So, on this blog yesterday, I wrote about Chris Gratton and how he was traded by the Lightning in 2000 after an incident involving former coach Steve Ludzik and former player Dan Kesa. Ludzik and Kesa got into a confrontation on the team plane after a game in Ottawa, Kesa was booted off the plane and left on the runway. Gratton then tried to talk Ludzik into letting Kesa back on the plane and then after the plane took off (without Kesa), Gratton and Ludzik had a long talk with Gratton trying to explain why Ludzik was wrong to do what he did.
Then on Friday, I got an e-mail from none other than Steve Ludzik. I should mention here that Ludzik was and remains one of my all-time favorite people in hockey. He and I got along extremely well during his stint in Tampa Bay and I enjoyed covering him. He's a good guy. Anyway, his e-mail didn't come off as angry, but he did want to clarify a few things about that infamous night on the runway in Ottawa. So, in fairness, here are some of the points Ludzik wanted to stress.
1. Kesa was being sent to the minors the next day anyway. That's why Ludzik called Kesa to the front of the plane. Why did he chose to tell him then? According to Ludzik, he got the call from GM Rick Dudley on the way to the airport. He was going to wait until the team arrived at its next destination (Raleigh, N.C.), but because the plane needed to be de-iced and was going to be late taking off, the plane wasn't going to arrive until, perhaps, 3 in the morning. Kesa's flight to the minors the next day was at 7 a.m. and he thought Kesa would want to know well before 3 in the morning that he had a flight at 7.
2. Kesa, according to Ludzik, was angry and hurled a few insults and what Ludzik, who did some shouting of his own, took as a challenge. (A few days later, the two did apologize to one another for flying off the handle.)
3. The two never did throw any punches. (That is true.) But did exchange some, um, unpleasantries. Kesa was kicked off the plane. Ludzik doesn't dispute that.
4. Here's Ludzik's big point: He claims that night had nothing to do with Gratton being traded. In fact, Ludzik said there were other reasons Gratton was traded, but he did not go into specifics.
5. Finally, Ludzik said Kesa is one of his all-time favorite players. And I can back up that claim. In fact, Kesa would appear in a Lightning uniform after his near fight with Ludzik. The two were very close, almost like brothers and it's not unusual for brothers to yell and fight now and then. The two remain close to this day.
So there it is -- Ludzik's side of the story.