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Kudelski still has home in Senators history book

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Former Senators winger Bob Kudelski recorded the first hat trick in franchise history back in 1993 and was one of the expansion franchise's first true major scoring threats (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club photo).

Bob Kudelski barely spent one full National Hockey League season in the nation's capital.

But the former Ottawa Senators sniper remembers it as perhaps his best stretch of hockey in a nine-year career as a pro. On a team starved for offence, Kudelski gave the Sens and their fans exactly what they needed.

The native of Springfield, Mass., looks back fondly upon those 90 games, during which he produced 47 goals and 76 points, much of it on a line with Alexei Yashin — the first draft pick in Senators modern franchise history, who was just beginning to flash his own talent.

"I played some of the best hockey I ever played there," Kudelski told the Team 1200 in a radio interview as he recalled his time with the original Senators, who will be honoured before the current team's 2011-12 home-opener next Tuesday at Scotiabank Place. "I remember the team had been struggling a bit, and I got there and was able to score a few goals here and there and contribute, so that was a lot of fun.

"That first season, something that sticks out in my mind was when we beat San Jose and I scored a hat trick. My biggest memory was the following season, when I got off to a good start and got selected to (play in the 1994) all-star game."

With his three-goal effort in a 3-2 victory over the Sharks on Jan. 10, 1993, at the Ottawa Civic Centre, Kudelski notched four club records — the first hat trick in franchise history, the most goals in a period (a mark he still shares), and the fastest two goals and three goals recorded by one player.

It was a classic case of a player making the most of a new opportunity, even if it came with an expansion team that would only win 10 of 84 games in its inaugural season. But Kudelski had been languishing on the sidelines on a star-studded Los Angeles Kings team that featured the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, Jari Kurri and Rob Blake — and would go on to face off against the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final.

"Those times in L.A. were great," said Kudelski, who spent more than four seasons in a Kings uniform, even lining up alongside Gretzky at one point. "But most players get traded once or twice during their career. By the time I got traded to Ottawa, I was ready for a change. I wasn't really fitting into the plan with Barry (Kings coach Melrose)."

Kudelski and Shawn McCosh were dealt to Ottawa on Dec. 19, 1992, in exchange for Marc Fortier and Jim Thomson. In just 48 games with the Senators, he totalled 21 goals — just four behind team leader Sylvain Turgeon, who was in Ottawa for the entire season. 

"I hadn't played a whole lot before I got to Ottawa, so I was excited to get to a new team," said Kudelski, 47, now a real estate developer in Park City, Utah. "It's still a shock, though, being a young guy and getting traded for the first time, but the guys made me feel welcome when I got there.

"We didn't have a great season that first year. There were a lot of tough times, but it was a good group of guys. You go through something like that, you stick close to your teammates."

For Kudelski, his second season in Ottawa got off to a roaring start. Working more magic with Yashin, he totalled 26 goals and 41 points in just 42 games, putting him on pace to become the franchise's first 50-goal scorer. But seeking more assets for the future, the Senators shipped Kudelski to the Florida Panthers on Jan. 6, 1994, for two players (Evgeny Davydov and Scott Levins) and a pair of draft picks.

While he'd finish the 1993-94 campaign with 40 goals and 70 points — the best totals of his career — Kudelski says now "I was having a good season and it would have ended up even better if I stayed in Ottawa."

The deal did allow him to carve out a unique place for himself in the NHL record books. Since the Panthers had played less games than Ottawa when he was traded, Kudelski wound up suiting up for 86 contests that season — a league mark he still shares with former Kings teammate Jimmy Carson.

Kudelski is one of 14 members of the original Senators slated to be on hand for the fesitivities surrounding Tuesday's opener, which marks the official launch of season-long 20th anniversary celebrations for the organization. He's looking forward to a day that figures to be filled with memories.

"When I think of Ottawa, I have a lot of great memories of my time there, even though the team struggled," he said. "They've got the big new arena (Scotiabank Place) now and everything else, so it'll be a lot of fun."

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