Imagine this: One day you’re a role player on a team with Wayne Gretzky. Next thing you know, you’re a top line centre for a struggling expansion team, the Ottawa Senators.
That’s what happened to Bob Kudelski, just days before Christmas in 1992.
Kudelski spent the first four and a half seasons of his career playing for the Los Angeles Kings. He was traded to the Senators on Dec. 21, 1992, midway through the Sens’ inaugural season.
“It was exciting for me, coming from a team where I was a third- or fourth-line player and playing mostly a defensive-minded game. And here (Ottawa) I was expected to do a few more offensive things,” said Kudelski last year in an interview with Sens TV.
Kudelski made the most of his time here and earned a spot in the record books by scoring the first hat trick in modern franchise history.
It was Jan. 10, 1993, and the Sens defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-2 at the Ottawa Civic Centre. All three of Kudelski’s goals came in the first period.
“That was a special game. I remember somebody said something in the third period of the game – ‘Have you given up?’ – you scored three in the first period!” he recalled.
Kudelski set a few other club records that night, including most goals in one period, the fastest two goals in one game (2:10) and the fastest three goals in one game (13:48). It was his third career hat trick. (He scored his fourth career hat trick the following season with the Sens.)
While with the Kings, Kudelski’s teammates included all-stars Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille and Paul Coffey. The Kings eventually went on to the Stanley Cup Final that same season before losing to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.
“(Playing with the Senators) was a lot different than in L.A. where we had a lot of high-profile players. You’d walk off the ice (in Los Angeles) and nobody knew who you were, but here it’s a lot different. Hockey is the number one sport in Canada and everybody knows who you are,” he said.
The Senators had a difficult season in 1992-1993, winning only 10 games. Kudelski had 21 goals and 14 assists in 48 games, finishing second in goals behind Sylvain Turgeon.
He started the next season with the Senators, but was traded in January to the Florida Panthers.
“I had a pretty good run while I was here, scored a few goals, put up a few points on the board for myself. I got selected to the All-Star Game in 1994, and that was 100 per cent due to my play here in Ottawa. So I look back on those days and have very fond memories of my time here.”
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