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Backchecking: Ranford caps off a dynasty

Bill Ranford was the 1990 Conn Smythe winner with Edmonton. (Mike Powell /Allsport )

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Bill Ranford was the 1990 Conn Smythe winner with Edmonton. (Mike Powell /Allsport )

By Kevin Glew

The dynasty was supposed to be over.

With ‘The Great One’ in Los Angeles and Grant Fuhr sidelined, the Edmonton Oilers’ glory years appeared to be behind them heading into the 1990 playoffs.

But, as opponents would soon learn, Bill Ranford, a determined 23-year-old netminder who had toiled in the shadow of Fuhr for the past two seasons, had something to say about that.

Ranford had established himself as a reliable, often spectacular starter during the regular season, suiting up for 56 games and sparking the Oilers to a second-place finish in their division. But the young goalie had never been the go-to guy in the playoffs and there were worries he might wilt under the pressure.

These concerns only intensified after the first game of the post-season, when Ranford was shelled in a 7-5 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Fortunately, the talented youngster had the confidence of his coach and GM.

“I’m not sure if it was Slats (GM Glen Sather) or John Muckler (coach) who did it, but the next day they played a short video of some of the saves I had made throughout the year in front of the team,” recalled Ranford. “Basically they said to the team, ‘This is your guy. You’re going to win or lose with him.’ ”

The Oilers weren’t immediately inspired and eventually fell behind 3-1 in the series. But many point to Ranford’s save on Dale Hawerchuk’s breakway in the last minute of Game 5 (preserving a 4-3 Oilers win) as the turning point of the post-season. Edmonton regrouped to oust the Jets and followed it up with a second round sweep over Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings.

“Beating Los Angeles was a confidence boost because they took it to us the year before,” Ranford said. “To come back and sweep them four straight was pretty huge for everybody on our team. I think that’s where the ‘Kid Line’ of Joe Murphy, Adam Graves and Martin Gelinas really came into its own.”

Along with the “kids,” Edmonton still boasted Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Kevin Lowe from their previous championship squads. This combination of veteran savvy and youthful exuberance, coupled with outstanding goaltending from Ranford, propelled the Oilers past the Chicago Blackhawks in the conference final, setting the stage for a 1988 Cup final rematch with the Boston Bruins.

A 1985 Bruins draftee, Ranford, who backed up Fuhr during the Oilers’ 1988 Cup triumph, was not only competing against his former club, but against Andy Moog, the goalie the Oilers had dealt for him in March, 1988. The first game was an epic battle at the Boston Garden that took nearly three overtime periods to decide.

“I remember the game getting to the point where you’re just hoping that it would end,” recalled Ranford. “The thing that people forget about that game is that it was not only long, but there were stoppages due to the lights going out and because of fog. The building was such an old building that it didn’t have a great circulation system, so it was like a sauna at that time of year.”

Petr Klima, benched for much of the game, was the overtime hero for the Oilers, when he finally solved Moog at 15:13 of the third overtime period.

“It was two-and-a-half hours between shifts for Petr Klima,” noted Ranford.

Holding the Bruins to just eight goals in the series, Ranford and the Oilers defeated Boston in five games to claim the franchise’s fifth Cup in seven years. As time ticked down in the final game, Ranford skated behind his net and scooped up the game puck.

“I had the puck in my house up until two years ago and now it’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame,” he said.

Between the pipes for all 16 Oiler playoff wins, Ranford was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

“I think winning the Conn Smythe just ended up being a bonus,” Ranford said. “It’s an individual award, but the way I look at it, it’s still a team award because as a goalie, you’re only as good as the team in front of you.”

Hoisting the Stanley Cup had to be a dream come true for Ranford, who inherited much of his passion for hockey from his father. The Oilers playoff hero was born in Brandon, Man., but his dad was in the military, so Ranford lived in several different towns in Canada and Europe when he was growing up. He played defense until he caught the goaltending bug when he was eight years old.

“I think I was fascinated by the equipment more than anything,” he remembered. “A friend of my dad’s when we lived up in Cold Lake (Alta.) was a goalie and I just kind of fell in love with the position.”

Ranford attended high school in New Westminster, B.C., where he also played major junior for the hometown Bruins. After being selected by Boston in the third round in 1985, Ranford played four regular season games and two playoff games with the NHL club in 1985-86. But after suiting up for 41 games with the Bruins in 1986-87, he spent most of the following season in the American League with the Maine Mariners, before being dealt to the Oilers.

In all, Ranford tended goal for the Oilers for nine seasons. Along with his two Stanley Cup championships, Ranford was also the MVP of the 1991 Canada Cup, in which he backstopped Canada to victory. He collected another MVP award when he led Canada to a gold medal at the 1994 World Hockey Championship in Italy. It was Canada’s first gold in the tournament since 1961.

Ranford was traded back to the Bruins in January, 1996 and played 77 games with Boston, prior to being dealt to the Capitals. Brief tenures with the Lightning and Red Wings followed, before he returned to Edmonton for his final campaign in 1999-00.

Ranford now resides in New Westminster with his wife, Kelly, and two daughters Cassady and Tristan. He is part-owner of the Jr. A Burnaby Express of the British Columbia League and the goaltending coach of the Los Angeles Kings.

Working in Los Angeles for part of the year, it’s only fitting Hollywood would come calling for Ranford. The 1990 playoff hero made his big screen debut as the on-ice version of Jim Craig in <i>Miracle – Disney’s ode to the gold medal-winning 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

“They were shooting the movie in Vancouver,” Ranford said. “A bunch of the guys with the Canucks alumni that I skate with in Vancouver were in the movie. And down the stretch, they were having trouble getting the shots they needed with the goalies they had and they phoned me at the last minute and asked me if I was interested in coming in to shoot the last part of the movie. Any Jim Craig scene where he has the mask on is me and anything with the mask off is Eddie Cahill.”

His participation in the movie seems apt. After all, some might say he authored his own “miracle” when he led the Oilers to their most unlikely Stanley Cup triumph.

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