Al Hill has been involved in hockey his whole life, but he will always be remembered for his first National Hockey League (NHL) game with the Philadelphia Flyers on Valentines Day in 1977.
Born in Nanaimo and a product of the BC Junior Hockey League’s Nanaimo Clippers, Hill didn’t reach the Victoria Cougars until 1974 when he was 19 years old. The Cougars finished first overall that season with Hill playing a big role contributing 57 points. That summer he was passed over in both the NHL and WHA entry drafts. A 1975 Canadian Hockey League Magazine described one of the reasons why he was not drafted, “Part of the problem may have been Al’s toothpick physique. Almost six feel tall, he weighs in at about 150 pounds although he’s trying to put on weight and should fill out as this season progresses”
Coach Pat Ginnell brought Hill back to the Cougars in 1975-76 as a 20 year old over-age player saying, “Al was learning the ropes last season and he should be one of our leaders in his second year. He’s the type of player the over-age ruling was intended to help.”
In 1975-76, Hill developed into a consistent two way player for the Cougars scoring 66 points while playing much more aggressively in racking up 172 penalty minutes. By the end of the season Hill increased his weight to 175 pounds.
Once again Hill was overlooked in the NHL and WHA entry drafts, but was invited to the Philadelphia Flyers 1976 training camp as a non-roster player. Hill impressed the Flyers and signed a contract at the end of training camp. To start his pro career, Hill was assigned to the Flyers farm team, the Springfield Indians of the American Hockey League (AHL).
In February 1977, the Flyers were hit by injuries to Paul Holmgren and Bill Barber so on the morning of February 14th, Hill received word that he was called up to Flyers. A snowstorm made it difficult to get to Philadelphia from Springfield, but he managed to arrive late in the afternoon. When he walked into the dressing room of the Spectrum, he was told that he was in the starting lineup that night against the St. Louis Blues on a line with Bobby Clarke and Bob Kelly.
Just 36 seconds after the opening face-off, Hill scored his first NHL goal giving the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Later in period, Hill scored his second of the game (on his second shot on goal) to give the Flyers a 2-1 advantage. He collected his first assist on a Reggie Leach goal to make it 3-1 Flyers at the first intermission. In the second period, Hill continued his magical night as he assisted on a goal by former Cougar teammate Mel Bridgman and had a fight with Bob McMillan. Hill’s final point of the game came 57 seconds into the third period when he assisted on the game winning goal by Bobby Clarke. The Flyers ended up defeating the Blues 6-4 with Hill picking up five points (two goals and three assists) to tie an NHL record for most points by a rookie in their first NHL game. There were only two other players in the history of the NHL to score five points in their debut, Harry Hyland and Joe Malone, who both scored five points on December 17, 1917.
Unfortunately Hill never came close to repeating that performance as he played in eight more games for the Flyers that year, picking up just one assist.
After a couple of years in the AHL, Hill become a regular on the Flyers 1979 team that had a 35 game unbeaten streak in the regular season and went on to the Stanley Cup Finals. Subsequently from 1982 until his retirement in 1989, Hill spent most of his career with the AHL Hershey Bears, winning the Calder Cup three times. He played a total of 221 NHL games for the Flyers, scoring 95 points.
Upon retirement in 1989, Hill become an assistant coach with Hersey Bears. The next season, he was hired by the New York Rangers organization. For the the next four years, Hill was an assistant coach with Binghamton and spent part of the 1992/93 season as an assistant to head coach Ron Smith in New York. In 1993-94, Hill was appointed as Binghamton’s head coach and spent two seasons at that post.
After a year as head coach of the B.C. Icemen in 1997-98, he returned to the Philadelphia Flyers as a pro scout, a position that he still holds today.
It’s been over forty years since his debut on Valentine’s Day in 1977 and Al Hill still holds the record for most points in a game by a rookie in their first NHL game.