If you're familiar with my writing, then you know a lot of my career pieces on NHL players, both current and former. I've written quite a few stories, but I have yet to do one on a goaltender...until now. Two of my stories have centered on two very important and notable players in NHL history: Willie O'Ree and Jarome Iginla. As we all know, Willie O'Ree broke the NHL's color barrier, and set the stage and the bar for players such as Donald Brashear, P.K. Subban, Dustin Byfuglien, and Quinton Byfield, among others. The aforementioned Jarome Iginla raised that bar with his stellar numbers in his spectacular career, but there's another important name that needs to be mentioned: Grant Fuhr.
Grant Scott Fuhr was born on September 28, 1962 in Spruce Grove, Alberta, where he was adopted by Betty Wheeler and Robert Fuhr. His hockey career began at the age of 17 with the Western Hockey League's Victoria Cougars, playing two seasons as their goaltender and winning the league's championship in the 1980-81 season. Fuhr entered the NHL Draft in 1981 and was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers, the #8 overall pick in that year's draft. With that selection, Fuhr made history as the first Black goalie in NHL history. In that first season, 1981-82, Fuhr shared the net with Andy Moog and Bill Ranford, though Fuhr started 48 of the team's 80 games, finishing with a record of 28-5-14. Fuhr's other stats that season included a 3.31 Goals Against Average (GAA) and a Save Percentage (SV%) of .899. In his first playoff appearance, Fuhr started five games and went 2-3 with a 5.05 GAA and an .852 SV%.
1982-83 was the year that saw the Oilers reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time, and regarding Fuhr, he started only 32 games that season and went 13-12-5 with a 4.29 GAA and an .838 SV%. The Oilers' long playoff run only saw Fuhr appear in one game and spend 11 minutes in net without surrendering anything. The following year was the golden one for the Oilers, including Fuhr, who went 30-10-4, and posted a 3.91 GAA, an .883 SV%, and picked up his first NHL shutout. In the playoffs, Fuhr appeared in 16 of the Oilers' 19 games, and had 15 decisions, winning 11 of the team's 15 games en route to the team's first Stanley Cup. He posted a GAA of 3.00 and a SV% of .910 (and his first playoff shutout), and made history as the first Black player in NHL history to capture the Stanley Cup.
The Oilers would make it back-to-back Cups in the 1984-85 season, which saw Fuhr rack up a 26-8-7 record, complete with a 3.87 GAA, an .884 SV%, and a shutout. In their second Cup run, Fuhr started 18 games and won all of the team's 15 games, complete with a 3.12 GAA and a SV% of .885, pretty much cementing Fuhr as Edmonton's top goaltender. The Oilers wouldn't three-peat in 1985-86, but they would add two more Cups in the following two seasons. Their fourth Cup year (1987-88) saw Fuhr set a career high in single season wins (40) and shutouts (4). As for the playoffs, Fuhr went 16-2 with a 2.91 GAA and a SV% of .883. 1988-89 was Fuhr's last full season with Edmonton, and his only one out of his 10 with the Oilers where he posted a losing record (23-26-6).
Also, that year was the team's first without The Great One, and it was rough on them, as they were on the receiving end of a first round exit and had to watch their provincial rivals, the Calgary Flames, win the Cup. 1989-90 was a tortuous one for Fuhr. For one, he was sidelined for several weeks after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. Fuhr did return to start 21 games (9-7-3 record in 19 decisions), but ended up sidelined again. The Oilers did go on to win the Stanley Cup for the fifth and most recent time, and even though Fuhr was out for the entire run, his name went on the Cup and he is in the books as a five-time Stanley Cup Champion.
Fuhr's last season with the Oilers was the 1990-91 season, which saw him suspended for the first 59 games of the season due to violating the league's drug policy. He would only start 13 games and go 6-4-3, but he did have a shutout during his brief time in net. Fuhr did participate in the Oilers' playoff run, going 8-7 with a GAA of 3.00 and a SV% of .895, but the team could not repeat, as they fell in the Campbell Conference Final to the Minnesota North Stars.
After 10 seasons with the Oilers, Fuhr was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fall of 1991; going 38-42-9 in a season and a half with the franchise. Fuhr was traded again during the 1992-93 season, this time to the Buffalo Sabres, and that year would see him in the playoffs again, playing a key role in their shocking upset series win over the Boston Bruins. In addition, Fuhr served as a mentor for this young budding goaltender for the team. You may have heard of him: Dominik Hasek. Fuhr and Hasek would share the net in Buffalo from that point on, which led to the duo sharing the William M. Jennings Trophy in 1993-94 for giving up the fewest goals in the league. By that point, Hasek became the primary netminder, and the Sabres would trade Fuhr to the Los Angeles Kings, where he was playing with Wayne Gretzky once again.
Fuhr signed with the Blues as a free agent, and the 1995-96 season would see him regain the form he had in Edmonton. He played in all but three games that year, went 30-28-16, had a GAA of 2.87, and racked up a .903 SV%; the first time he surpassed .900 for a season. That season would see Fuhr and Gretzky together one more time, as The Great One was dealt to the Blues that year. Fuhr spent four seasons with St. Louis; racking up a sub-3.00 GAA each year, but he would be dealt to the Calgary Flames in September of 1999. Fuhr, 37 years of age at the time, spent most of his one season with Calgary as a mentor for their young goalies, which included another Black goaltender, Fred Brathwaite. Fuhr only won five games that season, though he would surpass the 400-win mark that year.
The number of Black goaltenders in NHL history remains a very miniscule one, even after Grant Fuhr set and raised that bar. His 403 career wins are 12th all time in the NHL, and he was a key part in that Oilers dynasty. I know that when it comes to that iconic group, we usually hear about Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, and that guy who wore #99, but as we all know, one needs a star goaltender to go with that star power, and Fuhr was that superstar in net. Ten great seasons with the Oilers, mentored a future Hall of Famer in Buffalo, and had a great resurgence in St. Louis. Six All-Star selections, and won the Vezina in 1988.
Yeah, Grant Fuhr is definitely one of the greatest goalies in NHL history. As much as we talk about Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, Marc-Andre Fleury (who is still in the league), and Patrick Roy, we have to put Grant Fuhr in that conversation. For myself, a Black hockey fan, Fuhr being mentioned in the same breath as those iconic netminders is absolutely epic. As I said before, the number of Black goaltenders is still small. I mentioned Fred Brathwaite, but there was also the late Ray Emery, who was part of the Ottawa Senators' landmark run to the Cup Final in 2007. There's also Malcolm Subban, the younger brother of legendary defenseman P.K. Subban, and of course, there's Kevin Weekes, who played 14 seasons in the NHL and serves as a studio and in-game analyst on TV.
Here's hoping we see more Black goalies show out in the National Hockey League. If we do, we have Grant Fuhr to thank for setting that bar and raising it with every season he played.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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