Grant Fuhr says the black players who preceded him in the NHL did the hard work that made his life easier.
The goalie, raised by an adoptive family in Spruce Grove, Alberta, was selected by the Edmonton Oilers with the No. 8 pick in the 1981 NHL Draft after two brilliant seasons with Victoria of the Western Hockey League.
“By the time I played, there had been enough players in the game like Bill Riley, [Michael] Marson. Willie (O’Ree) had gone through things,” he told The Athletic in 2018. “They did all the heavy lifting. I could just be a player.”
Fuhr split the Oilers job with Andy Moog until coach/general manager Glen Sather named him the starter for the 1984 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Fuhr went 11-4 before being injured in the Final against the New York Islanders, becoming the first black player to have his name on the Stanley Cup. He was the No. 1 goalie during Edmonton’s championship runs in 1985, 1987 and 1988; Fuhr was a member of the Cup-winning team in 1990 but missed the playoffs because of injury.
In February 1987, Fuhr excelled for the NHL in the two-game Rendez-Vous ’87 series against the Soviet Union. In 1987-88, he helped Canada win the Canada Cup, won the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the NHL, helped the Oilers to their fourth championship in five seasons and finished second to Pittsburgh Penguins center Mario Lemieux in voting for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP.
The Oilers traded Fuhr to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sept. 19, 1991. He also played for the Buffalo Sabres, Los Angeles Kings, St Louis Blues and Calgary Flames. He got his 400th NHL win with the Flames on Oct. 22, 1999 and had 403 when he retired before the 2000-01 season. Fuhr was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003, becoming the first black player to be so honored. He was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in 2017.
“I’m just an extension of what they did,” he told The Athletic when asked if he saw himself as a role model. “It’s a progression. From Willie to Billy Riley, Mike Marson, Val James — those guys did the heavy lifting. Then myself, Tony McKegney, some other guys came in a little later. Now you’re seeing more and more players coming through.”