Today in CowTown some guy named Iginla just got named captain. But, for me, the big story in Alberta on this day will happen before the pucks are dropped at either of the Canadian prairie 2003/4 NHL openers. Number 31 will be retired and Grant Fuhr will become forever honoured in Alberta's Capital. I had the pleasure of watching Fuhr on the live ice and the sheer joy that emanated from this great player after he had made yet another sparkling save was infectious.
One time at Northlands the Oilers were leading 5 - 1 in the first few minutes of the third, every player on the Oilers' skating roster had inexplicably transformed into goal scoring prima donnas. Perhaps the padding of the ole' stats had begun just a tad too early. Fuhr kicked out the biscuit twice on odd man rushes: 2 on 1, then 3 on 1. The Oilers won the next draw, wound up, and wheeled out of their end. Five skaters in winged unison, attackers all and defenders none, but they bobbled the disc at the redline. Some no named opportunist pounced on the puck, broke in on the left side, wound up for the bigtime blast, stumbled and fell sending a seeing-eye knuckleball that fluttered effortlessly through the five-hole as Grant contorted in an athletic attempt to "just get in the way."
The excited goal scorer pointed to the puck, obviouly wanting the prized keepsake. Grant shrugged graciously, dug it out of the back of the net, and slid it to him as he happily scrambled to his feet. Fuhr started-in lazily sweeping at the front of his net in a reflective way as the respective teams prepared for the faceoff. It seemed to me that Grant was visualizing how he'd stop that same shot if it ever happened again.
Now 5 - 2 with 17 minutes remaining in the third, Grant skated forward abit and then eased back readying in his crouch. Some of us close to ice heard Fuhr reassure: "That's alright boys, I'll get the next three."
Glen Hall, Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, the great goaltenders stand apart because of their commonality: they started young and were great; they played well over and extended period; they overcame adversity; they made the big stops in the big games; and, they all changed the face of hockey.
But if I had to pick only one rubber stopper, someone to face a barrage of missles, delivered by attacking NHL maniacs intent on tying or winning the most crucial of games, #31 in the old Blue & Orange, is my pick. When the money was down, and had already become transcended by the momentous nature of the here-and-now, skate blades flashing, the home crowd cheering thunderously, and with an electric anxiety palatable, Grant could & would stand alone and save the day.
Thank-you for all of those moments buddy ... for me you'll always stand alone.
I'm surprised this didn't get more responses, but then lots of people at hfboards just can't accept the fact the 80's Oilers was the greatest NHL team ever iced, so they underrate guys like Gretzky giving him 3rd or 4th place on the best NHL'ers of all time list.
Oh well, I am glad you got to see Fuhr's retirement, that would have been great. I had goosebumps when the corwd chanted "Fuhr! Fuhr! Fuhr!"
It simply proves the Oilers are still the best when it comes to fans. Our loyal blue collar crowd is the loudest in the NHL!
Thanx hemskyfan and brianscot for noticing my personal tribute to Grant Fuhr. I'd be fibbing if I said I didn't want it to be read. But like alot of the posters I write out of a compulsion to express myself. This anecdote from my personal experience kinda' wrote itself.
Although I shy away from comparing different eras of hockey because as times change so do athletes, still I know in my heart of hearts that Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Raymond Bourque, and Nicolas Lidstrom would all make the allstar team were they magically age equalized and transformed to their respective primes via a Rink of Dreams.
Fuhr was the best goalie of his time, period. He deserves to be ranked amoung the alltime best. Those who authoratatively assert there is a single best of all time just haven't lived long enough. The Rocket, Mr. Hockey, The Great One, and The Magnificent One would all demure to the excellence of all the others mentioned and all would be happy to be included in the same grouping.
brianscot's comment: "There is no way that any coach, no matter how much he adores offense, would have permitted that fastbreak style to exist if he didnt have a stud in his own goal." hammers home my point.