Kelly Hrudey Says Time With Los Angeles Kings Was His “Best Eight Years of Hockey”

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Includes exclusive video of an interview with former Los Angeles Kings goaltender Kelly Hrudey on March 8, 2013.

Kelly Hrudey
Photo courtesy CBC
EL SEGUNDO, CA — The blue bandana that so many remember him by is long gone, but fans of the Los Angeles Kings who go back to the time that Wayne Gretzky wore the team’s black, white and silver jersey with the “chevron” logo will remember goaltender Kelly Hrudey, who will be honored by the team during pre-game ceremonies tonight, when they host the Calgary Flames (7:00 PM PST, Staples Center).

Hrudey, now 52, expressed some embarrassment about tonight’s festivities.

“[It’s] kind of embarrassing,” he said. “Nobody thinks that when you see all the great players that have played in this organization that somehow they’re going to choose you, that you’re going to be honored. So I’m very, very excited, very humbled. It’s hard to put into words.”

“Kings President/Business Operations Luc [Robitaille, who was a teammate of Hrudey’s with the Kings] told me last year in the playoffs that they’re going to do something for me this year, and I thought, ‘that’s really cool,’” he added. “Then, when he called me in the summer and told me the date, if there was not going to be a lockout, then it really started to sink in that this is really cool.”

Frozen Royalty had the opportunity to interview Hrudey back in September 2009, when he was in town for HockeyFest. You can listen to the audio of that interview by clicking on the arrow below.

Hrudey, who is now an analyst for CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada, was a key member of the 1992-93 team that reached the Stanley Cup Final, 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, he ranks second all-time among Kings goaltenders in wins and games played, earning 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.

To be sure, 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 Gretzky, the Kings generally won games on their offensive firepower, not their defense and goaltending—Hrudey provided adequate goaltending.

Hrudey, who came to the Kings on February 22, 1989, in a trade with the New York Islanders, in exchange for Mark Fitzpatrick, Wayne McBean, and future considerations, shared his memories of being sent from Long Island, all the way across the country to Los Angeles.

“Hoo, boy, [that was a] very emotional time,” said Hrudey. “We were playing at home. I want to say it was a Tuesday, and I hadn’t heard anything. Not a whisper. Nobody ever came to me and said, ‘Hey, listen,’ because our team wasn’t playing very well at that time, and I wasn’t having a great season, myself, with the Islanders. Very inconsistent. But again, I hadn’t heard anything.”

“We were playing at home against Detroit, and I’m playing that night, and I’m having my afternoon nap, and Donna [his wife] came in and woke me up,” added Hrudey. “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s something,’ because normally, she just lets me sleep. She woke me up and she said, ‘Hey, listen, I got a call from Lloyd, [our lawyer], and he said that he heard that we’re going to get traded.’ Like, not rumors, but we are going to get traded. So I was like, ‘OK, well, where to?’ and she said, ‘L.A.’”

With the suspense having already built way up, Hrudey was still a member of the Islanders, and he still had a game to play that night.

“Nobody called me or anything, so I went to the game,” he recalled. “I carpooled with [forward] Greg Gilbert, and I told him in the car, and he said, ‘no, nobody’s heard anything,’ and nobody came up to me in the organization. I played that night, and I was out of sorts, for sure. I got smoked. I can’t remember the score, but I was awful.”

That would be Hrudey’s last game with the Islanders.

“After the game, we were chartering to Buffalo to play, and [Islanders head coach] Al Arbour came up to me in the dressing room when I was getting undressed, and he said ‘you’re going to stay home tonight. We’re going to rest you,’” Hrudey described. “I was like, ‘O.K., that’s pretty much confirmation.’ Then, first thing in the morning, [Islanders general manager] Bill Torrey called me, and by the way, I have the greatest respect and admiration for Bill Torrey and Al Arbour. It was just the game. So Bill called me in. My brother was in town visiting, so he and I drove down to the [Nassau County] Coliseum.”

“I’ve got to tell you, I was really disappointed.” Hrudey added. “I was hopeful, like every player, that I was going to be like [Detroit Red Wings superstar] Steve Yzerman, and play and win Cups and never have to move. Then I got the call from [Kings general manager] Rogie [Vachon], and Rogie told me I’m on a plane that afternoon.”

In terms of his personal life and family, the move across the country could not have come at a worse time.

“Donna was eight months pregnant, so it wasn’t the easiest time to leave, and [we were] trying to figure out the logistics with all that,” Hrudey explained. “So I got on a plane.”

Not long after he came to Los Angeles, the baby was due to arrive. To Hrudey’s surprise, the Kings handled things very differently than other teams in the league at the time.

“We were on a road trip in Montreal and Quebec—and [Kings owner] Bruce McNall was great,” said Hrudey. “[Head coach] Robbie Ftorek was great—I flew home. Donna was going to be induced. Luckily enough, she gave birth naturally. I got there, and we were able to do all that. Robbie gave me five days off, and he said, ‘you’re not coming back,’ and everything. Remember, back then that was just unheard of.”

“I felt really guilty,” added Hrudey. “So I think it was after two or three days at home, my in-laws were in town. I don’t know if I was moping around, or what, but Donna said, ‘you’ve got to go. You have to get back to L.A. and you’ve got to play. That’s what you like to do,’ so I did.”

Hrudey quickly became enamored with playing in Southern California.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I came here,” he noted. “I really have to say that I was disappointed because I didn’t think I was coming to a hockey market, and I didn’t want to be lost somewhere that really didn’t care about hockey. [But] I must say, when I first came here, we went on a road trip—three-game road trip—and when I came back, and my first game at home was against Philadelphia, I fell in love with the place immediately.”

“This is a great place to play hockey, and the fans are energetic,” he added. “It was cool playing on Wayne’s team. Even though I had played on teams with really great players, like Denis Potvin and Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy and Billy Smith—and the list goes on and on and on—to play on a team with Wayne was something I had never expected. I didn’t know his popularity was at that level.”

Gretzky’s widespread popularity added pressure on the team.

“It put great pressure on us, because everywhere we went—I think Marty [McSorley] said it best—we never played in a building with an empty seat,” said Hrudey. “It went everywhere, and that was great pressure on us, because even if you had a cold or the flu or something, you didn’t want to let Wayne down. But it was very emotional.”

“Emotional” is certainly one way to describe the Kings 1992-93 run to the Stanley Cup Final, most notably, their seven-game Campbell Conference Final series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

With the series tied, 3-3, Game 7 was at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

“I just remember a bunch of us went out for dinner the night before,” Hrudey reminisced. “It was a Friday night, the night before, and I was just personally reflecting. I can’t even remember the conversation, but it was always positive before a game. I just remember thinking ‘this is what I dreamed about growing up. I’m going to play on a Saturday night, Game 7, in Toronto,’ and just drinking that whole experience in, never once feeling overwhelmed, or that the challenge was too great. Just having a really positive attitude that tomorrow night’s going to be a really good night for us.”

“I didn’t get too hyped up,” Hrudey added. “I just prepared naturally the next day and just remember skating out onto the ice, and that is a magical building to play in. I just remember looking around, and [thinking] ‘this feels right,’ and we got off to a great start. We knew Toronto was going to come back, and they had a good push back. Then we ended up going up 3-2 on an amazing goal by Wayne. Then, Wendel Clark tied it up early in the third—and, in fact, I’ve always said this—Peter Zezel had a chance with about eight minutes to go in the third, and it wasn’t the most spectacular save I made, but it was the most important save I ever made in my life. I made it, and then as you know, we scored two late goals, and went up 5-3, and [Dave] Ellett scored to make it close. But I have never forgotten that save on Peter Zezel.”

As reported earlier, despite reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 1993, the Kings would lose that series in five games to the Canadiens, including three straight overtime losses.

Having experienced that made the Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup Championship that much sweeter for him.

“[The Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup run] was very emotional,” Hrudey noted. “I was trying to hold it in. It was just we were so close, and like I said, the experience that I went through in the Finals wasn’t very good, and I would suspect all of my teammates feel that same way, that it’s my biggest hockey disappointment. Nothing even comes close to that. To see the Kings win last year was really exciting for all of us, and emotional, like I said.”

“They earned it,” Hrudey added. “They were a hard, hard team to play against the last couple months of the regular season. It carried right through, and they just steam rolled everybody.”

As for tonight, Hrudey will be reunited with Kings head coach Darryl Sutter, who was the head coach at San Jose when Hrudey played there.

“I coached Kelly, and he had his best years [with the Kings],” said Sutter. “The year I coached him was actually the last year of his career.”

“It’ll be neat to see his family,” added Sutter.

Indeed, as Hrudey has said in the past, his time with the Kings was the highlight of his NHL career.

“The trade, really, in the most positive way, changed my life,” he noted. “I never would have expected that. My biggest growing years in my life, personally, were here. Lots changed in my professional life and personal [life]. It was cool.”

“I don’t like to say this often, but I think most people know it: my time here in L.A., they were my best eight years of hockey–both living and playing hockey,” he added. “I loved New York, I loved San Jose, but there was just something really special about our time here in Los Angeles, and my family still loves it here. It’s just a great, great place to play.”

Frozen Royalty Video via FrozenRoyaltyNHL on YouTube – Video Interview With Kelly Hrudey, March 8, 2013

©2013 All rights reserved.


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