Sunday

Jaroslav Bednar

A skilled center with decent size (6'0", 200lbs), Jaroslav Bednar was a star at home in Prague, Czech Republic and also in the Finnish elite league. Yet he never found his comfort zone in North America.

An overage draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2001 (2nd round, 51st overall), the Kings had hoped Bednar could step into their line-up immediately after watching him dominate for two seasons in Finland.

Considered to be a comparable player to Martin Rucinsky, some scouts figured he would make an easy transition because he played more of a North American game than many older European players at that time. Though he never initiated much in terms of physical play, he was strong along the boards and did not shy away from the dirty areas. He was a sleek skater and possessed a deadly wrist-shot. However he really struggled with his consistency and defensive commitments in North America.

In the first season and a bit Bednar played a lot with the Kings farm team. He played a total of 37 games for the Kings, scoring 4 goals and 11 assists for 15 points.

On November 26, 2002, Bednář, along with Andreas Lilja was traded to the Florida Panthers for Dmitri Yushkevich. Over the next two seasons Bednar played 65 games for Florida, scoring 6 goals and 14 assists for 20 points. Overall, Bednář played 102 regular season games, scoring 10 goals and 25 assists for 35 points.

Bednar returned to Europe before that 2003-04 season was over, joining Omsk of what is now known as the KHL. He would enjoy a long career back home in the Czech Republic and in Switzerland.

Judging by my Google images search, Jaroslav Bednar is quite the ladies man over there in Europe.

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Thursday

Sean O'Donnell

Often the retirement of journeymen players goes unnoticed. That was not the case for Sean O'Donnell.

Twitter came alive with goodbyes from fans and media alike. Many media members dedicated articles and blog posts to the grizzled veteran who scored only 31 goals in his entire career. He was universally referred to as "one of hockey's most popular players."

"O.D." truly was one of hockey's good guys. Every one of his many teammates would vouch for that. The media members always enjoyed his openness, honest and professionalism. Casual fans may not have even noticed Sean O'Donnell's work on the ice, which for a defensive defenseman is a huge compliment.

O'Donnell was a throw-back to a different era. There was a time when most defensemen played exactly like O'Donnell. Tough and physical. Defense first. Offense, more or less, left to others. He was always in good position, hit hard, blocked shots and, though he was never a great fighter, he always and fearlessly answered the bell. Sean O'Donnell was the ultimate team player.

In his own era Sean O'Donnell was unheralded and vastly underrated. In early eras he could have been a star. He worked tirelessly to improve his skating and mobility so that he could be the ideal #4 defenseman on a top team who spent a lot of time on the penalty kill unit.


O'Donnell skated in 1,224 regular-season NHL games for the Kings, Wild, Devils, Bruins, Coyotes, Ducks, Flyers and Blackhawks. He scored 31 goals, assisted on 198 and piled up 1,809 penalty minutes. He also played 106 playoff games and won a Stanley Cup with the 2007 Anaheim Ducks.

One of my favorite Sean O'Donnell stories came from his days in Anaheim. Teammate and all star defenseman Chris Pronger was, as always, swarmed by the media when O'Donnell interrupted the interview to jokingly tell him to talk about how much he enjoyed playing with his partner.

Pronger obviously did. It was at Pronger's recommendation that his new team, the Flyers, acquired O'Donnell late in his career. Larry Robinson also deliberately sought out O'Donnell's services when he was coaching in New Jersey. Rob Blake, Mattias Norstrom and Drew Doughty are among the many Kings' defensemen who raved about playing with O'Donnell.

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Monday

Noah Clarke


Noah Clarke became the first native Southern Californian to play for and to score a goal for the Los Angeles Kings. The assists on that first NHL goal (March 12th, 2007) were credited to Dustin Brown and Jaroslav Modry, but, as NHL.com reported at the time, the credit goes to Wayne Gretzky and the Anaheim Ducks.

Clarke, from La Verne, was the first Southern California-born player in the Kings' 40-year history. There had been, at that time, a total of  19 Southern Californians in the NHL.

"I think it's the Gretzky effect," former Kings player and manager Dave Taylor said. "It started when Wayne came here in the late 1980s. I mean, if you look at the number of rinks that we had then compared to today, I'd say we went from a handful of rinks to maybe 25 in the greater L.A. area. So that just means there's a lot more kids playing."

Clarke realizes the long odds he had to overcome to go from the beautiful beaches to the NHL.

"I remember going to pee wee and bantam tournaments and people kind of sneered and said, 'Aw, California kids can't play hockey.' It's still not a hotbed, but I think you see more and more California kids coming up now," Clarke said. "When the Mighty Ducks started out, all these rinks started popping up in Orange County. So it just led to more ice time for California kids to play."

Those odds did prove to be too big, ultimately. The Colorado College grad was drafted by the Kings 250th overall in 1999. He toiled in the minor leagues, appearing for NHL call ups totalling 21 career games (20 with LA, 1 with New Jersey) over six seasons before heading overseas to extend his career.

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Sunday

Steve Bozek

Steve Bozek entered the league as a high scoring rookie who quickly became one of the games better defensive forwards and penalty killers of the 1980s.

Bozek turned pro with the Kings after three high scoring season with Northern Michigan University. An All-American in 1981, Bozek skipped his last year of University in order to jump directly to the NHL.

Bozek made quite the impression in his first season with the Los Angeles Kings, who made him the 52nd overall draft pick in the 1980 Entry Draft. At the time the famous Triple Crown line was hurting as left winger Charlie Simmer missed much of the season with a broken leg. Coach Parker MacDonald placed the speedy but small Bozek on the left side of Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor.

"I got thrown together during training camp that year with Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor and it was almost like pond-hockey for me. Those two were at the peak of their careers and I just fed off them and was able to pick up my share of goals. Playing with Marcel and Davey is probably my biggest remembrance of breaking into the NHL with the Kings." remembers Bozek.

Steve exploded for 27 goals in his first 34 games, only bettered by a young Wayne Gretzky. Bozek's pace would have seen the rookie score 64 goals had he played the entire season with Dionne and Taylor.

"Subconsciously I was telling myself that this has got to end (the goals) but while it lasted it definitely was fun." says Bozek.

The goals did come to a screeching end once Charlie Simmer returned to the lineup and assumed his place on Dionne's and Taylor's left side. Bozek would only score 6 more goals the entire season. Steve ended his first NHL season with 33 goals establishing a new club record for rookies (since broken) breaking the old mark set by Mike Byers in 1970-71 (27).

Simmer's return coupled with another high scoring rookie called up half way through the season, Bernie Nicholls, forced Bozek to change his game. Because of his great speed and agility, the Kings, who could score but desperately needed players who were willing to sacrifice their offensive totals to help prevent goals against, asked Bozek to become a penalty killer and checker.

"During my first year in L.A. we went through a coaching change mid-way through with Don Perry replacing Parker. Despite the fact that I was scoring well the team had to tighten up defensively so my role became more expanded and I started killing penalties. As it turned out penalty killing became my forte throughout my career."

Bozek struggled through a injury plagued sophomore-jinx filled second season only scoring 13 goals and 13 assists in 53 games. It proved to be the final season in Los Angeles for Bozek, who in the summer would be traded to Calgary for Carl Mokasak and Kevin LaVallee.

Calgary at the time was building an offensive powerhouse to compete with their Albertan rivals from Edmonton. Bozek, however, wasn't brought in specifically for his offense, but rather because of his speed and checking abilities which would become unheralded in many Battles of Alberta. He enjoyed almost 6 full seasons in Calgary, and even managed his only other 20+ goal season in 1985-86 when he scored 21 goals in just 64 contests.

The Flames included Bozek in a late season trade package in 1988 which is often credited with giving the Flames their first Stanley Cup Championship. Bozek, who suffered a terrible injury plagued season, was a throw-in (though Flames GM Cliff Fletcher was very reluctant to part with him) with a hot Flames prospect named Brett Hull. The pair went to St. Louis in exchange for Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley, both of whom would prove to be big parts of the 1989 Stanley Cup squad.

The Flames and Blues became favorite trading partners, as Fletcher liked to pick St. Louis Blues GM Ron Caron's pocket. A series of trades involving the two always seemed to end up in Calgary's favor. In the summer of 1988, the Flames went after Blues stalwarts Doug Gilmour and Mark Hunter and insisted Bozek be returned to the Flames (along with defensive prospect Michael Dark). The Flames gave the Blues Mike Bullard, Craig Coxe and Tim Corkey in return. Fletcher really appreciated Bozek's speed, intelligence, and work ethic.

However because of the Flames depth, they were forced to either trade Bozek or lose him in the pre-season waiver draft. The Flames would not be able to protect the speedster and ended up trading him along with long time (though injury prone) blueline star Paul Reinhart to Vancouver for a draft pick.

In Vancouver, Bozek mainly became a 4th line center, often centering the Canucks "Club Chaos" line with Rich Sutter and Stan Smyl. The trio was relentless in their persuit of the puck, and though all were small players (Bozek at 5'11" 180lbs was the biggest) they played a fearless style and became instant favorites in Vancouver. Local broadcaster Tom Larscheid often referred to the three as Hack, Smack and Whack, in no particular order!

Bozek, who was playing in his home province, enjoyed his three seasons with the Canucks, but in 1991-92 he left when he signed a 1 year contract as a free agent with the expansion San Jose Sharks. Bozek had a tough season in San Jose, scoring only 8 times in 58 games. As it turned out, it was Bozek's last season in the NHL.

Bozek continued to play hockey in Italy until 1993 when he retired and returned to school. This time Bozek went to Harvard and became a real estate entrepreneur.

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Peter Ahola

Peter Ahola was determined to become a professional athlete. He was ranked as one of the top waterskiers in all of his native Finland. But Ahola knew that would not pay much, so he tried his luck with his other favorite sport - hockey.

The native of Espoo did not make it to the NHL the traditional way. He was one of the first European players to use the American college route to the National Hockey League. He played two seasons with Boston University (where his teammates included Tony Amonte, Joe Sacco and Keith Tkachuk) before the big defenseman signed on with the Los Angeles Kings as a afree agent in 1991.

Aside from 7 games in the minors, Ahola was a surprise rookie on the Kings team in 1991-92. Playing with Wayne Gretzky was undoubtedly a highlight of his career.

Ahola briefly had a chance to play with Mario Lemieux as he was traded to Pittsburgh early the following season. He would play just 22 games with the Pens. He went on to briefly play in San Jose and Calgary before returning home to Finland to play for several more seasons.

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Wednesday

Ian Laperriere



Despite his average size, Ian Laperriere provided true grit. He was an obnoxious player who always - ALWAYS - battled hard for the puck. He had no fear - despite several scary injuries - and would pay any price to help his team.

"Lappy" was a very reliable defensive player, a good penalty killer and faceoff man, and, perhaps most notably, a great momentum changer. Every coach would love to have him on their bench. They could send him out at any time knowing he would go out and cause all sorts of mayhem with his physical, inspiring play.

“For me, it’s leading by example on and off the ice,” he says. “I think that’s the main thing.”

The example set by Laperriere makes a simple statement. Play hard and never get down. Not on yourself, not on your teammates.

“I’m a positive guy by nature and I just try to stay positive if things don’t go well,” Laperriere says. “When things don’t go well, there’s a tendency to be negative, but you’ve got to remember that you’re a team leader and you have stay positive.” 

“If things aren’t going well, I’ll try to get a big hit out there or try to get involved with someone. Kelly Buchberger does that too, he’s great at it. It’s part of our job, we’re grinders and we think it’s time, we’ll do it. You have more jump the next shift. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose the fight, it’s still an inspiration.” 

Laperriere, who fought often but rarely won, learned about inspirational leaders from the master, briefly playing along Mark Messier in New York. 

“He’s not afraid of challenging guys,” Laperriere says. “He’s a great leader. I wasn’t there for too long, maybe three months, but I could tell the presence he had in the locker room. He was leading by example, big time. I was 23-years-old and when you’re around someone like Mark Messier, you learn from him. I feel lucky I played with someone like him.” 

Another great leader Lappy learned from was Guy Carbonneau. 

“Carbo wasn’t a captain when I played with him in St. Louis, but he’s Guy Carbonneau,” Laperriere says succinctly. “He’s a leader by nature. Carbo had always been one of my heroes when I was young and I learned a lot from him.” 

Laperriere grew up idolizing Carbonneau and studied him well. You could see some of Carbo's game mannerisms, particularly in the face-off dot where he excelled.
If staying positive was a Laperriere trademark, the hockey gods sure tested him. Severe concussions. Brain contusion. Broken orbital bone. Slap shot to the mouth (losing 7 teeth). He broke his nose so many times that he vowed that there was no point in getting it fixed until he was done playing hockey, because he would likely just do it again.

Ian Laperriere never took the easy way out. He was won of hockey's hardest working warriors. Despite all of the injuries, Lappy played in nearly 1100 NHL games (over 16 seasons with 5 teams, most notably Los Angeles and Colorado), scoring 115 goals and 336 total points.

Even as he retired due to serious injury, Ian Laperriere kept a positive spin on things.

"I have no regrets and I had fun playing for 16 years. I left everything on the ice and I was lucky to always play in beautiful cities. I played my last game at age 36 and to be honest, I did not think a player like me could stay within the circuit as long.”

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Thursday

All The Kings' Men: Kelly Hrudey

This is Kelly Hrudey, complete with his trademark blue headband.

 Kelly was traded to the Los Angeles Kings late in the 1988-89 season in exchange for Mark Fitzpatrick, Wayne McBean and Doug Crossman. Kelly was an instant hit in LA and had his best days with the Kings. He backstopped the team to the Stanley Cup Finals during the 1992-93 season and was selected Kings MVP during the 1991-92 and 1994-95 seasons.

Here's the full Kelly Hrudey biography.

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