Photo: Thomas LaRocca/LAKings.com
Indeed, fans got to meet and listen to Kings from days long past. They were delighted to see the famed Triple Crown Line of Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor reunited in a hockey setting here in Los Angeles for the first time in 25 years.
Bernie Nicholls. Gene Carr. Ray Ferraro. Stu Grimson. Bob Berry. Gary Edwards. Glen Murray. Those were just some of the alumni from all the different eras of Los Angeles Kings hockey who gathered at the Nokia Theatre at LA Live to celebrate all things hockey with Los Angeles hockey fans.
Another familiar name was Kelly Hrudey, who became the Kings number one goaltender after being acquired from the New York Islanders on February 22, 1989, in exchange for Mark Fitzpatrick, Wayne McBean and future considerations (Doug Crossman).
Like many players, Hrudey, who was entertaining and informative during the “NHL Experts” panel on Saturday, did not want to be traded. But once he arrived in the Los Angeles area, he quickly changed his mind.
“At the time, I thought it was the worst thing that could possibly have happened,” said Hrudey. “I really enjoyed playing on the Island. I thought I was going to be one of those guys, like all athletes—like Steve Yzerman and others—I’ll be drafted there and stay there forever. So it was one huge kick in the teeth.”
“For me, it was great because I came here and immediately fell in love with the area and the team and just the hype around it,” added Hrudey.
Hrudey played for the Kings during the Gretzky era and was a key member of the 1992-93 team that reached the Stanley Cup Finals, only to lose in five games to the Montreal Canadiens, led by all-time great goaltender Patrick Roy.
Hrudey’s numbers with the Kings will tell you that he was not the greatest number one goaltender in the world. Indeed, Hrudey, who ranks second all-time among Kings goaltenders in wins and games played, earned a 145-135-55 record with the Kings, with a 3.46 goals-against average (GAA), a .896 save percentage and ten shutouts in 360 regular season games.
In the post-season, Hrudey was 26-30 with a 3.53 GAA and a .883 save percentage in 57 games with the Kings.
Indeed, those are not the numbers one might expect for a number one goaltender in the National Hockey League. But on a team that was led by Wayne Gretzky, the Kings generally won games on the strength of their offensive firepower, not their defense and goaltending. Although, like any team, they could have used an elite-level netminder, Hrudey provided adequate goaltending.
But he would be the first to tell you that the 1992-93 Kings going into a 6-18-5 nose dive after getting off to a hot 20-8-3 start was all his fault.
Indeed, even though the team was without Gretzky early on due to a career-threatening back injury [herniated thoracic disc] and there was plenty of blame to go around, Hrudey pointed at himself exclusively.
“You guys will remember in 1992-93 when we had a really good start and then I turned into the worst goalie in the league and I didn’t like it, I can assure you,” Hrudey stressed. “I can laugh about it now, but the fact of the matter is that I just became a really bad goalie [for a stretch].”
But he bounced back and helped lead the team into the playoffs and almost to a Stanley Cup Championship.
“I went through some really tough times here,” said Hrudey. “Surprisingly enough, maybe they were the most pleasant because I was able to do it. We all don’t know what we have inside of ourselves and it’s a really difficult position to fight from that depth back up to the top, [but] I had a lot of help and I became defiant, which I think is a good thing in all athletes at some point because it’s only you, right?”
“Going back to that year…the previous series against Vancouver—that was the highest level that we reached,” Hrudey reminisced. “Vancouver was a great team that year and I thought that our team had never played at a higher level than that round.”
That Canucks team was loaded with talent, led by Pavel Bure, Geoff Courtnall, Trevor Linden, Kirk McLean and Cliff Ronning.
And as mentioned earlier, there was the war in the Campbell Conference finals against the Doug Gilmour and Wendell Clark-led Maple Leafs.
“We dropped just a tiny bit against Toronto, although they played a different style than Vancouver—they were more defensive-minded,” said Hrudey. “There’s no question Toronto wore us down. That was a tough series.”
“You look at all the battles—you look at Marty [McSorley’s] fight with Wendell Clark and all the other battles—guys like Pat Conacher, Gary Shuchuk, Charlie Huddy, Tony Granato. They were all huge parts of our team. That series took its toll on us, but that’s not to suggest Montreal didn’t earn it because they did. We had a really good team. I don’t know how we stacked up on paper, but [the Canadiens] had some warriors also, not just their goaltender.”
Even though Hrudey was able to bounce back that season, the way it ended was a huge disappointment for him.
“I can assure you that, although it should be a highlight of my career, I can tell you unequivocally that it was the most disappointing memory of my hockey career,” Hrudey lamented. “To know that we were so close [to winning the Stanley Cup]. We played so well in all the games.”
“Even after we lost game two in Montreal, the series was 1-1,” Hrudey elaborated. “It was heartbreaking to lose two at home in overtime. I remember I had my family down here. My Dad and my brother and I. We went into [then-Kings equipment manager] Peter Millar’s office where he changes skate blades. I said something to the effect that I knew we were in trouble then.”
Despite the deep disappointment, Hrudey cherished his time in a Kings jersey.
“[I had] some of the best memories of my life [while with the Kings],” said Hrudey. “My kids loved it here, my wife loved it here, I loved it here. I didn’t want to leave but it was my time to go and finish off my career in San Jose. But we come back here often and I just can’t help but smile. It was all good.”
“I was talking to someone a few days ago and I probably didn’t realize it until not long ago that my time here was probably the biggest growth of my life, both professionally and personally, because we were young,” added Hrudey. “I think I was 28 years old when I was traded here.”
“I have to admit, I always say that I’m not partial to anyone, but I really do think that of the three places I played, this is the one that really sticks out to me. As much as New York and San Jose were terrific and I learned a lot in those places, this was, like I said, the period of my life that had the biggest growth.”
Fast forward to the present, Hrudey is now an in-studio analyst on CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada broadcasts and has kept up with the current state of the Kings. Indeed, he now looks at the Kings lineup and sees reasons to be optimistic, which reminds him of similar feelings about the team years ago.
“When I left we had such a good team for a bunch of years, but then we were all in decline,” he explained. “Fans were getting frustrated—this was the 1995-96 season. For good reason, fans were frustrated. But when I came back here two years ago for a Hockey Night In Canada game, it seemed to me that there was new optimism.”
“Fans were excited,” he elaborated. “They spoke glowingly about a lot of the players and I sat in the stands, so it was not as if I was removed from it. It was really cool to see because those are the early memories of the 1989 season when I was traded here. There was so much optimism with Wayne here.”
Hrudey is also pleased to see the game spreading across California now.
“I just remember coming here in that first year when I was traded and I thought there was virtually no outside hockey other than the NHL,” said Hrudey. “You didn’t have any rinks yet. The place we practiced at [the Culver Ice Arena in Culver City, California] didn’t have very good facilities and didn’t have very good ice. But now you look [at all the local hockey programs]—I know the Western Hockey League gets a lot of kids from California.”
“I hope it continues to grow and the teams are great because that will generate more interest,” added Hrudey.
Having Kelly Hrudey back with the Kings last weekend brought back a lot of memories for long-time fans and gave newer fans a bit of a history lesson. But one tangible memory many Kings fans will have of him is gone forever.
“The blue head band [he wore during every game] is long gone,” he said. “I’m not a smart guy, but I’m smart enough to have known to throw that out the day I retired for good.”
To listen to the interview with Hrudey, click on the arrow below (15:29):
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