It had been nearly 21 years since Kelly Hrudey last stepped into Nassau Coliseum. It looked a little different than it did when he was in the NHL, but being back on Long Island as a broadcaster stirred some fond memories for the former Islander.
"My last year in the NHL was 1998," Hrudey said. "I was with San Jose at the time. I don't think I've been back since for a broadcast. That's why the moment I walked into the building that morning I had the biggest smile on my face. To see the changes, to see the crowd that night, how enthusiastic they were, reminded me of the good ole days."
Those "good ole days" were a six-year span from 1983-89, in which Hrudey backstopped his way a 106-90-26 record, good for fourth on the Islanders all-time wins list. That was the start of a 15-year NHL career with the Islanders, LA Kings and San Jose Sharks. Not bad for the admittedly late bloomer who didn't play organized hockey until he was 12.
Hrudey was drafted by the Islanders 38th overall in 1980, but his NHL and was called up to the Isles in the fall of 1983, the year after the Islanders last of four straight Stanley Cups. A young Hrudey began his career sharing a locker room with a handful of future Hall of Famers: Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Pat LaFontaine, Denis Potvin, and Billy Smith.
"I think the time that Mr. Torrey told me that I made the Islanders in training camp of 1983 was maybe one of the highlights of my NHL career," Hrudey said. "For me to go there at the perfect time in my life. I was 22-years-old, I needed another challenge. I had played two years in the minors; we had won two consecutive championships. I think Bill Torrey said it best at that point, I looked a little bored in the minors and I needed to see if I could make the next jump. When I joined the Islanders, boy it was fun. They had such a powerhouse of a team."
Hrudey still vividly remembers Torrey pulling him aside at training camp to inform him that he had made the Isles roster. Not only would he play alongside the aforementioned Isles royalty, he'd get the chance to play for coach Al Arbour, who remains one of the winningest coaches in NHL history.
"I grew up in a suburb of Edmonton and I had no idea that I'd ever play in the National Hockey League...I think it was the greatest experience in the world because eventually five of those guys would [become] Hall of Famers," Hrudey said. "Not only that, but I think being coached by one of the greatest coaches of all time, Al Arbour. I grew up very shy, so I was a very good listener. That suited me perfectly for that experience with the Islanders after they had one their fourth Stanley Cup. I was able to watch those guys and parts of that team."
On the ice, Hrudey acknowledged the Easter Epic as a career highlight with the Isles. What still stands as the longest Game 7 in Stanley Cup playoffs history, began Saturday evening against the Washington Capitals and didn't end until the early hours of Easter morning. After four periods of overtime, Hrudey stopped a whopping 73 shots, six hours and 18 minutes after the initial puck drop.
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"Back then, I don't think we hydrated properly before the game or during the game," Hrudey said. "We certainly didn't have the snacks or the food during the intermissions that they do today...I think I got into the dressing room at 2:15 and it was time to take off my equipment. When I got to my skates, and this is no exaggeration, when I took my skates off, I was so dehydrated that my toes curled under. They couldn't straighten anymore I was so dehydrated.
So, what did I do wisely? I downed two beers. Maybe not the best way to rehydrate back then, but they still tasted great."
Hrudey was traded to the Kings in 1989 and while that didn't sit well with the goalie at the time, it offered an opportunity to play with Wayne Gretzky and advance to a Stanley Cup Final in 1993. He finished his playing career with the Sharks, but even after 677 games, couldn't get enough of the game.
After retiring, Hrudey went into broadcasting, currently working as an analyst for Hockey Night in Canada, as well as a color commentator for the Calgary Flames, though the seeds for a TV career were planted long ago.
"I watched all of the broadcasts," Hrudey explained. "Not only did I watch all of the games, but I watched the intermissions. I watched the players being interviewed and whether they embraced the chance to speak to the broadcasters and shared something more interesting than another player. And I watched the broadcasters themselves...I thought, 'Hey, I might want to get into this one day when I'm done.'"
It was in Los Angeles that Hrudey got his big break. As a backup goalie one night with the Kings, Hrudey did an extended sit-down with Stu Nahan, about five or six minutes, on KTLA. Unbeknownst to him, Hockey Night in Canada producer John Shannon and host Ron MacLean were watching and were impressed with his TV acumen and gave him a chance to fill in on air when his schedule allowed.
"I was discovered in Los Angeles," Hrudey said. "They [Shannon and MacLean] say the lightbulb kind of went on. They called me a couple of years later to come try it out. I tried it out, I fell in love with it and luckily, they thought I was okay. I've been there full-time since 1998 and I did it four years as a player whenever I could from 1995."
Hrudey, a 15-year vet, who played in a Stanley Cup final, and a four-overtime game, said none of those experiences compared to the nerves in his first Hockey Night in Canada broadcast.
"I was never more nervous in my entire life," Hrudey said. "When I sat in that seat, on that desk with the Hockey Night in Canada emblem behind us and the music in my ear, a minute or two before the broadcast started, it took all my strength to not cave in and collapse. The enormity of being on that show. It was so cool, I still feel that way."
Hrudey, who previously had a segment on HNIC called Behind the Mask, is still a studio analyst, as well as the color commentator for the Flames. Broadcasting has kept him connected to the game and provides the adrenaline and competitiveness that he craved as a player.
"It's very similar to playing because it's live," Hrudey said. "Virtually, everything we do is live. That part is intoxicating. There's a real high and low after every show like a game. A game in which you played really well. There's an extreme adrenaline rush after. When you play poorly, there's such a disappointment. The same way when I broadcast. Whether I'm doing studio work or color work for the Calgary Flames. I still get the same adrenaline. I'm glad that hasn't gone away. That's why I still feel like I want to be a part of it."