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Kelly Hrudey Remembers Wayne Gretzky's Jersey Retirement with Fondness

After changing his speech a number of times leading up to the gala, the former LA Kings goalie finally decided to just speak from the heart

by Mike Commito @mikecommito / LAKings.com

The night before the Kings sent Wayne Gretzky's No. 99 to the rafters, the club marked the occasion with an exclusive dinner at STAPLES Center.

During the course of the evening, several individuals were given the opportunity to share a few words about the Great One. Among those invited to speak were NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, former Kings owner Bruce McNall, and Kelly Hrudey.

For Hrudey, who spent more than six seasons in Los Angeles with Gretzky, receiving the honor to speak on behalf of his former teammates was something he still cherishes to this day. 

"You could've had Luc [Robitaille], you could've had Rob [Blake], you could have Marty [McSorley]. You could have had a number of guys in that position, and somehow I was chosen," the former Kings netminder reminisced.  

Although it has been more than two decades since Hrudey delivered his tribute, he still remember exactly what he talked about. After changing his speech a number of times leading up to the gala, he finally decided to just speak from the heart.

He could have spoken about the Kings' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1993 or Gretzky's record-breaking moments in Los Angeles, but instead, Hrudey shared a story that was a testament to Gretzky's character, not his otherworldly abilities on the ice.

One time late in a game, Hrudey recalled how a player, who had been struggling to establish himself as a regular NHLer, turned the puck over. The mistake led to the opposing team scoring the game-winning goal. Hrudey was livid.

"I'm having a temper tantrum in the shower. I'm throwing shampoo bottles everywhere and I'm saying a whole bunch of bad things about this player," Hrudey recalled. The only other player in the shower was Gretzky. Everyone else knew better and kept their distance until the soap stopped flying.

"I can't remember how long it lasted. Five minutes? I don't know. All I know is that it was too long," Hrudey continued.

While Hrudey's tirade continued, Gretzky just stood there in silence. Finally, when it was done, Gretzky turned to Kelly and simply said 'Kelly, let everybody earn a living. If he's not good enough, they'll find somebody else.'

Hrudey was speechless. "I just thought 'man, what grace," he reflected. "You sometimes think winning at all costs and he just sort of taught me a lesson about how that guy is just trying to find his way and make a living and how dare I."

Gretzky's words didn't just diffuse the situation, they changed the way Hrudey approached his colleagues. "I never treated another teammate like that again," he divulged.

Following his story about Gretzky's graciousness, Hrudey shared another one about how he and his wife, Donna, while driving into Los Angeles for the jersey retirement, spotted a billboard along the freeway that featured Gretzky with the caption "nice guys do finish first." It was just too fitting.

Video: 1993: Wayne Gretzky's hat trick puts Kings in Final

By the time Gretzky hung up his skates, his trophy case included 10 Art Rosses, nine Harts, five Ted Lindsays, and four Stanley Cup rings.

He was a player who had finished first countless times throughout his career, but when his teammates looked back on him, they didn't think about the milestones or the accolades. They remembered how he treated people on and off the ice. He may have been the greatest player to ever lace them up, but at the end of the day, he was just an incredible human being.

The next day, when the Kings suited up for the game and retirement ceremony, they sported the white heritage jerseys for first time since the 1997-98 season. While the team cruised around the ice in the uniforms made popular by Gretzky and the club in the early 1990s, Hrudey couldn't help but smile. 

"I'm clearly biased, but those are my favorite Kings jerseys," he proclaimed. "There's no question about it. Whether the white ones or the black ones, they set the standard in the National Hockey League for cool. It was always amazing to see all sorts of people from Los Angeles wearing that jersey when I was there."

As Gretzky's no. 99 ascended to the top of STAPLES Center, Hrudey was flooded with memories of his tenure in Los Angeles and the time he spent with Gretzky. To have been there in person and watch his friend and former teammate receive the highest honor from the Kings is something he will never forget.

The Kings will be bringing the '90s Era Heritage Jerseys out of retirement this season. The first time they sport time will be on February 22, 2020, when they host the Colorado Avalanche.

Video: It's back

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