As part of his series, tracking down some of the most popular Kings of the recent past, Don tracked down Kelly Hrudey, Kings goalie from 1989 to 1996. Hrudey, now 47, is best known, of course, for helping the Kings reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993. Hrudey now serves as a commentator for CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada.” Thanks to Don for the great interview…
He had a flair for the dramatic, and when a goalie has that ability he will leave a lasting impact on the fans.
Kelly Hrudey was one of those goalies.
From the time he came to the Kings, late in the 1988-89 season in a trade with the New York Islanders, until he left them to finish his career in San Jose in 1996, Hrudey flopped and dove, sprawled and utilized his catching glove and blocker to keep pucks out of the net.
And he looked good doing it. With his blue bandana, long hair, handsome face, Hrudey was every bit the swashbuckling goaltending hero that the Kings needed during the Wayne Gretzky era.
Oh, and there were the masks.
Initially Hrudey wore the cage/neck protector combination that resembled a black and silver trash can (but he made it look cool), and then he switched to the semi-controversial Hollywood mask that was the subject of much debate amongst fans.
Hrudey ranks second in all time wins for the Kings with 145, and second in all time losses with 135, sitting just behind Kings legend Rogie Vachon, and while he holds the distinction of allowing the most total goals in franchise history it should be noted that he played behind a blueline that was typically a combination of the aging and untested (think Barry Beck and Tim Watters).
Hrudey, who is now in his 10th season as a full time analyst for “Hockey Night in Canada” for the CBC took a few moments to stroll down Los Angeles Kings memory lane.
Catching Up With…………Kelly Hrudey
Question: What was your initial reaction to the trade that brought you from the Islanders to the Kings?
Hrudey: You know what, I was shocked. Unlike most trades, I had not heard anything, so in that sense I had no feeling leading up to it that there might be possibility of me being moved. That afternoon before I was traded I was having a nap. We were playing Detroit at home and my wife woke me up and told me that I’d just had a call from our lawyer and he had heard that I was about to be traded, either later that day or the next morning. So, obviously I had a very difficult time playing against Detroit that night. I can’t remember what the score was, but I was horrible as you might image. Then, the next morning I get the call from Bill Torrey to come in and see him. Then I went home and packed and left later that day for Los Angeles not knowing the positive impact it was going to have on my life. I mean that. I was skeptical when I was first told and I didn’t know much about Los Angeles or what hockey environment there would be – of course with Gretzky there I had a good idea – but I had no idea what a positive impact it was going to have on me both professionally and personally.
Question: So you go through those first couple of awkward games, where your old equipment on a new team. What were those first few weeks with the Kings like?
Hrudey: It was a whirlwind. It was very emotional because again, you grow up and dream of playing professionally, but for me it was a dream come true, but you always think that if you are going to play for an organization that you are going to be there forever, that you are going to have the Steve Yzerman life, where you never go anywhere and it is a fairytale. So it was a real shock and a kick in the teeth. I think it was really good that we had to go on the road for a three game roadtrip, I think it was Edmonton and then out east, New York, New Jersey and Buffalo, so it was really good in that sense to really get a feel for the guys. Then we came home for a while and I started to get a little accustomed to Los Angeles. I lived down in Manhattan Beach and for all of the people who live in Southern California, they know how nice it is down there.
Question: Kings fans cling to a few things; the Miracle on Manchester and of course the amazing 1992-93 season. Before we dive into the post season, let’s talk about the regular season, which for you was not your finest in terms of statistics.
Hrudey: As you remember we had made a coaching change and Barry Melrose was our new coach and he really was perfect for the environment, he was charismatic, good looking and young. What was a real bummer for us was that prior to the season we found out that Wayne was going to miss part of the season, in fact, we didn’t know if he had a career-ending injury. But we got off to a great start, and if I’m not mistaken we were at or near the top of the conference for the first two months, and for me, I’d gotten off to a good start which was uncharacteristic for me because from time to time I’d gotten off to a slow start. So it was all good, and from my standpoint, it was right near the end of November, and I’m starting to think like a lot of athletes, boy, I’m starting to slide just a little bit, and like other athletes – like a golfer, who goes to the range – you put in a little extra work, and within a week or two, your slide becomes a thing of the past. So I did all of that, I put in the extra work, and all the mental things like watching video, the good and the bad and try and find flaws there. And for whatever reason, this little slide turned into a huge slump. Basically it lasted a good two months. So Barry and Cap (Raeder), they really had no choice but to go to others, so we had Robb Stauber and we even had to call up Rick Knickle because we were having so many problems, of course I felt horrible, because here I was supposed to be the number one guy and for no reason I had fallen into this hole and could not climb out of it. That is something I had really taken great pride in, the ability to bounce back. I was luck enough because Barry stuck with me, and he had some help for me. Tony Robbins was a part of our team back then, and I worked one-on-one with Tony and that was a huge benefit, and in late January I had a really good game. It was January 28th, the day after my youngest daughter was born. We lost to Calgary 2-1 at home, but at that point I thought I was back, that I could be an NHL goalie again, and over the course of the next month or two I slowly started to regain my form, but I still needed help. You probably remember that I started the series against Calgary and played the first three games and then Robb took over and played really well and we took the series. Then he played the first game against Vancouver, then I had the chance to get back in there and I got on a bit of a roll and we ended up in the Finals. So close, yet so heartbreaking.
Question: Obviously Barry was going to ride the hot goaltender until he wasn’t hot anymore.
Hrudey: I think as much as Barry had a plan, I think we forced him to make a decision because unfortunately there was some poor play. I think Robb would agree that we both had stretches where we were really good and stretches where we really weren’t as strong as we needed to be. I think some of those decisions were pretty easy for Barry. I know some of it must have been troubling for him because it was his first season and he didn’t know all of us very well. I had been with Cap a long while and I know he was in my corner telling him that this guy is going to battle through it, but I couldn’t. I really tried but I couldn’t.
Question: How crazy was that Conference Final match-up with Toronto?
Hrudey: I’ll go back one series first. The series that we had against Vancouver, I really thought it was the series in which our team really played the best hockey of the year. Vancouver was a really difficult team and it didn’t surprise me the next year that they made it to the Finals. I thought out play dipped just a tiny bit against Toronto, and some of that might have been a part of a more defensive style that Toronto played, and it was just a grueling seven game series that we had against them that with all of the travel probably took something out of us. But it was so exciting to be in Toronto with Gretzky being from close by there and of course what his dad was going through. It was pretty darn emotional. I can remember after game five when a Toronto writer suggested that Gretzky was playing like he had a piano on his back and I couldn’t have been happier, I have to admit. I thought, boy, that could be a huge motivating tool for us, because Wayne always hated to hear things like that and none of us thought it was accurate either. So he just absolutely exploded for the next two games. So to win in game seven for a lot of us who are Canadians and who know what Maple Leaf Gardens is all about, the uniqueness and history of that building, so that was really special to come away with that game. I remember Luc Robitaille celebrating after that game and we were yelling that we were going to the Finals and being really emotional.
Question: So you guys get to the Finals – the ultimate goal – but you ran into a hot team and an even hotter goaltender in Patrick Roy.
Hrudey: That was an interesting series, you know we won game one and we were in pretty good shape in game two, then the penalty. Game two is going to be a hard one to win, you have to admit that. We go into the locker room before the start of overtime and there needed to be a lot of regrouping, and that was going to be hard to accomplish. Ultimately they won that one quickly in overtime, but I thought we managed to regroup nicely for games three and four at home, but they just had a lot of momentum in overtime. They had a couple of breaks in overtimes, not to suggest that is why they won, but I think we knew after we lost the second game at home, you lose three in a row in overtime that it is going to be pretty darn difficult. We have it all we had when we went back to Montreal, but I think it is pretty safe to say that most of us felt pretty darn tired at that point.
Question: You obviously mentioned Barry Melrose, but you played for some other coaches here in Los Angeles, Robbie Ftorek, Tom Webster, Larry Robinson. Feel free to compare and contrast…..
Hrudey: I was really lucky, and I’m not trying to be a politically correct guy, but when I went to L.A. I really liked Robbie. I thought he was really a good coach and I didn’t know much of the history, so I only had him for a few months. And then we had Tom Webster and I thought we played really well with Tom Webster as our coach. That’s why it is a little disappointing when he left. I know we made it to the Finals after he left, but we had taken many positive strides as an organization and gained credibility in the NHL with him as our coach. It was a really good time. I was really proud to be a part of that organization, but we just couldn’t get over that hump with Tom. We were playing some really good teams out west. When you think of when you got into the playoffs and had to play against Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver that were all very competitive and also great organizations, so we needed to make a change. Barry came in with a different mindset and had some good ideas, but then we started to get a little older and in my last season Larry Robinson was there and by that time it was a full blown rebuilding. That was my last season in Los Angeles and I’d suffered a very serious ankle injury just before camp, so that is obviously not the best of memories for me.
Question: You obviously had your fair share of great teammates in Los Angeles.
Hrudey: I was outrageously spoiled in my career to have played with so many outstanding and excellent people. At the top of that list you have to put guys like Tony Granato and Tomas Sandstrom, Pat Conacher, Charlie Huddy, Gary Shuchuk, the list is endless, Brian Benning. I really enjoyed Mario Gosselin, he and I got along really well. Robb Stauber, Dan Berthiaume, Byron Dafoe, just so many guys with wonderful memories. Each one of them different in their own way, but that’s the great thing about a team.
Question: I can’t help but notice that you listed quite a few goalies. Being that is such a competitive position, it seems interesting that you would hold guys who were trying to take your job in such high regard.
Hrudey: I never had a problem with the competition, and a lot of that comes from upbringing, but there has to be healthy competition and it has to be approached professionally. I was really luck to have played with goalies who all felt the same way. I made it a point in most cases to relate personally to the other goalies, to share stories and have a good time and share experiences on the ice about what certain players like to do in certain situations, some of their tendencies. So I have to say that I never had a problem with it and in my 15 year NHL career I never played with a guy who I couldn’t stand. I was really luck. I heard lots of stories from guys who’d had situations like that and it never happened to me. I think a lot of it really goes back to my first partner, Billy Smith, who is about as competitive a person as you would ever imagine. Billy and I became great friends, we’d play tennis together and socialize all the time on the road, and yet we were competing for the same ice time, but we kept it very professional. I learned about wanting the job and making sure the other person earned it. That was something that he taught me and I hope that I taught the other goalies that were coming through the organization.
Question: I can’t help but have a visual of you playing tennis with Billy Smith and he comes to the net to congratulate you and takes your knees out.
Hrudey: (Laughs). Well, we were pretty competitive, he a little more outwardly and I think I kept mine inside a little bit more.
Question: Tell me just a little bit more about what it was like for you to live in Los Angeles.
Hrudey: It was a life-changing experience. We fell in love quickly with the whole living down by the beach experience, and all of the other things that Los Angeles has, the theme parks, restaurants. It really took a hold on me how much I really enjoyed the experience of fine dining. Donna and I had always knew that we would be moving back to Canada because that’s where our families are, but to that end you have to think about the road trips back then. Those long road trips, but you also had a good amount of time back home. I think teams spent a lot more time at home back then too. But we’d ask Wayne about a good place to go in Beverly Hills and then he would set it up and we still to this day have a great many dining experiences that still stand out to this day.
Question: Did that whole experience, Beverly Hills and Hollywood ultimately lead to the evolution of your mask?
Hrudey: It did, but strangely enough it wasn’t really about the experiences. When we were coming up with the design of the mask we tried to keep it very simple, you know, what is something that everyone thinks about when they talk about Los Angeles? For instance, what do the tourists think about when they think of Los Angeles, and of course they think of the Hollywood sign. So that was our thinking about it, and unfortunately many people wrongly thought that it was my nickname, that I had “gone Hollywood,” or I thought of myself as Hollywood. That wasn’t the case, and I think the people that know me know that I don’t think that way and that it was nothing more than the most recognizable landmark in Los Angeles. But having said that, I do happen to think that it was a very cool mask.
Question: But hey, you truly have “gone Hollywood,” but in a different way. Working for the CBC and “Hockey Night in Canada,” it certainly appears that you are having an awfully good time in your current position.
Hrudey: I was lucky. When I grew up I was a really, really shy person, and moving to New York, playing for the Islanders and experiencing all of the interview requests had really sort of taken me out of my comfort zone. I think that is a little bit surprising to me and the people I had grown up with, and I had actually taken a liking to the whole interview process and how you can try and say something interesting without throwing somebody under the bus. As much as I was a huge hockey fan, I really watched those between period interviews and paid attention, and of course in New York there were guys like Bossy, Trottier and Potvin, really well-spoken people, so I had a chance to be around them and see how they interacted with the media. But there’s no question that the biggest influence is going to Los Angeles and being around Wayne and learning how you can disagree with the interviewer. For instance, if somebody made a comment and Wayne didn’t agree with it, he didn’t get angry he would say that he saw it a little bit differently and took the conversation that direction rather than making it confrontational. Then being around Bob Borgen, Bob Miller, Jimmy Fox and Nick Nickson and everybody there, I have been given lots of opportunities, so I’d always had it in the back of my mind that if ever given the chance, I’d like to be a broadcaster after my hockey career. Luckily enough for me, “Hockey Night in Canada” came calling, I believe it was in 1995. We had missed the playoffs by one point, we flew home from Chicago after the last game and the executive producer of Hockey Night in Canada called and told me that they would like to have me, but that I was their second choice, Wayne Gretzky being their first choice. Luckily enough for me, Wayne decline the opportunity and I’ve been with Hockey Night ever since.
Question: And you got the ultimate “assist” from Wayne Gretzky…
Hrudey: Yeah, and I don’t even know if he knows that (laughs).