Guy Hebert '89, one of the NHL's premier goaltenders of the 1990s and a member of the U.S. team that won the 1996 World Cup — the most successful post-collegiate athlete in Hamilton's history, in fact — was only the second-best goalie at Coach Phil Grady's practices in the late '80s. "We had two excellent goalies at that time," says Grady, who recently stepped down from his coaching post. Pat Hoey '88 was the other, "and he was probably the better practice goalie. When we had contests and shootouts, they'd all want to shoot on Guy." "He's giving my secrets away," Hebert laughs later. "I was never really the best practice goalie, all the way back to playing as a kid. At Hamilton there would be a big line facing me, and two or three guys facing Pat. There was a lot of joking in the locker room about it. Luckily for me, my coaches — especially Phil — saw that I was usually a better game goalie than practice goalie."
Coach Grady saw that early indeed. Recently arrived on the Hill, Grady was scouting a high school player in Buffalo when he saw Hebert make "something like 50 saves in a game." Hebert became his first recruit as the young coach began the process of building an improved college program. "I knew if we got a goalie, we could be competitive at a higher level right away," Grady says. "The kids played with more confidence in front of him, and he was the anchor. We built the program from the net out."
One of the qualities that made Hebert a superb goalie, both at the college level and then in the NHL, Grady says, was his ability to stay with the puck. "There are a lot of good goalies who make that first save and then lose the rebound, but Guy was capable of making that second and third save — the big one, the game save. He had great vision; he'd find that puck and find a way to get something in front of it."
Hebert adds that the right mind-set was crucial to his success as well. "Once you get beyond the natural ability — the good reflexes and eyesight — you need the right mental makeup, and you have to relish the spotlight and the pressure. But you have to be very controlled, too. I've got a wicked competitive streak, but I'm also a low-key person."
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues while at Hamilton, then the first player selected by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the 2003 expansion draft, Hebert became an NHL All-Star and an anchor of the franchise in the '90s before ending his playing career in 2001.
He recently "went back to being fully retired" after serving for several years as the Ducks' Alumni Association director and working in the broadcast booth. "I had retired with the thought that I wanted to spend time at home with my wife [Sarah Szalach Hebert '89] and daughter, but I had to go to a game one night, and my daughter — she was maybe 5 at the time — said, 'Daddy, I thought you retired to stay home with me.' And I thought, 'You're right, I don't need to do this at this point in my life.'"
As one of the few players to make the climb from Division III to the NHL, Hebert is still convinced that the College offers "the best of both worlds" in balancing academics and athletics. He adds, though, that his college friends and roommates "joke that probably none of us could get into Hamilton now.
"So my plug," he says, "is to make sure that those well-rounded student athletes have the opportunity to come to Hamilton and blossom like we did."
What he DID: As Hamilton goalie and senior All-American, he led the Continentals to a series of ECAC playoff appearances and the program’s first-ever No. 1 ranking. Drafted first by the St. Louis Blues and then by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the 1993 NHL expansion draft, he spent eight years as the Ducks’ starting goalie and starred in the 1997 NHL All-Star game. He also played key roles in the 1994 world championships, the 1996 World Cup and the 1998 Winter Olympics and was U.S.A. Hockey’s 1993-94 male athlete of the year.