- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
While the Oilers' blue-line corps is sound, the heart of any defense is in the nets, and Edmonton's goaltending is superior. That's because at last June's draft Sather broke NHL tradition by selecting a goalie, Grant Fuhr, in the first round. Fuhr stepped right in as the No. 1 goalkeeper. He has lost only three of 33 decisions, and from Oct. 14 until Jan. 16 he went 24 games without a defeat. Fuhr is a standup shot-blocker with keen reflexes and an uncommon knack for steering deflections toward his teammates. His play has been good enough to make him—along with Messier, Coffey and Gretzky—an All-Star. To top that all off, Fuhr is only 19—and he's black.
Adopted by a white couple as an infant, Fuhr grew up outside of Edmonton in Spruce Grove, Alberta. Though he's only the seventh black player in NHL history—and the first to tend goal—Fuhr isn't on any kind of racial crusade. He'd much rather be compared with Ken Dryden than with Jackie Robinson. "It's more interesting," he says. Still, one day might he not enjoy his historic significance? "Not really."
"Grant, do you get excited about anything?"
"There's not a whole lot to get excited about."
Fortunately for the Oilers, if not for newsmen, Fuhr is as impenetrable in goal as he is in the interview room. "I've never seen anyone like him," Sather says. "He never gets rattled or shakes his head or panics." Adds Lumley, "A puck may have just whizzed by his head, and all Grant will say is, 'Hmm, that was an interesting shot.' "
Last season, while playing junior hockey for Victoria, British Columbia, Fuhr gave up 2.78 goals a game, the least in the Western Hockey League. Normally, junior teams alternate two or more goalies. Thus, draft-age netminders tend to be woefully inexperienced. Not Fuhr. He was so exceptional that Victoria Coach Jack Shupe started him in 59 of 72 games. In his sales pitch to Sather, Barry Fraser, the Oilers' chief scout, called Fuhr the most promising junior goaltender since Bernie Parent. At the moment, he's the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Teammates may tease Fuhr about his lack of loquaciousness, but that's nothing compared with the treatment they give Gretzky, whom they constantly needle, particularly about the size of his nose. He may be The Great One or Mr. Waynederful elsewhere and to others, yet in the Edmonton locker room he's Wheeze—short for Weasel. But while the Oilers razz him and say he's merely their equal, they are all in awe of his talent. "What amazes me most is that he never stops amazing me," says Messier. "He'll do some totally incredible thing and you think, 'O.K., that's it; I'll never see the likes of that again.' Then, damn, he does something even more incredible."
To illustrate, Messier points to a five-game stretch last December. In the first four games, Gretzky sort of hit for the cycle—only in goals—scoring three, two, one and then four. Messier thought, "What can he possibly do for an encore?" Gretzky showed him in the very next game, against defensively strong Philadelphia. Gretzky got five goals. Most astonishingly, the five-goal spree raised his season total to 50. Only two other players in NHL history, Maurice Richard in 1944-45 and Mike Bossy last year, have scored 50 goals in 50 games, and both needed all 50 games. For Gretzky, goal No. 50 came in Game 39.