Teammate Says Gretzky Was Flu Victim, Too : King Star Was Slowed in First Game of NHL Playoffs but Is All Right Now

Times Staff Writer

The flu bug that took several King players out of the lineup last week seems to be gone--as might be the team’s chances of advancing in the National Hockey League playoffs.

In fact, even John Tonelli was back at practice Monday for the first time in more than a week. But, Tonelli and goalie Kelly Hrudey were not the most celebrated players to have influenza.

“Nobody knows it, but Wayne (Gretzky) had the flu in the first game,” teammate Marty McSorley said Monday afternoon on the eve of tonight’s fifth game in the Forum in the best-of-seven series against the Edmonton Oilers. “Did you notice that he was the first one off the ice on every shift? He never does that.”


Gretzky also chose not to go to the interview room that night and when he did talk with reporters in the locker room, he was looking tired and was sweating profusely. Reporters thought that the loss, the 100-degree weather and the crowd in the locker room explained his condition.

Gretzky also played only six minutes in the third period. At the time, it seemed to be just another reason for some to criticize the coaching of the Kings’ Robbie Ftorek.

“Robbie isn’t going to use excuses,” McSorley said without alibiing for the Kings’ 3-1 deficit in this series. “He isn’t going to say that.”

Also, Ftorek’s policy is to say as little as he possibly can about injuries and illnesses. Gretzky was playing so he had no obligation to release information on Gretzky’s health.

McSorley mentioned it Monday because he was asked directly and because, he said: “That’s all behind us now. Wayne played a hell of a game last (Sunday) night.”

Asked if he, himself, had had the flu, McSorley said: “The only thing wrong with me is I haven’t been scoring.”

McSorley doesn’t always show up at optional practices, but he was among several who surprised Ftorek by being there. The only players who were required to be on the ice today were the three who had not played the night before. And Tonelli had told Ftorek that he wanted to be there.

Still, half the team showed up anyway. Gretzky rarely shows up at optional workouts and didn’t break form Monday.

McSorley uses the 1987 Stanley Cup final series as a case in point. McSorley was playing for the Oilers when they went up, 3-1, on Philadelphia with two of the remaining games scheduled for Edmonton. Philadelphia managed to take that series to seven games before losing.

“All it takes is a bunch of determined hockey players. . . . I’ve seen it slowly slip away from a team and I’ve seen teams come back,” McSorley said. “Ask Doug Crossman, he was on that Philadelphia team.”

Crossman, another player who chose to skate Monday, agreed: “It can be done. . . . We have enough experience and enough composure to do it. We’re not going to roll over.”

The Kings need to play a little longer, at least, if they want to give Tonelli a chance to at least compete for a fifth Stanley Cup.

“It’s got to hurt him to be out now,” McSorley said. “The guy is dying to play. He lives to play. That’s why guys feed off of him. When he was in the hospital we sure missed him. You can almost feel his presence with this team.”

The Kings will have Tonelli’s presence back at the Forum tonight, but whether he plays is another question that won’t be answered until game time.

As Ftorek points out, at playoff time, with only 20 players dressing, everyone has to be ready.

Tonelli developed complications with his flu and has been in much worse shape than the others who have come back in a day or two. Tonelli doesn’t want to admit that he had pneumonia. Just as he doesn’t want to say how much weight he lost or how high his temperature got. But it is with a serious tone that he says, “I was sick.”

Kings Notes

The fifth game of the Kings’ best-of-seven Smythe Division semifinal playoff series against the Oilers will begin at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised by Prime Ticket and broadcast by KLAC (570). . . . Asked if he was feeling any pressure to win this series to save his job, King Coach Robbie Ftorek said: “That’s something I wouldn’t waste time thinking about. The only thing I’m concerned with is winning the next game. I care about the team. As for me individually, I don’t give a hoot.”

Marty McSorley, pointing out that the Kings’ 91 points for second place in the Smythe Division and the Oilers’ 84 points for third added up to (175) more than the total for any other second-and-third place matchups, said: “It’s unusual to have a first round matching teams of this caliber.”

In assessing the Oilers’ position after taking the 3-1 lead with Sunday’s victory at Edmonton, former King Jimmy Carson said: “We held serve. But by no means are we going to get cocky at match point.” . . . Carson acknowledged that there is a certain confidence that comes with being the defending champions. It’s a feeling that was not there in his time with the Kings. “There is a sort of a wave of emotion that is starting to build,” Carson said. “They’ve won four Cups in five years. You just ride with it.”