Bryan Hextall played his early hockey in Poplar Point, Manitoba where he was a member of the Manitoba juvenile championship team in 1929-30. He moved up to the Manitoba Junior League with Winnipeg and Portage La Prairie before joining the Vancouver Lions of the North West Hockey League. He led the NWHL in goals with 27 in 1936-37 and followed up the next year with another league-leading goal total of 27, this time while playing with the Philadelphia Ramblers of the International-American Hockey League.
Hextall saw his first National Hockey League action in 1936-37, playing with the New York Rangers, recording one assist in three games. He would become a permanent fixture with the Blueshirts the following year playing on his "off wing," many years before the tactic was to become common practice in the league. Hextall found that he had a better shooting angle, as a left-handed shot, by cutting in on goal from the right wing. Using the strategy to his advantage, he led the NHL in goals scored in the 1939-40 and 1940-41 seasons and won the NHL scoring race outright in 1941-42.
Hextall was considered the dominant right winger of his day, earning First Team All-Star selections in 1940, 1941, and 1942 before adding a Second Team All-Star selection to his resume in 1943. He scored perhaps the biggest goal in New York Rangers history on April 13, 1940, in overtime, in game six of the Stanley Cup finals. In Toronto that night, at the 2:07 mark of the fourth period, Hextall beat legendary goaltender Turk Broda to give New York a 3-2 victory in the game and a 4-2 series win to claim the Stanley Cup. Fifty-four years would pass before the Blueshirts drank from the Lord Stanley's bowl again.
Three games into the 1945-46 season Hextall required hospitalization due to a liver ailment, forcing him to miss the remainder of the year. Hextall returned to the Rangers in 1946-47, playing in all 60 regular season games. He played one further season in New York before finishing his career in the American Hockey League a year later, splitting 1948-49 with the Cleveland Barons and the Washington Lions.
Bryan Hextall was the first of three generations of Hextalls in the NHL. His sons Bryan Jr. and Dennis both played well over 500 games in the league and his grandson Ron (son of Bryan Jr.) appeared in over 700 regular season and playoff games as a goaltender with the Philadelphia Flyers, Quebec Nordiques, and New York Islanders.
Bryan Hextall Sr. was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969.