Nearing the twilight of his career in 1996, goaltender Kelly Hrudey joined a rebuilding San Jose Sharks team to share his veteran experience.
While fans today know him as a TV hockey analyst, many more know him as a goaltender either with the New York Islanders or Los Angeles Kings. Before Kelly Hrudey retired, though, he spent two seasons with the San Jose Sharks.
It may have been brief and it may have been at the end of his career, but Hrudey’s role in San Jose was nonetheless critical, playing the part of mentor for the younger generation of Sharks players, including one special player in particular.
SoCal to NorCal
After leading the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup Final in 1993, it appeared that things were only looking up for Kelly Hrudey and his team. Unfortunately, it was the beginning of a decline for the Kings as they said goodbye to much of their core over the course of the next few years. Hrudey, one of the last remaining members of the ‘93 team, left the Kings following the 1995-96 season.
“Well, I was disappointed to leave the Kings,” Hrudey admitted. “I had some really great memories from my time there. I played about eight years there and had, in my opinion, a lot of growth professionally and personally in Los Angeles. It was a time in my life where I had faced a number of challenges and I was able to overcome those. So, I was really proud of my time in L.A. but it was clear, part way through my last year, that they had no interest in bringing me back and that was their choice and I wasn’t bitter about that.”
Hrudey was 35 in the summer of 1996 and, being in the twilight of his career, was contemplating his playing future. The former netminder even thought that maybe it was time to call it a career. That was, of course, until a new opportunity came knocking.
“When I had the opportunity in the summer to meet with [then-Sharks GM] Dean Lombardi, that was a pivotal moment in my hockey career because leading up to it, I had no idea that he would turn out to be one of my favorite managers that I ever had,” Hrudey reflected. “I’m happy to say that we still contact each other on occasion and I really admired the work that he did with the San Jose Sharks.”
For Hrudey, though, he quickly discovered that he wasn’t content with the opportunity alone in San Jose. Rather, he became enamored with the way Lombardi handled himself.
“He had perhaps the most interesting interviews I’d ever been a part of,” the former goaltender noted. “He was really thoughtful. It was really cool to be a part of and to see the depth — he studied people, and it was just a remarkable experience.”
The Veteran Push
As bright as their future was, the San Jose Sharks were emphatic about having a veteran presence. Kelly Hrudey, while maybe not of the same goaltender skill from a few seasons earlier, fit Dean Lombardi’s veteran plan to a T.
“That was an important part of Dean’s plan: to bring in a lot of veterans and myself,” the Edmonton native recalled. “I really took it upon myself to make sure I was trying to be a good leader. I knew my game was in decline and so the one way I thought I could help was to make sure that I was a great teammate, that everything was about the team itself but not individual.”
In his new role, though, there was more at stake for the former King.
“It was a growth period for me in that sense because I battled hard that first year,” Hrudey noted. “I had a pretty decent year considering that it wasn’t coming as naturally for me on the ice as it had previously. So, that was a really good year, I thought, growth-wise for the entire organization.”
In his two seasons in San Jose, Kelly Hrudey had some lasting memories. However, there was one that stood above the rest.
“I have to say inviting Patrick Marleau to live with us,” the former netminder said of his favorite memory with the San Jose Sharks. “My last year and his first year in the league and it was a really great experience.
“My wife and I had the conversation at some point in training camp if we would consider having Patrick come and move in with us. We had three young daughters at the time and Patrick was a young kid himself, so we thought it would be a nice idea. But, before that step, I went to the organization, to Dean Lombardi, and I asked him what he thought and he thought it would be a really great idea.”
But, there was still one more step the Hrudeys wanted to take before inviting the rookie to live with them.
“That was to go out to dinner with Patrick — all six of us,” Hrudey continued. “So, my wife and I, our three kids and Patrick. We went to a place called The Chart House in Los Gatos and found out that he’s a wonderful kid and he’s got a heart of gold, and he kind of reminded me of myself when I was a young kid because he wasn’t the most talkative but I wasn’t either — that’s neither good nor bad, it’s just who we are — and so, it was a really great fit. We loved it. Our girls thought of Patrick as their big brother.
“So, that would be my favorite memory: Getting to know Patrick and being a small part in helping him become a pro.”
As far as living with Marleau went, there was an even more specific memory the goalie-turned-analyst had.
“My favorite memory, also, was after a home game, we’d come back to the house and [Patrick, my wife, and I] would stay up having sandwiches and just talking about life,” Hrudey remembered. “We’d sometimes stay up till about 3 in the morning and chat about life and stuff and those were just really phenomenal nights.”
In 76 games with the San Jose Sharks, Hrudey went 20-40-7 with a 3.04 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage. Of course, his career in San Jose wasn’t as much about his on-ice performance as the role he played off the ice — and that is a big reason why Kelly Hrudey’s career with the Sharks is one of the more memorable stints in his life in hockey.
As for Patrick Marleau, he is still going strong in what is now his third stint in San Jose. As of now, he has collected nearly 1,200 points and, as of tonight, will have passed the late, great Gordie Howe as the NHL’s all-time games played leader.
A man who later became a successful hockey analyst and a relentless champion for mental health, Kelly Hrudey’s leadership role in San Jose was just a preface for what was to come.
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