Fiery, expressive goalie Kelly Hrudey was an ideal fit for a broadcasting career. He started the transition before he retired and quickly became one of the sport’s most revered analysts afterward.
As much as he came across as a colorful personality on ice, known for his flowing hair and baby-blue headband, he bottled up a lot of his observations. He didn’t fully understand many of his experiences until years later. By his mid-50s, when he sat down to write his memoir, he felt an immense release. “I texted Wayne Gretzky and I asked, ‘Were you this emotional when you were trying to write your book?’ ” Hrudey said. “I remember in certain cases tearing up or crying. It was that emotional to me. It was really weird.”
Recalling the most impactful moments across his 15 seasons with the New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, Hrudey cites legendary Isles coach Al Arbour as his greatest career influencer. One of the most memorable Arbourisms was sending his players to Manhattan to watch a Broadway show. He told them to study the actors on stage and think of themselves as entertainers doing the same thing when playing high-stakes hockey. Hrudey adopted that performer mentality. He’d often study the faces in the stands and soak up their anticipation to psych himself up before games.
And he needed that mentality given the vicious rivalries between the Kings and Smythe Division teams like Calgary in the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially between him and Flames goalie Mike Vernon. Hrudey remembers getting run over by Gary Roberts – and doesn’t look back on it with contempt. Hrudey thinks the game today is too protective of goalies, and the collisions, the battles with attacking forwards, are a part of the game he misses. “What I notice now is there’s less hatred in the game,” he said. “I can’t speak for all the guys I played with or against, but I know I played with pure hatred in my soul. I hated the other players when I stepped on the ice. The good thing for me is as soon as the game is over, I’m pretty much able to let it go, and I never had anything against anybody after a game was over.”
That heart-on-the-sleeve mentality popped up time and again for Hrudey in his career. Even though he enjoyed some of his best seasons with the Kings, including a trip to the 1993 Stanley Cup final, Hrudey was apoplectic when the Islanders traded him to L.A. in February 1989. His wife, Donna, was eight months pregnant. But owner Bruce McNall and the Kings promised they would take good care of the Hrudeys and put the birth of their child above any hockey priorities. It meant the world to Hrudey, who fiercely defends McNall, the controversial figure best known for doing jail time for defrauding banks. If it weren’t for McNall’s devotion to his players, things may never have worked out for Hrudey in California. It turned out to be a turning point in his career, but he still seems to shudder at the memory of being dealt. He’d finished in the top five in Vezina Trophy voting in two of the three seasons before the Isles sent him away, so it hurt.
A couple years ago, on trade deadline day, Hrudey was preparing for on-air work and listening to the analyst panel, the excitement, the joking, and it irked him. “It’s almost like it’s a celebration, like, ‘This is great. This guy’s gonna go from here to here, and this person’s going there,’ and that’s not reality,” he said. “The reality is in most cases the player doesn’t want to get moved, and then when you’re told it’s a big kick in the teeth because they don’t want you anymore. So mentally that’s a jolt. And oftentimes there’s a family involved, and you’re going to be away. You don’t know when you’re going to see your family. I just found it to be more upsetting and heartbreaking to be traded. There was no excitement whatsoever.”
Born: Jan. 13, 1961, Edmonton, Alta.
NHL Career: 1983-98
Teams: NYI, LA, SJ
Stats: 271-265-88, 3.43 GAA, .893 SP, 17 SO
DID YOU KNOW?
Hrudey doesn’t look back on 1980s netminders romantically. He calls them “the weak link on most teams” in his autobiography. “A lot of the guys I’m around now, former goalies, we laugh at how many bad goals we let in,” he said. “We let in a bad goal a game. You don’t see that anymore. In fairness, the equipment has something to do with that. We clearly were afraid for our well-being in certain situations.”