In the Spotlight

Grant Fuhr: The Oilers great credits Spruce Grove for keeping him grounded

November, 2019

These days, about the only regular exposure Grant Fuhr has to ice is likely the cubes floating in his drink. But the former Edmonton Oilers legendary netminder isn’t likely complaining much these days, having given up his northern habitat for warmer climes in Palm Desert, California seven years ago.

And even though Fuhr’s surrounded by NHL franchises like the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Las Vegas Golden Knights and the Arizona Coyotes, he continues to be a faithful follower of the Orange and Blue.

“I’m still a diehard fan,” says Fuhr who spent 10 of his 20 seasons with the Oilers, where he first made his mark between the pipes. It was with Edmonton that he helped the team win five Stanley Cups, during their glory years of the ‘80s. Through it all, Fuhr managed to earn a few impressive stats of his own, winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender in 1988 and garnering six All-Star Game appearances.

By the time he hung up his pads in 2000 after subsequent seasons in Toronto, Buffalo, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Calgary, Fuhr had won more than 400 games, a feat he shares with only 10 other goaltenders. In 2003, Fuhr was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame, the first black player to be given that honour. Fuhr has frequently shrugged off that distinction, claiming that ever since his upbringing in Spruce Grove, it was always about hockey. Playing as a child in that type of rustic, sports-oriented atmosphere was critical to his development.

“It was a great small town to grow up in,” recalls Fuhr. “You got to play for different teams, you got to play a lot. There was no shortage of ice time, which made a huge difference. We played as much as we could. When I started, we just had one outdoor rink, so we skated as much as we could whenever we could.”

Fuhr still manages to visit Spruce Grove at least three times a year to catch up with family and friends. And while his stature had grown over the years as a hockey legend, Fuhr’s equally impressed over Spruce Grove’s evolution to city status, a progression that didn’t even seem possible when he and his adopted parents moved to the area in the mid-1960s when the future superstar was only three years old.

“It’s actually pretty cool, because when I first moved there, it was a village,” he says. “It wasn’t even a town yet. I think there were about 700 people living there.”

The goaltender believes that life in a small community kept him grounded, even when the championship achievements of the Oilers were international headline news. Fuhr may have been playing in a fishbowl, given that hockey-mad Edmonton certainly had high expectations of their favourite team. But when the goaltender was in a slump, that didn’t mean the folks in Spruce Grove cut him any slack.

“They were all in my corner,” he says.

“Everybody wants you to succeed. At the same time, they’re disappointed when you don’t. And because everybody cares so much about that, they’ll push you. If you’re bad you have to admit you’re bad and you have to get better. If you want to pass the buck a little bit, they’re not going to let you. And that’s the great part about playing in an area like that. Everybody cares.”

And most of the locals still care about Fuhr a lot, whenever he heads north where there’s considerably more ice. But the reception is anything but cold, thanks to the bonds he made with his original teammates on that isolated rink in that village he once called home. “I still spend time with friends that I’ve known ever since I was four or five years old,” says Fuhr. “That’s the great part about Spruce Grove. There’s a lot of great friends out there and I still keep in touch with them.”