S imply put, Grant Fuhr is hockey royalty.
The Hall of Fame netminder, best known for backstopping the high-flying Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 80’s, Grant always found a way to make the key saves when his team needed it the most, and the championships prove it. Making Coco: The Grant Fuhr Story captures the life and times of the kid from Spruce Grove, Alberta who first strapped on the pads because “they looked cool” and then went on to become one of the games greatest goalies of all-time.
A successful career in the NHL is dependant on many things; good coaching, work ethic, the right teammates and most importantly, a willingness to do whatever it takes to win. Hall of Fame Goaltender, Grant Fuhr, who was named one of the ‘100 Greatest NHL Players’ in history, had one objective during his storied 19 year career - win.
“I enjoyed putting the stuff on everyday,” says Grant. “I enjoyed winning more than anything.”
In 1979, at the age of seventeen, Fuhr joined the Victoria Cougars of the WHL. After two stellar seasons in Victoria, which included the league championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup in 1981, Fuhr was set to realize his lifelong dream of being drafted into the NHL. Rumoured to be chosen in the first round, the junior netminder was watched by a bevy of scouts and coaches each and every game. During the Memorial Cup, then coach of the Edmonton Oilers, Glen Sather, attended a game to watch the prospect.
“He wasn’t very good.” remarked Grants future coach. “He let in 8 goals and I told our Scout that I wasn’t going to draft him.” After a bit of arguing back and forth, and a lot of convincing, the Edmonton Oilers drafted him eighth overall. When training camp opened, it wasn’t long before his teammates knew there was something about their new goalie.
“His first day in practice, we knew that this kid was different,” said Wayne Gretzky. “we could see that he was special.”
After a few years of up and down play, during which he won a record 23 straight games in his rookie year plus a 10 game demotion to the farm team in New Brunswick after calling Oilers fans jerks, Grant Fuhr became the starting goalie for the high-flying Oilers. Their free-wheeling playing style made them a juggernaut on offence but left their goalies exposed.
“He was the perfect goalie and temperament for us,” remarks former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer, Mark Messier. “Grant wasn’t worried about statistics, didn’t care about goals against, didn’t care about anything other than winning.”
Making Coco: The Grant Fuhr Story goes behind the mask of the Edmonton Oilers’ five-time Stanley Cup winning netminder. Through the eyes of teammates, rivals, and #31 himself the film explores the championship success, the controversy, and the redemption that made Grant “Coco” Fuhr a legend on, and off the ice.
Grant loved the philosophy. “I knew I was going to get a three or four goal cushion to work with on most nights,” he explains. “I could make a mistake here or there and could get away with it. My job was to just keep it one or less.”
The Spruce Grove native not only backstopped the Oilers to four Stanley Cup Championships in five years but was widely recognized as being the best net minder in the business for some time, despite having just one Vezina Trophy to his credit. His presence in goal during multiple international events spoke volumes, as did his innate ability to raise his level of play whenever his team needed it most…especially come playoff time.
“The timing of his saves was absolutely spectacular. No matter how he played in the first two periods, he had the ability to make the big save when it counted the most.”
In Making Coco, the documentary delves into the details of the goaltender’s drug use and subsequent suspension by the National Hockey League. He admitted to using in the past, but that he’d sought help and moved on. Following an investigation by the NHL, and then president John Ziegler, Fuhr was initially suspended for the entire 1990-91 season, but reinstated after missing 59 games. Fuhr felt the league, which didn’t have a drug policy at the time, was out to make an example of him.
“They weren’t sure what to do,” he says in the documentary. “I think they determined, ‘OK, well we’re here to punish, we’re not here to help anybody’. So they decided before I ever got to Toronto [for the hearing].”
After 10 seasons with the Oilers and five Stanley Cups, Grant was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs just prior to the start of the 1991 season. After a brief stint in Toronto he moved on to Buffalo and Los Angeles before landing in St. Louis in 1995. Thought to be past his prime, Fuhr had a resurgence that year and turned the Blues into a contender after playing an NHL record 79 of 82 regular season games.
“He was on a mission,” remarks former Blues teammate Al MacInnis. “He had one of the most amazing years of any goalie I had ever seen. If he didn’t get hurt against Toronto in the first round, we would have won the Stanley Cup that year.”
Injuries took its toll on the netminder and after brief stint in Calgary, he called it a career in 2000.
Grant Fuhr holds or shares five goaltending records, including most consecutive appearances by a goaltender in a single season with 76 in 1996, and most wins in a single postseason by a goaltender with 16 in 1988. In 2003 he was the first black player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and his number 31 was retired by the Oilers the same year.
Retired and enjoying life as the Director of Desert Dunes Golf in Desert Hot Springs, California, Grant has had plenty of time to reflect on his career and the friendships he made.
“Hockey is the greatest sport on earth and the biggest thing I’ve taken from it is that there are so many good people in the game.”
BY JASON STACEY
Jason Stacey is the Managing Editor for Luxury Listed and forever on the lookout for a story worth reading.