NHL Alumni return to Chatham on Friday

Mike Krushelnyski knew when the NHL came back, so would the fans.

The four-time Stanley Cup champion scoffs at those who believed the 119-day lockout might drive people away.

“They always said, ‘You’re going to lose fans, you’re going to lose fans,’” he said to The Daily News in a phone interview. “You’re not going to lose fans.

“If you’re a hockey fan, whether it’s two days or two months or two years, you’re going to watch because you’re a fan.”

Krushelnyski is scheduled to play Friday at Memorial Arena with the NHL Alumni in their annual fundraising game against the Chatham-Kent Police Association Knightsticks.

The Montreal native has experience with work stoppages. He went through two – a 10-day strike in 1992 and a 104-day lockout in 1994-95 – during his 14-year NHL career.

Calling this season’s lockout “ridiculous,” he’s just glad it’s finally over.

Canada’s Mike Krushelnyski, right, fights for the puck with Russia’s Pavel Bure during an exhibition game Sept. 5, 2012, in St. Petersburg celebrating the 1972 Summit Series and 1987 Canada Cup. Krushelnyski will play for the NHL Alumni on Friday at Memorial Arena. (ALEXANDER DEMIANCHUK/Reuters)

“It’s solved and hockey’s back up and running,” he said. “The excitement is everywhere.”

That should be especially true at hotels, bars and restaurants near NHL arenas, he said.

“I’m sure those people are ecstatic that hockey is back,” said Krushelnyski, 52.

For those who can’t get to an NHL game, the NHL Alumni are an alternative. They play about 30 games across Ontario each season.

Most games raise money for local charities and non-profit groups. Proceeds from the Chatham game go to the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Ontario.

“Lately, the games have been phenomenal,” Krushelnyski said. “I don’t know what’s going on. The other teams have not been getting the memo we’re supposed to win by 20 goals.”

When he plays in smaller Ontario cities with the NHL Alumni or in the Maritimes with the Bruins Alumni, their games tend to be a big deal.

Most fans aren’t like those in Toronto, who could run into a Maple Leaf at the supermarket.

“They’ll never see (Dion) Phaneuf or (Nazem) Kadri or (Phil) Kessel walking down the street,” Krushelnyski said. “When we go there, it’s almost like the closest thing they’ll get to the NHL.”

Krushelnyski had career totals of 241 goals and 328 assists in 897 regular-season games with Boston, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Toronto and Detroit.

He won three Stanley Cups with the Oilers in 1985, ’87 and ’88 and another with the Red Wings in 1997 as an assistant coach.

He played in the 1985 all-star game and was part of the blockbuster trade that sent Wayne Gretzky to the Kings.

Now living in Albany, N.Y., he stays busy with his alumni teams.

“I must have been on the ice 60, 65 times last year. I’m getting a little older, a little slower – a lot slower,” he said, laughing. “I’ve got to get smarter.”

Krushelnyski isn’t just a player. He’s a huge hockey fan, too.

He got a treat last September by playing two games in Russia to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series and the 25th anniversary of the 1987 Canada Cup.

Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Brett Hull were among the North American stars facing off against Pavel Bure, Alexander Mogilny, Alexei Yashin and Igor Larionov.

“Some of those kids can skate,” Krushelnyski said about the Russians. “They didn’t get the memo, either.”

They played in St. Petersburg and in Yaroslavl, the site of the Lokomotiv plane crash that resulted in 44 deaths.

The trip included players from the Summit Series, including Phil Esposito, Pat Stapleton, Brad Park, Rod Gilbert and Bill White. The ’72 stars didn’t play, but they kept everyone entertained.

“I was in heaven hanging around with those guys the whole time we were over there listening to their stories,” Krushelnyski said.

The NHL Alumni lineup for Friday’s 7 p.m. game includes Chatham’s Ken Houston, Marty McSorley, Dennis Maruk, Bill Derlago, Brent Gretzky, Pat Ribble, Kraig Nienhuis, Todd Harvey, Gilbert Dionne, Dan Daoust, Lou Franceschetti and goalie Mark Laforest.