For this series of articles I thought that I'd delineate who my all-time favorite athletes were in each of the four major sports. Previously I've profiled Rod Carew, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Barry Sanders, each one a first-time ballot HOFer for their sport. Today's entry is not so exhalted, and despite my being a die-hard LA Kings fan, my favorite King is not Wayne Gretzky, and it's not even Luc Robitalle. Heck it's not even Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick or Dustin Brown. Nope it's the goaltender who took the Kings to their first Stanley Cup Finals, Kelly Hrudey.
Why Hrudey? I started watching Hockey in the late 70's/early 80's when it was shown on the USA Network, and though the Kings were the closest team to me geographically, those were the pre-Gretzky era, and despite stellar players and lines, they weren't contenders year in and year out. During those years the New York Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups behind HOFers Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin, Clark Gilles and Goalie Billy Smith. Smith was my all-time favorite Islander, and still is, though Pat LaFontaine (also a HOFer) runs a close second to me. In 1980 the Isles drafted Hrudey though he wouldn't get to the big club until 1983-84 and wouldn't taste his first playoffs until the next season.
Hrudey and Smith would platoon in Goal for the next four years, . In those four post-seasons the Isles only got out of the first round twice, and never advanced past the Division Finals. However, in 1987 Hrudey would be in goal for the longest game that I've ever watched all of, the Game 7 matchup played April 18 to the 19th. Yes, it went to the next day, starting at 7:30 PM EST and ended just before 2:00 AM the next day. Pat LaFontaine put the game winner in at 8:47 of the fourth OT, at that point Hrudey had saved an amazing 50 shots IN A ROW, and 73 overall, still an NHL record.
By 1988-89 the Isles were on a downward spiral that they are arguably still in. Ownership wouldn't spend money to replace the future HOFers who retired due to injury or left for greener pastures. Hrudey was traded to the Kings led by Gretzky and Robitaille, and in 1993 he led them to their first Stanley Cup finals behind amazing play by Gretzky (scoring in OT in Game 7 of the Conference Finals against Toronto will always be a favorite memory of mine). Sadly the Kings would be beaten 4-1 by the Canadiens (in their LAST Cup Victory to date).
Kelly played 8 seasons with the Kings, leaving in 1996 to join the San Jose Sharks. He retired 2 years later. Now he's a broadcaster in Canada and occasionally shows up on Kings broadcasts, especially with the recent stellar play by our current goaltender Jonathan Quick aka "Connie". Kelly as a broadcaster is insightful and funny, and a welcome presence from the past.
I actually do not own ANY Hrudey cards at the moment, I'd like to remedy that. His RC is pictured above, I just bid on one on the bay of E.