Ron Hextall is the best goalie I've ever faced...but I've never played against Grant Fuhr.
The Goalie leads his team onto the ice at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. He is dwarfed by the rest of the Edmonton Oilers, the defending Stanley Cup champions. Towering behind the goalie is his backup, Daryl Reaugh, a 6'4", 200-pound rookie who is out of the same physical mold as the goalie's boyhood hero, Ken Dryden. Then comes Wayne Gretzky, gliding as if on air. There is no adjective to describe Gretzky. The National Hockey League is his domain. Behind Gretzky is Mark Messier, one of the fastest skaters in the NHL. And then Glenn Anderson. And Jari Kurri. And the remaining members of what is probably the premier offensive hockey team in history.
The goalie is at his station, head down and, in his mask, faceless. He shaves the ice in front of the net. This is a ritual, his razor-sharp blades moving back and forth, ridding the ice of small bumps and shallow crevices. His head stays down; he is preoccupied with his housekeeping. Gretzky glides by, spin-stops and speaks into the goalie's ear. The Oilers dutifully follow the Great One, whacking the goalie's pads with their sticks for luck.
Now he is up—rigid, erect, immobile, like a totem pole. The puck is dropped. The goalie watches intently. So this is where the puck stops, with the man behind the mask, the best goalie in the NHL. The best on earth. So this is Grant Fuhr.
"Grant reads the game as well as any goalie that has ever played," Ron Low, coach of the Nova Scotia Oilers, Edmonton's farm team, and formerly Fuhr's roommate on Oilers road trips, has said. "His goals-against average will never be the best. He'll give up the occasional soft goal. But in the big moment, for the big save, he's 95 percent unbeatable. Under pressure, there is none finer. He proved in the Canada Cup that he is the finest goaltender in the world."
The puck is suddenly on the stick of Barry Pederson, a center for the Vancouver Canucks. Pederson is at the end of a breakaway, streaking toward the goal. Fuhr glides out to meet him, giving Pederson less of the net, more on the glove side. Fuhr has not thought about doing this. There was no time for a plan. He moves on instinct and reflex. Six feet away, Pederson slaps a shot that is traveling more than 90 mph when it finds the pocket in the blur that is Fuhr's glove. The crowd in the Coliseum groans in appreciation of the save.
"Bar none, Grant Fuhr is the best goalie in the league," Pederson will say later. "He has the fastest reflexes. Sometimes his concentration might drift during inconsequential games. But in the big-money games Fuhr is the best. He's the Cup goalie. It's sure not by luck."
Gretzky goes further: "You have to understand that I mean no harm to the men who played in the '40s and '50s, but they played without masks. There is no way you could play without a mask today, against us, in this faster league. I've never seen reflexes like Grant's. I think he's the best goaltender in the history of the NHL. In two or three years, Ron Hextall may change that. But for now...."
At the beginning of the third period, Edmonton leads 4-1. For all the Oilers' talent, they do not have a defenseman to take the place of five-time All-Star Paul Coffey, who is holding out in a bitter salary dispute and will later be traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Canucks shoot the puck by Fuhr three times. The game goes to overtime at 4-4. However, 2:51 into the extra period, Edmonton defenseman Charlie Huddy fires a slap shot from just inside the blue line. Vancouver's Kirk McLean, a fine young goal-tender, is screened. He lowers himself to see, and the puck is over his left shoulder. He waves at it. The Oilers win 5-4.
Afterward, in the visitors' locker room, Fuhr is wearing only a towel, some old bruises and a disarming, crooked smile. "Looking for me?" he says to a reporter.
"Yes, I am," replies the reporter. "From what I hear, you're the best goaltender in the NHL."
"Ha-ha!" Fuhr's laughter is vibrant. "Not in the third period tonight, eh?"
O Canada, our home and native land....
"Americans don't know what hockey means to Canadians," says Sean Rossiter, a columnist with Vancouver magazine and an old-timers' league goalie himself. "The only thing like it in the world is the Brazilians and soccer. Geographically, climatically...if you have ice, you might as well skate on it. It's a way up for prairie kids, the dream of all kids in Canada."
Even to an American, though, hockey is not such a mystery. It is a game of skill and ritual, played in an unforgiving environment. Everything in hockey is either fast or hard, and in some cases both. The sticks are hard. The puck is hard. The ice is hard. The boards are hard.
The most impressive aspect of hockey, however, is the speed of transition. The Oilers once scored two goals in eight seconds—and that's not even the league record. In their two games against the Rangers this season, the Oilers victimized New York goaltenders 14 times. It is a low-scoring game that can become high-scoring in a hurry. No wonder the most vulnerable, most burdened player on a hockey team is the goalie.
"The fans don't want to know that the defenseman was out of position," says Rossiter. "When the red light goes on, they know who to blame. Goalies have to put up with so much more. You must have an unbelievable confidence because there is a great deal of stress."
"It is a stressful position," says Warren Strelow, goaltender coach of the Washington Capitals, who coached Jim Craig on the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. "There's a real fear in that position. The puck hurts. The red light goes on, people don't always know why. Goalies have to deal with that real fear of failure. That stress doesn't go away."
The finest goalies ever to play dealt with the stress in their own ways. Glenn Hall, who was among the NHL's best for 18 years, most of them with the Chicago Blackhawks, would vomit before games and between periods. Vladislav Tretiak of the Soviet Union performed bizarre juggling exercises that improved his dexterity while taking his mind off the hard puck. It is said that goalie Bill Smith of the four-time Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders relieves his stress with his stick, taking a whack at opposing players who venture too near his crease. But Fuhr does none of these things. "If you start worrying about things you can't control, you get old fast," he says. "I don't get mad. I don't worry. There's no sense to it."
In his early NHL years Fuhr was too young to know the meaning of stress. "Grant never played in the minors," says Low, who was with the Oilers and in his 10th season of being a professional goaltender when Fuhr came up. "Oh, he spent a few days at Moncton [in the American Hockey League] once, but we all knew he was great from the first day of camp. A natural. Yet he had no style. Or, rather, his style was all styles. He would come out 15 feet to challenge the shot on one offensive rush. The next time he would be back in his crease. He could read the game so well. He anticipated the game. Grant was just...different. Different from anyone I'd ever seen."
Hockey has always had angle goalies and reflex goalies. Playing the angles, once the preferred approach, requires the goaltender to come out of the crease to reduce the shooter's target area. The Soviets, who have had a great influence on the NHL, exposed the limitations of angle goaltending with relentless, precision passing. Against such an attack, the goalie's only option is to stay in the net and rely on his reflexes.
"The great goalies combine angle and reflex techniques," says Low. "Grant was primarily a reflex goalie when he first came up, but he has developed into a goaltender who comes out of the crease when he needs to."
The Oilers have taken the assault on goaltenders to another level. The Soviets move the puck well in the offensive zone, but they don't shoot on the fly—that is, one player doesn't carry the puck into the zone and then blast away. Edmonton, on the other hand, excels at shooting on the fly as well as at setting up shots with Soviet-style passing in the zone. "The Oilers have the best of both worlds," says Low.
Fuhr honed his skills playing against his high-scoring teammates in practice. With him in goal, Edmonton has won three of the last four Stanley Cups. In the years they have won the Cup, Fuhr has allowed an average of 2.85 goals per game in the playoffs—superb in a league in which even outstanding goaltenders give up an average of three goals per game. After six seasons in the league, Fuhr's goals-against average was 3.79.
During the Canada Cup, in which Canada defeated the Soviets two games to one last September, Fuhr was breathtakingly effective. Two other stellar goalies were on Team Canada's bench, Kelly Hrudey of the Islanders and Philadelphia's Hextall, but their services were not required. "Grant was utterly magnificent," says Low.
Fuhr, then, is the Oilers' bulwark as they try to skate their way to a fourth Stanley Cup without three defensemen from the 1986-87 team. This would inflict added stress on any goaltender. "I don't know if he's holding anything inside," says Low. "But I've never seen a display of nerves from Grant Fuhr. Never."
And indeed, Fuhr seems far from nervous as he straddles the Oiler bench in the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton. In the only recent season in which the Oilers did not win the Stanley Cup, 1985-86, they were eliminated in seven games by their Smythe Division and provincial rivals, the Calgary Flames. The winning goal in that series was scored when a casual third-period pass by teammate Steve Smith from behind the Oiler goal glanced off Fuhr's leg and into the net. All Edmonton was stunned. The red light came on to stay. There had to be a reason for this defeat, people assumed, besides the law of averages and the Calgary Flames.
A week later, SI ran a story that described a number of off-ice troubles, including reports of drug use, plaguing the Oilers. The piece mentioned the problems Fuhr had handling his finances. He made only $70,000 Canadian (a paltry $50,000 U.S. at that time) a year and, in a highly unconventional arrangement, was paying Edmonton coach and general manager Glen (Slats) Sather $100 a month to do his accounting. In September 1985, a local collection agency settled a $468.69 debt that Fuhr owed a video shop for unreturned tapes. In the story Sather was quoted as saying that "the problem Grant's got come from a kid that is dumb."
"Our glorious leader," says Fuhr, getting as close to sarcasm as he will ever come. "It wasn't so much being a dumb kid as being a kid who did some dumb things."
What about his seemingly extravagant ways?
"When my clothes were dirty, I just threw them in the closet and went out and bought something else," Fuhr says.
And the unreturned videotapes?
"Some of them ended up in the closet under the dirty clothes," he says.
And wild partying by the Oilers?
"I didn't worry about any of those stories. I had other things on my mind. No, the [SI] story wasn't exactly kind, and it was a little behind the times. It came out as if all those things had happened the day before we lost to Calgary. I was never that bad. I was living life to have some fun. I wasn't worrying about the responsibilities that go along with life. I was just young."
Fuhr has also been accused of being uncommunicative. "I wish they wouldn't say that," he protests. "I like to talk. It's not exactly foreign to my nature, as you can see." In fact, Fuhr is quite vocal during games, yelling sharp instructions to his defensemen and wings. "But usually I'm asked things that only require one-syllable answers. I'm not one just to volunteer information, but if you ask something, I'll give you the honest answer."
Fuhr did not win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP in last year's playoffs, even though Edmonton won the final series four games to three over the Flyers, and Fuhr gave up an average of only 1.5 goals in the four Oiler wins and 2.57 overall. Yet Hextall, the leading stickhandling (and, as he demonstrated against Edmonton, stick-swinging), goalie in hockey and the 1986-87 Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL's top netminder—but still the losing goalie to Fuhr for the Cup—was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy. Did this bother Fuhr?
"Not in any way. It was expected," he says. "Philadelphia is a big media town, you see. We don't have a big media population here. And we had more talent. So Hex won. Hex swinging the stick? That was just Hex. He's a good guy. He's just a little high-strung."
What about the money? After making $120,000 Canadian in 1986-87 as a two-time Stanley Cup goalie and a five-time All-Star, Fuhr is now earning $180,000 Canadian. By comparison, Coffey held out for more than $500,000 Canadian until he was traded to the Penguins, with whom he signed for almost that amount. Fuhr's backup, Andy Moog, is currently holding out and playing with the Canadian Olympic team. It is a reflection of Fuhr's lack of concern with financial matters that Moog—to be sure, a fine young goalie in his own right—had been paid a higher salary than Fuhr for the last several years.
"But I was having the fun of playing," says Fuhr. "And I couldn't spend the money they were paying me. I had money. I spent money. No big deal...."
So if Fuhr is underpaid, it is surely his own fault. In fact, what does "underpaid" mean? Is it just what the dictionary and Eric Dickerson say it is? Or is there more to it than that? Fuhr already has what he always wanted first and most in life, so what could money buy him? Better reflexes?
But exactly what does underpaid mean?
"It means I'm it, I guess," Fuhr says, smiling.
Does Werner Baum, the Oilers' controller, still do Fuhr's personal accounting?
"No," says Fuhr. "I recently decided to use an accountant in my agent's office. I thought it would be better to have someone independent of the team."
Is Fuhr still content with the financial arrangement he has with the Oilers?
"No," he says, "we're renegotiating my contract right now. It has one year left after this season. My agent, Rich Winter, and I are asking for a seven-year deal and a salary that reflects my market value. Slats is hard but fair."
Did Fuhr go in and talk to Sather after the "dumb kid" quote?
"No," Fuhr says. "I just went away for a while. People like to have somebody to blame. It's the nature of people. At the time, I didn't care what was said. My first couple of years I lived life to the fullest—I had fun. I wouldn't give those days up for anything. They were some of the best I had. And you know why? I learned. You live and learn. If I had it to do all over again, I'd do it the same way. I've closed a few bars in my day. I'll probably close a few more, too."
Fuhr makes it seem as though he has been around the block. During his years in the NHL, the game has changed, and he has helped change it. He has helped win three Stanley Cups. He beat the Soviets. He has gained the ultimate accolades from hockey's finest players. He never knew his natural mother. He buried his adoptive father. He is married and has two children. He has a metal pin in his right shoulder, which has been dislocated at least six times. He has a cat named Sly that does not obey him, and he has the key to the city of Orange, N.J. He has made more than 10,000 saves and could well start 75 games (counting playoffs) for the Oilers this season. Still, he is not stressed out. He is not prone to retch nor does he juggle. According to the NHL books, he has never been in a fight.
The child was born with the mètis mark, and he was given no name. The mètis mark was a quarter-size, bluish-gray splotch at the base of the baby's spine, which some believe signifies Indian heritage. The social worker bundled up the month-old infant and took him to a quiet house in Edmonton. Betty Fuhr's heart fluttered as she went down the walk to meet them. "It was October 11, 1962," Betty says warmly. She and her husband, Robert, were childless, and they had waited so long.
"What have you brought us?" Betty asked. "A son or a daughter?"
The social worker wasted no time. "A son. He has the mètis mark," she said. "You can see it when you bathe him."
Betty felt the lump rise in her throat. "When we were asked whether we would accept a baby of mixed races, I had said no," Betty says now. "I said that because I didn't know if I had what it took to raise such a child to be secure in his identity—proud.
"Soon my fears didn't matter," she says. "The love was there. It came to me. And people accepted Grant."
Betty and Robert chose the name Grant Scott Fuhr, and they imparted their values to him. "We were always honest with Grant," Betty says. "We asked him to be fair in his judgments, to not judge a person—or himself—on social or economic standing, but on their honesty and integrity."
Fuhr was raised in a world of trust and quiet truth, a Canadian household, which also included Debbie, whom Robert and Betty adopted when Grant was three. Debbie, too, had the mètis mark. Grant's trust in his parents was complete, implicit. Robert was an insurance salesman and an optimist. Being Canadian, he was also obsessed with hockey.
Grant was allowed to turn the basement of the Fuhr's home into a makeshift rink, where he played with a soft puck and a stick. He got his first pair of skates at age four. In Saskatoon, where the family lived for 10½ months, his father made a backyard rink during the first winter snap, and Grant skated endlessly. One day, when Grant was seven, he got up and announced to the family, "I am going to be a goaltender in the NHL."
"He said that more than once, too," says Betty. "Grant had a natural ability from a tender age. He was very well coordinated. He went to grade one, and the teachers were astounded at his coordination. Playing NHL hockey was a dream Grant had very early on. In concentrating on it so much, he never really liked school."
By the time he was a teenager. Grant excelled in every sport offered at Composite High in Spruce Grove, a a town of 6,900 people, 18 miles from Edmonton. It was also about this time that his hair began to curl. "I suppose people began to be sure that Grant was black at that time," says Betty. Although Fuhr doesn't know for sure whether he has any black ancestors, he considers himself black.
Betty's fears of rearing children of mixed blood had long since been assuaged. "The most gratifying thing was always how Grant was so readily accepted," she says. "We ran into stupidity only a few times. In his developing years, he was tense at times. He learned to handle pressure. He just doesn't let things affect him."
Robert saw to that. "He told me not to worry," says Grant. "He told me to have fun, enjoy life. He told me that as soon as hockey became a job, to leave it alone." Nonetheless, as Grant's talents became evident, Robert tried to give his son every opportunity to realize his ambition.
"Robert was a little concerned," says Betty. "He knew the dedication, the sacrifice it took to play in the NHL as a goalie, and Grant was always such a happy-go-lucky child. He and his dad were very close. They both were very sports-minded."
In 1979, at age 16, Fuhr was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a lefty catcher. He never pursued the offer because, he says now, "hockey was in." That year he left school to play with the Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League. He was 5'9", with strong legs, good eyes, and hands that defied description. He was...different. By the time he was 18, he was on Edmonton's roster as the No. 1 entry-draft choice.
In Fuhr's rookie season, when he was just 18, the Oilers were upset by the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs, three games to two. The following year, Fuhr and Edmonton lost the Stanley Cup finals to Smith and the Islanders in four straight games. But in 1984, the Oilers won the Cup, with Fuhr getting 10 playoff wins, Moog five. When they repeated in 1985, Fuhr had 15 playoff victories, equaling the NHL record set by Smith in 1980.
It was after this singular performance that Fuhr believes he met his natural father in a bar. He was enjoying himself when a man walked up and told him he was one hell of a goaltender. Fuhr looked at the man's face. "I could tell," he says. Fuhr asked the man if once, long ago, he had had a son who was given up for adoption. The answer was yes. The man explained that he had been 16 when Grant was born. The natural mother had been 13. On the birth certificate, the mother's ancestry is listed as German. The father's is listed as unknown.
"Was I stunned? No. I can't say that I was," says Fuhr. "I knew it was him, somehow. And, it all had worked out for the best, for all of us. At those ages how were they going to raise a child? There was no way. No way.
"People have to live their lives themselves," Fuhr goes on. He believes that was true of his natural parents and just as true of Robert and Betty, who broke up about the time that Grant left school to play hockey. And he believes it is true for him, so he has fun with his life.
Tony Esposito of the Blackhawks had always been Fuhr's favorite netminder. Why?
"Because he was fun," says Fuhr. But fun only goes so far.
In the latter half of the 1985-86 season, Robert was hospitalized with painful thromboses in his legs. While he was there doctors discovered he had cancer. After Grant played Game 1 of a first-round playoff series against the Canucks, he went to the hospital and stayed with his father until four o'clock the next morning. Six hours later Robert was dead from cancer. Grant missed Game 2 that night, but he played the third game, which completed an Edmonton sweep.
When Edmonton won the Cup again last spring, Fuhr's goals-against average during a grueling playoff, in which he played 19 of 21 games, was 2.46. Now, as the Oilers look to go for the Cup again with a depleted corps of defensemen, they are more dependent than ever on their goalie, the man they call Cocoa. No one means any harm by this, Fuhr says. It's just a name. "Your teammates don't care," says Fuhr. "We're here to get the job done."
When Tommy Kane was growing up in central Montreal, the other kids on his hockey team called him Chocolate Bar. This was not just an innocuous nickname. The other kids meant something by it. Kane is black.
Today, Kane is an honorable-mention All-America wide receiver for Syracuse. At 23, he excels in his second-choice sport. He was better on skates. He began playing organized football at 16. He started playing hockey at seven.
"I am Canadian," Kane says proudly. "I was born in Montreal. My parents were born in Nova Scotia. They are Canadian. Hockey was like football or basketball or baseball is to Americans. All kids want to play. Some of my friends were good. I just had the package, I guess."
Kane's package is 5'11½", 178 pounds. He runs the 40 in 4.37. His vertical jump is 38 inches, and he can dunk a basketball with two hands backward from a standstill. This season he had 44 catches and set Syracuse receiving records for yardage (968) and TDs (14). He also led the nation in touchdown receptions and was second in the country for average yards per catch, with 22. A junior, Kane will undoubtedly be a high NFL draft choice next year.
There is a grace, a sense to his patterns. Wide receivers are a dime a dozen, but Kane is...different. In Syracuse's startling 48-21 win over Penn State, he made a spectacular catch with his body stretched nearly parallel to the ground. Some observers ranked the grab with the best they had ever seen, in college or the pros.
Even when he was a boy in the depressed central Montreal area known as Little Burgundy, he was different. It was a rough area where a lot of kids got in trouble, but Kane was a leader, due in no small part to the fact that he skated so well. When Kane was 14, he was invited to play on a line for the Ville Emard Hurricanes, in the AA league, with a 13-year-old named Mario Lemieux, who was also...different.
That year Kane wanted to attend Jean Beliveau's hockey camp, but he couldn't afford it. His mother was raising him alone. "I played until I was 16," says Kane. "I played in a French league. I was one of the few blacks. In hockey, the French didn't like the English to begin with, and then me...they called me Chocolate Bar and worse than that. It could have been jealousy, I suppose, but I felt they didn't want me in their league."
At Syracuse, Kane's teammates call him Sugar. He is one of 75 Canadian athletes who have been steered to U.S. universities in the last five years by Bob White, director of the Westend Sports Association of Little Burgundy. "He explained to me that he knew I could play hockey, but if I wanted a way out I would try football and go on to college," says Kane. One hundred and twenty-five years earlier, Harriet Tubman guided runaway slaves north to Canada on the Underground Railroad. Now White sends black Canadian athletes south to set them free.
"Tommy Kane shouldn't be playing football," says White. "He should be starring in the NHL. He was as good as Lemieux. But he wound up in America, where he could be appreciated. Here the system has no heart. Tommy was not a football or basketball or hockey player. He was a young man who was a superb athlete. He just couldn't handle the verbal abuse in hockey. He was driven out of it."
And what does all this have to do with Grant Fuhr? Plenty, according to White. "If Fuhr had been born in Quebec, he might not have made it to the NHL," White says. "You can be recruited with a mask on, like Grant Fuhr. He was lucky he was out west, outside of Quebec. And it's good he wears the mask."
Fuhr, of course, finds nothing in all this to get perturbed about, nothing to cause him stress. "You're an individual," he says. "And you should be accepted as such. Some people don't like to do that, so they might have a problem. Well, it doesn't bother me. If it doesn't bother me, then it shouldn't bother anybody else. See, I know that I'm not dumb, or anything else anybody says I am. And as long as I know that, I have no problem."
No problem, that is, besides the absence this season of valuable defense-men like Coffey and Reijo Ruotsalainen, who is playing in Sweden, and Randy Gregg, who quit the Oilers and joined the Canadian Olympic team, to clear the puck from the slot. The Oilers have never been known as a defensive team. Fuhr set an NHL record for assists by a goaltender with 14 in 1983-84 largely because the Oilers' offensive proficiency can turn a pass off the boards into a goal in a hurry. Of course, the maestro of this attack is Gretzky.
Gretzky is...quite different. Here he is at the Northlands Coliseum against Vancouver on a solo breakaway. The goaltender has no chance. The puck is on a string to Gretzky's stick. Eye, hand, skate, stick and puck, in concert. He is a magician. Goal! He streaks low by the far side of the net, circling back in triumph, glove high. This is the Gretzky who on the same night leaves an impossible backhand pass in an unlikely place, a pass and a place only he saw beforehand. The intended recipient of the pass, an Oiler rookie, skates over the puck, closes his eyes, curses. Would Tommy Kane have been there?
Fuhr is in the kitchen of his two-story house in north Edmonton, surrounded on the power play by seven females and Sly the cat. There are Janine and Rochelle. his step-daughter and daughter, respectively, and there is Corinne, his wife, and there are also Fuhr's mother-in-law, Elizabeth Kujat, and Corinne's two younger sisters. Shelly and Crystal. And Mom is on the phone.
"He's pretty normal around here," says Corinne. The temptation would be to call her bouncy and sassy, if shampoo commercials hadn't used those words ad nauseam. "A long time ago, some friends of ours thought we would be perfect for each other," she says. "And it turned out they were right."
Corinne was working in an Edmonton bar when she and Fuhr were introduced five years ago. "We dated here and there," says Fuhr. They were married three years ago. Janine is six, Rochelle 21 months. Corinne is from the Northwest Territories. Once a year they pile into the van and head due north 550 miles to Hay River, Corinne's hometown, where one of her sisters and her mother live. Home near the top of the world.
"This marriage has brought a lot of maturity to Grant," his mother will say later.
"It's just that I have responsibilities now," says Fuhr.
"We're taking the van," says Corinne, as she leads the women and children out to hit the road. They are going to watch yet another of Corinne's sisters in a skating competition.
The road trip the Oilers are about to embark on will be more taxing, a brutal four-game swing from which they will return a week later with a mere two points—a win over the hapless Rangers—to show for their trouble. "We have young guys, new players. It will take us time to jell," Fuhr is saying in his kitchen, as if anticipating the problems he will face someday. "No, Sly," he says to the cat. "Don't crawl up there. You know you don't want coffee. Well, I guess you do.
"Every year, there's a turnover—three or four guys every year, it seems like," Fuhr continues, giving up on the cat. "That's life in the NHL."
And what will Fuhr will do when he's the one who is turned over?
"I've been thinking about it," he says. "Might open a sports-equipment store. I'd love to get into coaching. I'd be good at that. And then there's golf."
Five years before he died, Robert took Grant golfing for the first time. "It's humbling to think you're a pretty good athlete and then go out and have your father beat your socks off," says Fuhr. Robert was an avid golfer. Grant has a 4 handicap—remarkable considering that he lives in Edmonton year-round. "Maybe I'll try golf," says Fuhr. "I seem to have the knack."
But the PGA Tour will have to wait. For now, says Fuhr, "the general idea is for us to win the Cup five times."
Five times? As in dynasty?
"That's the general idea," he repeats. "I'm afraid we don't think of ourselves in ordinary terms. We think of ourselves as the Edmonton Oilers. We're a little different from the rest."
Fuhr never knew he would be swept up in the tide of history. It just worked out that way. "Life is going to happen," Fuhr says. "That's a goalie's philosophy."
The next weekend, undefeated Syracuse is losing 17-0 in the second quarter to Boston College at home. But Kane has drawn single coverage on a short post pattern. Soon, nobody will be foolish enough to try to cover him that way. The cornerback has no chance. Eyes, cleats, hands, football, in concert. Kane is a magician. Touchdown. He has beaten the defender for a six-yard score. He then nimbly returns a punt 28 yards to set up a field goal. By halftime, the score is tied. In the third quarter, Kane catches a 20-yard touchdown pass. Syracuse wins 45-17. Upstairs in the Carrier Dome, the representative from the Sugar Bowl sighs in relief. Thank goodness for Kane.
While his teammates celebrate, Kane trots off the field. "My first love," he had said, "will always be hockey."
That is the unshakable affection a young man feels for his national sport. It is the kind of love you hear in the roar of the crowd at the Northlands Coliseum as the goalie leads his Edmonton Oilers onto the ice and begins his sacred ritual in front of the net.