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He Feels Better, So Do the Kings : Illness Drained Hrudey Last Season; Now He’s Enjoying Playing Again

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

As Steve and Pauline Hrudey drove through downtown Edmonton on a winter night in 1990, their son, Kelly, lay back, his head against the seat, dozing.

It was a fitful sleep. A nightmare. Another nightmare evening in a nightmare season.

Kelly Hrudey, goalie for the Kings, had just faced the Oilers with disastrous results. The Kings had blown a three-goal lead to lose, 7-6.

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Normally, Hrudey would be up until 4 or 5 in the morning, replaying a game like that in the VCR of his mind.

Now, he couldn’t stay awake long enough to go out for a snack with his parents.

He knew something was wrong. Very wrong.

It had started out as such a promising season.

After five years with the New York Islanders, he was traded to the Kings in the middle of the 1988-89 season.

“I was determined to have a good year,” he said of the 1989-90 season. “I wanted to prove everybody wrong who said it wasn’t a good trade.”

But almost immediately, the problems began.

Hrudey had always prided himself on his health. A professional goalie for more than a decade, he had never been hurt for any length of time, never been sick.

But in October of 1989, he felt like he was getting flu. He never did, but the symptoms wouldn’t go away, either.

Hrudey ran a low fever, he had no appetite and he was tired. Always tired.

“Usually, after a game,” he said, “I’d be alive and ready to go again. But now, I was tired in the third period. Then it got to the point where I was tired by the second period. I was alarmed.”

He had once won a quadruple-overtime game, stopping 73 of 75 shots as the Islanders beat the Washington Capitals, 3-2, in the seventh game of their 1987 Patrick Division semifinal series.

Now, the man who had gone more than six periods couldn’t go two.

“In December, the headaches started,” Hrudey said. “They were unbelievably wicked headaches, and I got them every day. Every day. I didn’t know what to think.”

The fatigue drained him. Out on the ice, his legs felt like blocks of cement as he tried to trudge from one end of the crease to the other, his arms like lead pipes.

Hrudey used to love to play. Now, getting his pads on and getting out on the ice could be drudgery.

His kids had gotten a swing set for Christmas, but just putting it up was a major project for Hrudey.

“I worked on it for half an hour and had to go back to bed,” he said. “What should have taken two days took a month.”

Hrudey began to look forward to the All-Star break. The parents of his wife, Donna, live in Phoenix, and he hoped a few days of relaxation in the sun would cure whatever it was that was ailing him.

Not hardly.

He spent a good deal of the time in bed, sleeping. “Where’s the end of this?” Hrudey asked himself.

After the break, the Kings flew to Vancouver.

Hrudey’s brother, Ken, with whom he is very close, met him there and was shocked.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked Kelly. “You’re pale. You don’t even look like yourself.”

Nor was he playing like himself.

In the second period of that 7-6 loss to Edmonton, fatigue draining him as he hunched over on the ice, Hrudey finally decided to see a doctor.

The results were not as frightening as one might have imagined. He had CMV, a virus described as an adult form of mononucleosis. The best cure was rest. Lots of it.

So, after learning of his condition, Hrudey went out and started five consecutive games.

It wasn’t that he was trying to be a martyr, but he was in his first full season with a struggling club and he wanted to do his part.

Before long, Hrudey began to feel better. By the time the playoffs rolled around, he was nearly himself.

Then, in the sixth and deciding game of the opening round against the Calgary Flames, he got hurt.

“(Joe) Nieuwendyk ran me into a post,” Hrudey said. “I didn’t feel it right away, but I felt it in overtime and after the game.”

Hrudey would soon learn he had bruised ribs. “I couldn’t say anything,” he recalled. “I had just come off a horrendous year. I couldn’t say I was hurt again.”

He didn’t have to. In Game 2 of the division finals against Edmonton, Hrudey dived to stop a shot by Jari Kurri and further injured the ribs. Hrudey sat out Game 3 but came back for Game 4.

The Kings lost both games, getting swept out of the playoffs by the Oilers.

At the end, Hrudey found it difficult to breathe because of the damaged ribs.

About all he could say for the season was that it was finally over.

“I learned from it,” Hrudey said. “When you have your ups and downs, mentally and physically, you learn who is there for you and who is not, who the phonies are and who is worth spending your time with.”

Undaunted by a year of ill health, Hrudey headed for the Canadian Rockies for his normal summer routine. That includes 10 days to two weeks of hiking and biking over rugged mountain trails and across broad, flowing streams.

Even better for Hrudey’s health were the Kings’ off-season activities, which included trading for Daniel Berthiaume, a reliable goalie who joined him in an effective two-man rotation in the net.

With his health back and required to play only about half the time, Hrudey had his best season, going 26-13-6 with a 2.90 goals-against average, 90% save percentage and three shutouts.

That earned him the starting job in the playoffs, but he began a bit shakily, surrendering six goals to the Vancouver Canucks in the opening game of their best-of-seven series.

Hrudey came back strong, giving up only 10 goals in the remaining five games as the Kings won in six.

In the old days, he might not have been able to handle his poor performance in Game 1 as well.

“I had fun this season,” he said. “I didn’t have fun my last few years with (the Islanders). I became fixated on being good. Even when we won, I had to be great, not good. I’d go home and look at tapes and think, ‘I can still do this better or that better.’ It became an obsession.”

Hockey itself was an obsession for him.

“I was the biggest company man ever,” Hrudey said of his days with the Islanders.

Then he was traded.

“I realized they only use you as long as they need you,” he said. “I’m not going to take away from my family’s time to promote a game that is using you.

“I told Wayne (Gretzky), ‘I wouldn’t want your life. It’s a total invasion of your privacy.’ I used to go to all lengths to promote the game. Now, I go to certain lengths and the rest is for my family. I owe the fans the best game I can play and to be as nice to them as I expect people to be to me and my family.”

Certainly, he has given them his best game this season. For three full periods.

* OILERS WIN: Edmonton beat Calgary and will play the Kings in next round. C7


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