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Cougar Profiles: Al Hill - Greatest Debut in NHL History

Al Hill has been involved in hockey his whole life, but will always be remembered for his first National Hockey League (NHL) game on Valentine's Day in 1977.

Born in Nanaimo, and a product of the BCJHLs Nanaimo Clippers, Hill finally reached the Victoria Cougars in 1974 at the age of 19. The Cougars finished first overall in 1974/75, with Hill picking up 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 Hill went undrafted, “Part of the problem may have been Al’s toothpick physique. Almost six feet 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. To replace the two forwards, the Flyers called up Hill on the morning of February 14th. A snowstorm made it difficult to drive to Philadelphia from Springfield, but he managed to arrive late in the afternoon. When he walked into the dressing room, he found out 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. Later in the period, Hill scored his second to give the Flyers a 2-1 advantage. Before the end of the first period, he assisted on a Reggie Leach goal to make it 3-1 Philadelphia. In the second period, Hill continued his magical night, assisting on a goal by former Cougar teammate Mel Bridgman and fighting Bob McMillan. His final point came 57 seconds into the third, assisting on Bobby Clarke's game-winning goal. The game ended with The Flyers defeating the Blues 6-4, with Hill picking up five points (two goals and three assists). The five points tied an NHL record for most points by a rookie in their first NHL game. There were only two other players 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 five-point performance. 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 became a regular on the Flyers 1979 team who had a 35 game unbeaten streak and went 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 retired in 1989, appearing in 221 career NHL games for the Flyers, scoring 95 points.

After his playing days, Hill became an Assistant Coach with Hersey Bears. The next season, he joined the New York Rangers organization. For the next four years, Hill was an Assistant Coach with Binghamton of the AHL and spent part of 1992/93 as an Assistant in New York. In 1993-94, Hill became Binghamton’s head coach and spent two seasons at that post.

Hill returned to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1997-98 as a pro scout and continues in that position.

In 2011, Hill was inducted into the Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame, and in 2017 he entered the Binghampton Sports Hall of Fame.

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.


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