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OLD FAITHFUL AT AGE 33, GOALIE TURNED IRON MAN GRANT FUHR HAS SAVED HIS CAREER AND THE ST. LOUIS BLUES

Feb. 19, 1996
Feb. 19, 1996

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Feb. 19, 1996

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OLD FAITHFUL AT AGE 33, GOALIE TURNED IRON MAN GRANT FUHR HAS SAVED HIS CAREER AND THE ST. LOUIS BLUES

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.

This is an article from the Feb. 19, 1996 issue Original Layout

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."

That was 15 years and five teams ago. When the Sabres shipped
him to the Kings last winter, Fuhr reported to his fourth team
in five seasons. His 1988 Vezina Trophy, awarded to the NHL's
best goaltender, and the five Stanley Cup rings from his years
with the dynastic Edmonton Oilers are merely baubles that serve
to dramatize the speed and steepness of his descent. Fuhr
finished last season in Los Angeles at 1-7-3, and the Kings
declined to re-sign him. He was an unrestricted free agent, but
interest from other clubs was not high.

Fuhr had some miles on him. He wasn't just 32--he was an old 32.
He had a surgically repaired left knee and screws in both
shoulders after having suffered numerous separations. He bore
the untold ravages of a seven-year cocaine habit, which led to
his being suspended by the NHL during the 1990-91 season, his
final one in Edmonton. When L.A. passed on re-signing him, a
lot of people thought his career was over.

Some influential people felt otherwise. Keenan had long coveted
Fuhr, whom he had coached in the 1987 Canada Cup. But could Fuhr
still play? Keenan solicited opinions from around the league.

The testimonial in which he put the most stock was, if not
unsolicited, decidedly unexpected. During the Stanley Cup finals
last summer, Keenan was having a glass of wine at an outdoor
table at a midtown Manhattan restaurant when a passing taxi came
to a sudden halt. Out jumped Wayne Gretzky and his wife, Janet,
who joined Keenan at his table.

What do you think? Keenan asked Gretzky: Can Grant still play?
"Of course he can still play," Janet said. "Well," said Keenan,
"That's good enough for me." Gretzky seconded his wife's
opinion, adding, "He just needs some confidence."

"Not a bad little reference to have at the bottom of your
resume," Fuhr says of the Great One's recommendation. "That'll
open a few doors."

Yet when the Blues signed Fuhr to a two-year, $2 million deal
last July, puck fans in the Gateway City were dubious. Many
remained faithful to popular goalie Curtis Joseph, a free agent
whom Keenan had elected not to re-sign. But Keenan staunchly
defended Fuhr, assuring critics that the future Hall of Famer
was working out and would report to training camp in shape. When
Fuhr made a liar of him, Keenan banished the pear-shaped
netminder for a week, which left the Blues with Racine and
journeyman Jon Casey in net. Says Hull, "Anyone who tells you
they weren't in a panic at that point is a lying sack of s---."

It was during his unexpected vacation that Fuhr hooked up with
Kersee, the husband and coach of Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who holds
the world record in the heptathlon. In addition to prescribing a
stretching and conditioning regimen, Kersee cast a critical eye
on Fuhr's diet. He outlawed fatty foods and instructed his
client to drastically reduce his between-meal snacks: the graham
crackers, the chips and dips, which Fuhr admits he was in the
habit of consuming, usually in front of the boob tube, with
Conehead-like gusto and efficiency.

It worked. Fuhr's face, once cherubic, is much narrower, his
features much sharper. But never mind Fuhr's face--Keenan has
empirical proof of Fuhr's newfound leanness. Like a commodities
broker brandishing a crop report, he holds up a sheet of paper.
It is the latest breakdown of each player's body-fat content.
"Grant has gone from 20 percent to 12.1," says Keenan.

"I still sneak the odd burger," says Fuhr in a tone approaching
defiance. "I still put cream in my morning coffee. Not
two-percent milk. Not whole milk. Cream."

Well, you've got to live large once in a while, sympathizes a
visitor. "I think I've done that," he says, flashing a brief,
wicked grin. "I think I've got that part of it taken care of."

He is referring to his days as one of Alberta's foremost party
beasts. Most of the time while he was winning Stanley Cups in
Edmonton, his personal life was a mess. He would rent a VCR and
forget to return it for a year. He once leased a car, then sold
it, not realizing that this would become a problem.

Even as he spoke last week of how happy he is for his friend,
Gretzky repeatedly referred to Fuhr as a kid, as in, "He's a
real good kid" and "a real sensitive kid." Everyone who knows
Fuhr agrees that he is a decent person whose personal problems
derived largely from a combination of laziness and immaturity.

In the summer of 1989 Fuhr spent three weeks in a drug treatment
center in St. Petersburg, Fla., and another week at the Betty
Ford clinic in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He says he remains in
frequent phone contact with some of the guys he met at Betty
Ford. "Everybody's plugging along," he says. Well, almost
everybody. "One guy jumped off a building. He decided he'd had
enough of sobriety."

The NHL found out about Fuhr's cocaine use in August 1990 by
reading about it in The Edmonton Journal. The paper's main
source for the story was Fuhr's first wife, Corrine. (In July,
Fuhr married Candice Haynes in Maui. She is his third wife.
Their 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Kendyl, is Fuhr's fourth child.)
After admitting to the NHL that he had used cocaine from 1983 to
'89, Fuhr was suspended for 55 games.

He was traded by the Oilers to the Toronto Maple Leafs the
following season. There, he says, "I hurt a knee. Felix Potvin
got a chance to play." Potvin, it turned out, was a huge talent.
He beat Fuhr out and came to be known as the Cat.

The next season Fuhr was traded to the Sabres. He reinjured his
left knee, opening the door for an unknown goalie named Dominik
Hasek, who, it turned out, was a monster talent. He beat Fuhr
out and came to be known as the Dominator.

A year ago, says Fuhr, "I get shipped to L.A. for a three-month
vacation. I didn't play much, but I really improved my golf
swing." Fuhr's arrival sparked a sudden, drastic improvement in
the play of incumbent goalie Kelly Hrudey, who these days is
known as the Kings' backup goalie.

Fuhr could handle four years of professional frustration because
his personal life had been rock solid. "My home life is very
quiet," he says. "Compared to the past, it's a huge difference."
Monday is the big blowout night in the Fuhr household: Candice's
sister, Jackie Lock, comes over, and they sit on the couch and
watch Melrose Place. Grant watches too, partly because he has
played some celebrity golf tournaments with Jack Wagner, who
portrays a doctor on the show, and partly because he'll watch
whatever's on.

This is one of the world's most easygoing humans. Fuhr's
legendary equanimity was sorely tested, however, during St.
Louis's recent 0-3-1 homestand. Of the 19 goals scored on him,
Fuhr had a fighting chance to prevent maybe two. In their
increasing desperation to score, his teammates neglected their
defensive responsibilities, leaving Fuhr horribly exposed. "We
abandoned him," said Twist after the Blues' 5-2 loss to the
Dallas Stars on Feb. 6.

Fuhr was never more alone, or more heroic, than during a Dallas
power play early in the second period of that game. Lunging to
his left, he scissored his legs and kicked out a point-blank
shot. "Did you see how fast he got there?" said Stars coach Ken
Hitchcock afterward. "That was beautiful."

That save alone validated a vote of confidence delivered on
Fuhr's behalf last summer. Of course he can still play.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO The slimmed-down Fuhr wants to become the first NHL goaltender in 32 years to play every game. [Grant Fuhr seen from inside goal]TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO Fuhr's acrobatics are the main reason that the underachieving Blues are still in the playoff hunt. [Grant Fuhr]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO The Blues hope the red-hot Fuhr doesn't cool down. [Grant Fuhr squeezing water bottle at his face]