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One Week Summed Up This Season for Hrudey : Kings: Goaltender had an up-and-down year, but the last two victories over Canucks made it worthwhile for his entire family.

May 15, 1993|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Last Sunday was a long day at the office for King goalie Kelly Hrudey.

The puck kept whizzing past him, the red light kept shining on him and the crowd kept getting on him.

When it was over, the Kings had lost to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 4 of the NHL's Smythe Division finals, 7-2.

Such days are miserable for a goalie, even a 10-year veteran such as Hrudey.

But he wasn't the most miserable Hrudey in the Forum that day.

Up in the seats, 7-year-old Jessica was sitting with her two younger sisters and her mother, Donna.

Jessica only recently became aware of what her dad does behind that funny-looking mask down on the ice.

And she has also become aware of those around her at the game.

As the Canuck goals mounted, she heard people yelling, "Kelly, you're a bum!" and "Get him out of there!"

Her mother noticed Jessica grow quiet.

"Are you upset because we are losing?" Donna asked.

"Yeah," Jessica replied.

"Are you upset because you're hearing things you don't like about your dad?" Donna asked.

"Yeah," Jessica replied, tears welling up in her eyes.

"Well, just ignore it," Donna said. "They're just upset because we are losing, and they don't know that's your dad. The next game, we'll be winning and they'll be cheering."

It was a quiet ride home for the Hrudeys that day. But sure enough, 48 hours later, there were cheers galore when Kelly Hrudey had one of the best nights of his professional life. He spent more than four periods in the crease as the Kings defeated Vancouver in Game 5, 4-3 in double overtime.

That's the way it has been for Hrudey during this, the most inconsistent season of his career.

There were times he couldn't even get into the net, his job having been taken by rookie Robb Stauber or veteran Rick Knickle. But there were other times when they couldn't get Hrudey out of the net because he was so solid.

There were times when his defense wasn't there for him. There were times when he wasn't there for the defense.

Hrudey finished the regular season--his first losing season--18-21-6, with a 3.86 goals-against average.

He started the playoffs, lost his job to Stauber for four games, and has now come back stronger than ever as he leads the Kings into the third round of the playoffs for the first time.

"We have had the lowest of the lows this season," Donna said. "And the highest of the highs. There were times when he was questioning whether he had lost it altogether. He just wasn't himself."

Donna noticed one big change. For the first time, her husband told her, "When I'm playing, I don't want you to bring the kids to the game."

Donna asked him why not.

"Because I don't want them to hear the boos," he said.

Donna didn't like hearing such talk.

"He had always been a positive person," she said. "Now, he was talking negative. They hadn't even played yet, and he was already talking about our losing or that he would play bad."

Perhaps no one in sports experiences as many highs and lows as a goalie. Or a goalie's family.

It's a role Donna Hrudey was hardly prepared for.

She met her future husband when he was playing for the Medicine Hat Tigers in Alberta, Canada. She was 17, he was 19.

He invited her to a game, but she knew little about hockey. So little, in fact, that when Kelly played so poorly that day that he was replaced in the middle of the game, Donna leaned over to someone next to her and asked, "Is that good or bad?"

Bad that day. But mostly good ever since. They have been married nine years, and she has learned the position and the routine.

Most goalies are superstitious, and Hrudey is no exception.

For example, on game days at home, he \o7 must \f7 eat a piece of boneless, breaded chicken at 12:15 p.m. sharp.

"I think I could make that in my sleep," she said, "I've done it so many times."

One routine, however, changed earlier this season when Hrudey was slumping. He stopped reading the local papers.

"We put the sports section in the recycler and found out what else was going on in the world," she said.

Still, Hrudey didn't take out his frustrations on his family. Some goalies go into isolation the day of a game. Hrudey merely gets quieter and more focused, but he remains available for his family.

And there is one rule in the Hrudey household that Donna follows religiously: No criticism from within.

"It's not for me to say he's playing bad," she said. "I expect him to be there for me when I'm feeling low and I'm there for him. The last thing a husband needs is criticism from his wife."

Hrudey says he has not only survived this bumpy season, but prospered from it.

"This has all turned out very sweet for me," he said. "All the criticism has made me a different person than I was three months ago."

How?

"His whole outlook has changed," Donna said. "Hockey has been great and done a lot for us. But he realizes more than ever what is important in life, and what comes first. And that is, as it always has been, his girls and his family."

On good days and bad.

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