Wayne Gretzky faced a lot of pressure to win in L.A., but he still had time to take care of more ordinary folks, Kelly Hrudey says. (Al Bello/Getty Images)
Hopefully, when we're able to be around really good people, some of their good qualities rub off on our own behaviour.
Case in point: since most of us at Hockey Night in Canada
are sharing stories
about Wayne Gretzky this week because he's joining my club (50 and over), I thought of many I wanted to write. But we only have so many words and too many stories, so I've chosen a couple you might enjoy.
One involves a teammate of ours in Los Angeles in the early 90s by the name of Petr Prajsler, a super-nice guy and excellent teammate. Petr hailed from what was, at the time, still called Czechoslovakia, and he was used to playing a different game than the one in North America.
Prajsler was a highly skilled lefthanded-shooting defenceman, but he shied away from the rugged side of the game. Occasionally, when Petr felt he might take a big hit, he would throw the puck away to avoid the collision. Luckily, most often nothing bad happened, such as a good scoring play against us.
But one time, in a game with important playoff implications, this same scenario presented itself and Petr chose to fire the puck around the boards late in the third period instead of taking the hit and protecting the puck.
Well, I'm sure you know what happened. The other team intercepted his clearing attempt and scored the game-winning goal on me.
I was not happy!
After we undressed from our gear, I found myself in the shower with Wayne. No other teammates were there yet, and I chose this time to throw a temper tantrum, saying a lot of bad things about Petr (things I regret now). As if that wasn't enough, to make my point I decided to start throwing shampoo bottles around and just carrying on like an idiot.
After my tantrum finished, Wayne looked at me and simply said, "Kelly, let everyone earn a living. If he's not good enough, they'll find a new player."
Wow, I thought. What grace. With all the pressure Gretzky had in L.A. to turn a struggling franchise into a top contender, he stood up for a guy trying his best.
I never acted that way again.Cold comfort
The second story is about a complete stranger to all of us.
The Kings were on an extended Eastern road trip in the middle of winter that included a stop in Philadelphia. I remember sitting on the bus as we arrived at our luxurious hotel on a particularly bitter night around dinner time. As we gathered our belongings and walked off the bus, most of us were saddened to see a homeless person near the hotel entrance braving the elements, including a brisk wind, with a less-than-ideal jacket.
I've never forgotten Wayne's actions that night. He removed his own very warm-looking coat and gave it to the gentleman. Not only that, Wayne paid for a night in the hotel. And the topper: why not throw in some room service to help the man out?
Pretty cool to say I've learned a lot from a guy with such clarity and grace.
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