lemieux days, hockey wasn’t huge in Pittsburgh. Almost every kid who played — and every son of every Pen — played in the leagues run out of Rostraver. I played with the sons of notable Pens Vic Hatfield, Marc Boileau, Syl Apps and Dave Burrows. They were all just great, regular kids.
Hextall was a monster.
In my life of people yelling at me for being stupid, lazy and wrong, I’ve never had anyone yell at me like Hextall did.
“Rodell, you’re &%$#! screening me! I can’t *#$%&* see! Hit somebody you stupid *&%$#@ pussy! &%*#!%& *%$#@! *&%$!”
At 10, I only understood one out of every four words he was screaming, but I instinctively knew he was, let’s say, displeased with my performance.
And it was only our first practice.
I don’t remember crying, but I probably felt like crying. Crying and quitting.
In the end, I did neither. Instead, I went to work.
I’m not saying I became a competent hockey player because he screamed at me — I wouldn’t want my wife to draw any conclusions from the fable — but showing Hextall I was good was a serious motivation.
I’ll never forget the game about half way through the season when I was on fire. I made two key break-out passes that led to goals, scored on a rebound and broke up two 3-on-1 breakaways in the crucial 3rd period. We beat the Kiddie Kings 3-2.
Later in the din of our victorious locker room, Hextall yelled out, “Rodell!” I looked over at him.
All he did was nod. One time.
But I felt utterly euphoric. The son of Pittsburgh Penguin approved of my play. I felt welcomed. I felt like a real man.
Two years before my first pube!
I wouldn’t say we became friends. Heck, I’m not sure a kid that angry ever had a friend in his entire life. He went onto a great career, but was considered one of the meanest players ever.
And that’s in goon-filled hockey!
But he did became respectful of my play. I love recalling those stories and recollecting all my time at Rostraver. It’s a very special place and hope you’ll vote for it at Kraft Hockeyville.
I ask you nicely.
Don’t make me go all Hextall on you.