Takes and trash talk from both ALL sides of the NHL's most obscure PATHETIC* rivalry

* Thanks, Kevin Lowe!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

When I Was Young...

When I was young, my favorite player was Kelly Hrudey. He had everything a kid could want: he played the same position I did, he had a cool helmet, he wore a bandana that made him look like a pirate, and he had a name that was mine but switched around. (Funny how that works…) He was not the greatest goalie that ever played, but he was good enough and he was a hero to me.

I always wanted him to wear a helmet with a bandana painted on it.

When he left the Kings in 1996 and signed with the Sharks, I was devastated. How could the Kings not want Kelly Hrudey anymore? I mean, seriously, he looked like a pirate. To make matters worse, I went to Hrudey’s first game back against the Kings and had to suffer through the vile insults of angry Kings fans towards my hero. It seemed insane to me that fans could jeer and boo a guy who had led them to the Stanley Cup Finals and, again, looked like a pirate. The Sharks won (7-6, which probably explained why the Kings had let him go), but that was little consolation for a young man. From that time on, I swore that I’d never have a favorite player again.

Through the years, I’d have players that I enjoyed watching (Ziggy Palffy) and players that I rooted for (Steven Reinprecht), but I never had a player that I cheered for specifically. That all changed, however, during the first game of the 2005-06 season. The Kings were playing the Phoenix Coyotes on October 6th, the first home game of the year. They led 3-2 in the closing moments of the third period, but then disaster struck. Pavol Demitra was given a two-minute penalty for tripping and then Tim Gleason received a penalty for cross-checking. This put the Kings down 5-on-3, and then 6-on-3 when Phoenix pulled their goalie. The situation seemed hopeless, but the Kings center managed to win the face-off to himself and then draw a penalty, effectively saving the Kings. That center was Craig Conroy.

You not only stole that puck; you stole my heart.

I tried not to fall for Craig Conroy, but I was soon smitten. He had everything I looked for in a player; solid play-making ability, defensive responsibility, and a smile that rivals the Sun. He played in every situation with the grit and talent that every player should desire. Even more importantly, he seemed like a great guy to have a beer with, a guy that would reach out to young guys and show them the ropes. That whole season Conroy grew and grew on me, until I finally began to think of him in the same way I thought of Kelly Hrudey. Conroy ended up with 66 points in 78 games and our future together looked bright.

Unfortunately, nothing went right for Conroy after that season. His linemate Pavol Demitra got traded and the loss of Alyn McCauley meant that Conroy had to take on the task of shutting down the opposition. He devoted himself to this 3rd-line role with the same resolve that he did to everything, but the results just weren’t there. Kings fans began to turn on him the same way that they had turned on Hrudey, and I was forced to face the loss of my favorite player once again. Things turned out well with Conroy; he was reunited with Calgary, his former team, and showed the flashes of what had made me like him in the first place.

I know it’s dumb for a grown man to bemoan the loss of a hockey player that he’s never met and I often mock those who devote themselves wholly to one player. After Craig left, I decided that it was much more important to advocate what was the best for the team and look to the players as interchangeable parts. It is the most logical thing to do, but at the same time I feel that I don't get as emotionally invested as I used to. There’s something to be said for having a favorite player, and it's sad that I'll most likely never experience that again. I may understand more about hockey and appreciate its intricacies more than when I was a young man, but there are times I wish I could still feel the way I did about Kelly Hrudey and Craig Conroy.


Earl Sleek said...

Dude, Conroy was totally your Pahlsson!

(uh, except I think I'm still waiting for Pahlsson's 66th career point).

dbushik said...

Well you know, you could just be more of a fan of hockey and the league and not so much focus single mindedly on the Kings. I've been a Kings fan for approaching 20 years and two of my favorite players of all time never even wore the purple and gold.

Shoot, if you want to bring me to tears without fail, all you have to do is run the final few seconds of the 2001 Cup Finals. And I ain't talking about Blakey (nothing against the guy).

It also makes it much easier, based on the past decade of history of the team, knowing that if a guy does come to the Kings and put in the effort and the years, ultimately he will be rewarded. Yeah, he may be wearing another teams jersey when he raises the Cup, but the Kings will eventually come through for the guy and send him to a winner. (Okay, so this time I am talking about Blakey...and Luc).

RudyKelly said...

I don't know, I can do that with football, basketball, hockey, soccer... but I just can't do that with hockey. I get bored watching other teams play hockey because it's just not the same as when it's the Kings. I don't know, that's just me.

Patty (in Dallas) said...

When I was new to hockey, I picked Joe Nieuwendyk as my favorite player, and he's still my favorite retired player. But when he was traded, I was sure I'd lose interest in hockey altogether. I was surprised that I still preferred the Stars to whatever team he was on.

You'll eventually pick a new guy even if you try not to. That's what happened when you picked Conroy, right?

KMS2 said...

Oh my God, it's like I wrote this post, except you forgot all the 10-year old girl quotes such as, "I love Kelly Hrudey! He's kinda cute! I love his smile!"

I slowly matured and managed to see the great on- and off-ice characteristics that Conroy has. Despite him being the interviewee of choice every other game, I always looked forward to hearing him talk and was deeply saddened when Demitra left with his heart and soul.

My first Kings love was Bernie Nicholls. But I was so young that all I remember was doing the pumpernickel around the house.

Sherry said...

I mean, seriously, he looked like a pirate.

Best reason to keep anybody I've ever heard of. I wonder if we up north are still trying to petition him to wear the bandanna when he's on HNIC.

Don't worry Rudy, you will find love again.

Pookie said...

Rudy, I too went a long time without a favorite player. It just seemed easier to not invest myself in a guy who would likely get traded or move on to greener pastures. OK, actually, the real reason I never had a favorite player was because I thrive on snark, and if my guy's doing poorly, can I snark the way I need to if part of me is saying, "No, wait! But you love this guy!"? But a funny thing happened this past season -- I fell for a whole bunch of guys. Some Devils, some not. It's crazy. I'm fairly confident it will all end poorly (there's no way Paulie Martin and Zach Parise end their careers with New Jersey) but right now I'm sort of enjoying the first blush of having a favorite player or two again. I highly recommend it.

Of course, now I wish Martin and Parise could look more like pirates...

Ian said...

When Hrudey, Darren Turcotte, and Mike Ricci all played on the Sharks, it was like a pirate convention.

dbushik said...

Both of my brothers are also big Kings fans. Me and the older brother are more flexible and can pretty much watch any two teams, but like RK my younger brother (and his son too) are much more interested in the Kings than the league in general.

A former girlfriend of mine and a couple of other women who we'd occasionally go to games with were real big into Hrudey. They'd always want to come early to see the warm-ups so they could watch him stretch (he'd do the calf and thigh stretches kinda froggy style where it looked like he was humping the ice). Always thought that was a little wierd, but I suppose whatever gets you through the night...

The guy was a bit of a dick to fans though. I can't say I much blame him because being so recognizable here in LA, where most guys aren't unless their name was Gretzky, he was constantly mobbed by fans at the Forum after games.

socalfan said...

The idea of playing for one team has left all pro sports, especially hockey. Ripken and Gywnn playing 20 years with the same baseball team just is not likely anymore.

I don't like it but it means we have to be different fans now. The most distasteful part is having to like the general manager, who is determines the team and likely will last longer than most of the players!

I guess just rooting for the team will be good enough in the future, since I hardly remember who won the titles last year anyway. In the department store of life, sports is, after all, the toy department.

Nick S. said...

Conroy doesn't look like a pirate. Therefore, he sucks.