He hated being traded. He thinks goalies stunk in the 1980s. He misses the venom of old rivalries. Armed with years of perspective after retiring, Hrudey has a lot to say in his new memoir.
Fiery, expressive goaltender 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. So it was only natural for a publishing company to immediately offer Hrudey a book deal when he gave up puck-stopping at 37. He always had interesting things to say, after all.
But Hrudey wasn’t ready. As much as he came across as a colorful personality while playing, known for his flowing hair and baby-blue scarf, he bottled up a lot of his observations. He didn’t fully understand many of his experiences until years later. By his mid-50s he was ready to write his memoir. Doing so gave him an emotional release – and not just figuratively.
“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.”
The process gave Hrudey clarity as he recalled the most impactful moments across his 15 seasons with the New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, which he outlines in his new book, Calling the Shots. For instance, he cites legendary Isles coach Al Arbour as his greatest career influencer, and 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 they were playing high-stakes hockey. Hrudey later adopted that performer mentality. He’d often study the faces in the stands and soak up their anticipation to psych himself up before games.
In his book, he also reminisces on the vicious rivalries between the L.A Kings and fellow Smythe Division teams like the Calgary Flames 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 that 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 am pretty much able to let it go, and I never had anything against anybody after a game was over. But I don’t see hatred today. I see pure emotion still, but it’s a different kind of emotion from when we played, and part of it was the way in which the game was played. You look at the Battle of Alberta back then, you look at the Islanders and the Rangers or anybody that played against Philadelphia. These games were rough and they were brutal at times, so you had better come to the rink in a bad mood.”
In a controversial passage of Calling the Shots, Hrudey also outs 1980s goaltenders as “the weak links on most teams.”
“A lot of the guys I’m around now, former goaltenders, 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 of our well-being in certain situations.”
That frankness is a recurring theme in the book. Hrudey zigs where most would zag, and not just when he’s critiquing the quality of goaltending 30 years ago. He’s protective of ex-Kings owner Bruce McNall, who is now vaguely remembered by many younger hockey fans as the felon, the team owner who did jail time for defrauding banks. His players remember him as a fiercely caring man who would do anything for his troops. Hrudey will never forget how sensitive McNall was to Hrudey’s needs when the Kings traded for him in February 1988. His wife, Donna, was eight months pregnant at the time, and Hrudey was distraught at the idea of a trade. He had no desire to leave Long Island. But McNall and the Kings made it clear 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 still seems to shudder at the memory of being dealt. He discusses the pain of trades at length in Calling the Shots.
“So this year I was on our show Sportsnet from Calgary, and they had the panel in Toronto for the trade deadline show,” he said. “And I was driving to the rink, and I’m listening to all the trade talk on the different radio stations, and I get to the rink and I hear the panel, and they’re joking and all this, and I’m thinking to myself, something’s shifted here. Something’s gone awry with how we’re treating the trade deadline show and leading up to it. Its 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. The reality is in most cases the player doesn’t want to get moved, and then when you’re told you’re getting traded, first of all it’s a big kick in the teeth because the team you’re playing for, they don’t want you anymore. So mentally that’s a jolt. And then secondly, oftentimes there’s a family involved, and now 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.”
Hrudey addresses the most epic elements of career with brutal honesty and real humility, which is ironic for someone convinced he lacked it during his playing days. He thinks a lot about the way Arbour would challenge his players, often asking them about their childhoods and whether their parents would approve of their behavior as NHLers. “You don’t know when you’re a player, when you’re going through things, just how entitled you feel at times,” he said. “When you leave the game, you look back and think, ‘Wow I didn’t know I was like that,’ because you’re not getting any special treatment anymore. Then when you’re an analyst like I am and other guys out there that have played, you think to yourself, ‘Boy do I ever get it, and these guys should get over themselves.’ They’re gonna find out rather quickly when their time ends that they’re just the same as everyone else again.”