When Grant Fuhr got together with journalist Bruce Dowbiggin to write his autobiography he did not back away from anything.
It would have been easy for the Hockey Hall of Fame goalie to sit and tell hockey stories for 200 pages, but Grant Fuhr: The story of a hockey legend discusses his entire life, warts and awards. Not much was off bounds, including his suspension for cocaine use and his childhood as an adopted child in a mixed-race family growing up in Spruce Grove.
It was important to Fuhr to put it all out there.
“It’s part of life,” he said. “Sometimes you make mistakes in life and there’s no sense in trying to hide that. You learn from it. That’s part of writing a book, you show you can make mistakes and show you can still be successful.”
The five-time Stanley Cup champion with the Edmonton Oilers spent this past weekend on a short book signing tour, ending up at Costco in Red Deer, where he met with the public for two hours before moving on to the Hometown Hockey celebrations at the Red Deer Arena — a place he played many times while growing up.
He has been retired from playing since 2000, when he last laced up his skates for the Calgary Flames, and has moved on through many ventures since including coaching and now working at the Dessert Dunes Golf Course in Palm Springs, which allows him to indulge in his life’s other passion — golf.
His book has been in the works for six or seven years but really got serious about three years ago when he was put in touch with Dowbiggin.
“We had fun, a lot of it was just looking back at my life and my career,” said Fuhr. “When you’re playing you never take the time to do it, so to sit down with Bruce and kind of go back through everything was actually quite enjoyable.”
He spends much of his time now working charity events often through golf tournaments set up by former teammates or other friends he’s made through almost 35 years in pro hockey. But two weeks ago he had the opportunity to get back together with an exclusive group, the 1984 Edmonton Oilers as they celebrated the 30th anniversary of their first Stanley Cup.
“It was awesome, it was fun to see all of the boys together at once, it gives every one a chance to catch up with each other, tell some old stories and have some fun,” said Fuhr. “It was something you wish you could do with every team.”
His career, though spectacular, had it’s share of trials. As a young athlete on his own for the first time he learned many life lessons about being a responsible adult. Many of those lessons were difficult ones to learn, especially when surrounded by a young group of athletes who were worshipped in the city they played in. There was always another party or another bar to go to.
Still, he managed to develop a reputation as the top money goalie in the game, playing his best when he was needed the most.
His lifestyle, however, eventually led to cocaine use, a habit he says he had actually kicked for two years before coming clean in an article in the Edmonton Journal.
The article eventually led to a season-long ban in 1990 by NHL president John Zeigler, that was shortened to 60 games after he proved he was living clean.
However, the suspension allowed for the continued emergence of a new starting goalie in Edmonton, Bill Ranford, who led the club to the 1990 Stanley Cup while Fuhr was sidelined with an injury.
It became clear, Fuhr was a luxury the cash-strapped Oilers could no longer afford and his odyssey through the NHL began with stops in Toronto, Buffalo, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Calgary.
Often his time in each city was cut short by another up-and-coming young goalie or injury.
His last real hurrah came with the Blues from 1995-99, with an entire league doubting what he still had left in the tank. There he learned about conditioning and posted the statistically best years of his career, despite a major knee injury suffered in his first playoff with the Blues when Toronto Maple Leafs agitator Nick Kypreos fell on him in the first round.
He managed three more solid years in the Gateway City before finally getting pushed aside once more by the young goaltending duo of Roman Turek and Jamie McLennan.
He finished his career up with 23 games in Calgary in the 1999-2000 season.
“St. Louis was kind of fun, because at the time everyone considered me old and washed up, so it gave me a little bit of motivation to prove everybody wrong,” said Fuhr, crediting his personal trainer Bob Kersee, the husband of track superstar Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
“So you can take that, turn it into a positive and push yourself a little bit and we happened to have a good hockey club there in St. Louis and Mike Keenan gave me the opportunity to play as much as I wanted, so it was fun to do.”
What Fuhr is best known for, however, is something he spent little time concentrating on, especially while he was playing.
He broke the NHL’s colour barrier for goalies and became the first black player of consequence since Willie O’Ree, who last played in the league in 1961 with the Boston Bruins. Along the way he inspired a host of other black players in Canada and the U.S., including Jarome Iginla and Fred Brathwaite. Following his career he became the first black player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.
In The story of a hockey legend he explains it this way:
“My parents taught me that race doesn’t define you as a person. My parents had always brought me up that everybody’s the same. When you play hockey, you’re not black or white.”
In his time in the NHL, Fuhr set records for the longest undefeated streak by a rookie goalie at 23 games in 1981-82, most assists by a goalie in a season at 14 in 1983-84, most wins in a single post-season with 16 in 1988, most games played by a goalie in single season 79 (1995-96), and most consecutive starts by a goalie in a season with 76 (1995-96). He played in 868 games, winning 403 of them — a number which would likely be much higher in today’s NHL with the shootout thanks to his 114 ties. He also was a six-time all-star, won two Canada Cups including 1987, and the Vezina Trophy in 1988 among many other accolades.
“I’m happy with everything I accomplished in hockey, when you’re playing you’re just trying to build on what you’ve accomplished,” he said. “When you’re finished you can look back and actually enjoy it. The fact I had success in different places, the game treated me well and hopefully I treated it well.”