Exactly how fat was he? As Grant Fuhr has carried the St. Louis Blues on his back and emerged as one of the best stories of the NHL season, this important question has not been satisfactorily answered. The Blues say he waddled into camp 30 pounds overweight, looking like Chris Farley with a catching glove. That's a gross exaggeration, says Fuhr, who claims to have come in 10 pounds—15 max—over his playing weight of 190.
The world may never know. If there is such a thing as fortuitous flab, however, that's what was hanging over Fuhr's belt last September. Had Fuhr not arrived looking as if he'd spent the summer at an all-you-can-eat backyard barbecue, St. Louis coach, general manager and Supreme Dictator for Life Mike Keenan would not have felt compelled to suspend him for a week. Had the 33-year-old Fuhr been spared that public humiliation—during which Keenan fretted openly that the goalie's career might be over—Fuhr might not have retained the services of fitness guru Bob Kersee, who put him on a conditioning program and overhauled his diet, enabling him to slim down to his current 188 pounds. Were it not for his brief exile, Fuhr might not have, as Blues enforcer Tony Twist elegantly puts it, "got a spark under his ass."
Thusly stimulated, Fuhr returned to work, and he has not had a day off since. After playing in just 49 games over the last two seasons with the Buffalo Sabres and the Los Angeles Kings, he had at week's end started all 55 of the Blues' games in '95-96.
While his teammates have struggled at both ends of the ice, Fuhr has played consistently—and consistently well. "Almost every night he's been one of our top players," says Blues assistant coach Bob Berry. Fuhr's spectacular plays have become routine. "We used to sit on the bench and say, 'Damn, did you see that save?' " says St. Louis defenseman Al MacInnis. "But after 50-odd games, we're tired of saying it."
Fuhr insists that he is not tired. He is the only NHL goalie to have started every game this season, and at week's end he had played 3,143 minutes, faced 1,582 shots and made 1,432 saves—that last figure not including the almost nightly saving of his teammates' butts.
Strong goaltending has been vital to the Blues, for whom goals are as rare as a belly laugh during a Bob Dole stump speech. (At 2.71 goals per game through Sunday, St. Louis had the fourth-lamest offense in the league.) In fact, Fuhr is the only reason the Blues, who were 22-23-10 after their 2-2 tie against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, are anywhere near the .500 mark.
Where would they be without him? Says Blues right wing Brett Hull, "We'd have won five games, maybe seven, honest to god."
No NHL goalie has played every regular-season game since Eddie Johnston, now coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, played every minute of the 70 games for the Boston Bruins in 1963-64. With all due respect to Johnston's feat—accomplished sans mask and at a cost of four broken noses—the task would be far more daunting in this era, with a longer season and far more demanding travel requirements.
Ideally Fuhr would be alternating with a backup goalie in order to ensure his freshness for the postseason. Keenan has continued to play him for three reasons: 1) Fuhr thrives on work, and his play suffers when he sits and watches; 2) his backup is 29-year-old Bruce Racine, a longtime minor leaguer whose primary role is to give the Blues two goalies at which to shoot in practice; and 3) with only 54 points in 55 games, the Blues find themselves dangerously close to falling out of the running for a Western Conference playoff spot. Iron Mike admits that he can't afford to give his iron man a game off. As Fuhr says, "We need to win every night now."
Is Fuhr ready to play 82? "If Mike decides I can play all of 'em, and this old body lets me, then I'll play all of 'em," he says. "I feel pretty good right now, no aches, no pains. I haven't been this light since my rookie year in Edmonton."