Backchecking: Grant Fuhr

Matt Larkin
Grant Fuhr

It’s a dark, frigid morning during Toronto’s cruelest winter in 20 years. Anyone awake is annoyed about it, unable or unwilling to string two sentences together. Except a Hall of Fame goaltender named Grant Fuhr, who saunters into the Westin Harbour Castle hotel lobby, fashionably late, with the cheerful Zen of a monk. Maybe it’s his surgically replaced knee, made of titanium, that keeps him from hurrying anywhere. “He sets off all the alarms at the airport,” says his fiancée, Lisa.

Or maybe Fuhr glides along with such tranquility because he simply has life all figured out.

What he’s about to do is daunting in theory. After years out of the public eye, he’s resurfacing to make about a dozen major media appearances in a row. Breakfast Television, TSN radio, and so on. He’s promoting a soon-to-be released autobiography. It’s a tell-all, meaning he’ll account his best days backstopping the Edmonton Oilers dynasty and his adventures in golf, but he’ll also face the harder parts of his life head on. That includes his battle with cocaine use, which led to a lengthy suspension during his playing career.

Some people would be jittery resurfacing to be thrust in the spotlight for 12 straight hours, but not Fuhr. He’s one of the sport’s all-time best money goalies, remember. He has five Stanley Cup rings and a Canada Cup. And when the camera or microphone is in his face, Fuhr, now 51, laps up the pressure, no problem. He answers questions on anything, from his playing days to Canada’s 2014 Olympic team, with such little hesitation that he’s, well, goalie-like in his reaction time. “This is fun,” he says. “I haven’t done this for years.”

Maybe Fuhr is so comfortable with the attention because he attracted so much of it during his career. He was a highly coveted goaltender coming out of junior, drafted eighth overall by the Oilers in 1981. An athletic netminder who modelled himself after Tony Esposito, he was a perfect fit on the most high-octane offense the game has ever known, because the team’s style was familiar to him. “I loved playing for a run-and-gun team,” he says. “I got lucky enough that when I was playing junior in Victoria, that was the first time I’d seen a run-and-gun team, so with junior and the training, my progression to the NHL was playing the same style of hockey. It was comfortable for me.”

Fuhr battled for time with Andy Moog, which he believes made him a better goalie, and became Edmonton’s primary starter for most of the 1980s, especially during the playoffs. Fuhr played a crucial role in four of the five Cups he won with Edmonton, including an incredible 1988 run in which he went 16-2 en route to the Oil’s fourth Cup in five years. Wayne Gretzky called Fuhr the greatest goalie in the history of the game,

Fuhr played in six All-Star Games, won the 1988 Vezina Trophy and was acrobatically sensational for Canada in the 1987 Canada Cup, too. But he wasn’t just a star for what he did on the ice. He’s not the first black player in NHL history, but he is the first black superstar. “You notice it more now,” Fuhr says. At the time you just treated yourself as a player, first and foremost.  Obviously with Willie O’Ree and Mike Marson, Billy Riley, Tony McKegney, all those guys playing ahead of me, you didn’t really think of it that way. So I just feel pretty fortunate to have ended up in a spot where I could be successful.”

He is also remembered for being suspended by the NHL for a year in 1990 for using cocaine throughout the mid to late 1980s. The league was aware Fuhr had been clean for a year, but punished him for conduct “dishonorable and against the welfare of the league.” He earned early reinstatement by February 1991 and played a key role in another deep Oiler playoff run. “My only hard feelings out of the whole thing was it was probably about two or three years late, but at the same time, you make a mistake and you’ve got to pay the price,” Fuhr says. “We were just young and got caught up with the wrong crowd. It was a young, dumb mistake.”

Read more

Backchecking: Byron Dafoe

Josh Elliott
(Photo by Denis Brodeur/Getty Images)

Josh Elliott

When Byron Dafoe comes home at night, his house rolls out the welcome mat. His garage bay recognizes his car and opens for him. The darkened house lights a path to his kitchen, his favorite radio station comes on and the hot tub heats to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. After eight knee surgeries, he says getting into the hot tub is a nice end to a long day managing all his business interests.

Since retiring from the NHL in 2004, Dafoe, 43, has added golf courses, resorts and subdivisions to his real estate portfolio and continued to work for Athletes Against Autism, a charity he founded with ex-NHLer and former teammate Olaf Kolzig. Although they don’t run themselves, his 13,000 square-foot mansion in Kelowna, B.C., does just that thanks to his other business: Diamante Custom Automation. It’s a company that specializes in wiring mansions for full remote control, using a system called Crestron. It ties everything from home heating to lighting to home theater control into a single smartphone app that can run the house from anywhere in the world.

“You can go as elaborate as you want,” Dafoe says. “It’s whatever you can think up and as long as we can get a wire to it, we can control it from any mechanism.”

Read more

Backchecking: Valeri Bure

Valeri Bure

By Gareth Bush

Valeri Bure made a career out of beating NHL defenders with blazing speed. Having been retired for a decade, he hasn’t slowed down.

Bure played 10 seasons in the NHL, primarily with the Canadiens, Flames and Panthers, posting 407 points in 643 career games. After undergoing back surgery following 2003-04, he decided to retire. From the first time players lace up a pair of skates to the last time they take them off, hockey is the only thing most NHLers ever know. Understandably, many retirees choose to stay in the game, working in management, player development, coaching and anything in between. But not Bure, who had a thirst for something else.

“A few of my veteran teammates in Montreal enjoyed going out for a nice dinner and a glass of wine, so at the age of 20 I was introduced to the wine world,” he says. “From there my passion for wine just kept growing.”

Years later, Bure took an off-season trip to Napa Valley, a California-based wine region considered one of the world’s best. It was there he decided he would create his own label.

“I fell in love with the behind-the-scenes work and being able to start from the vineyard and put it into a bottle,” he says. “It’s an amazing process.”

In 2006, Bure Family Wines was born. Located in St. Helena, Calif., BFW produces five small-lot, handcrafted wines, including a cabernet sauvignon named Majesty. The title pays tribute to Bure’s great-grandfather, who was the watchmaker for the Russian czar. The company logo also symbolizes a Russian imperial seal that he placed on each watch. After six years of developing and crafting his product, Bure says business is finally starting to pick up.

“The brand is getting a lot stronger and industry critics are giving us pretty high scores,” he says. “It’s very fun to see that when I’m travelling, people know me for my wine and not so much for hockey.”

Bure describes managing BFW as a full-time job, but winemaking isn’t the only occupation Bure has added to his resume since leaving the NHL. He and his wife, Candace Cameron-Bure (best known for her role on Full House), opened a restaurant called The Milk and Honey Cafe in Florida in 2007, though it later closed when the family moved to California to focus on BFW.

Aside from his marriage to a Hollywood actress, Bure returned to the public eye in 2010 when he participated on CBC’s Battle of the Blades, a competitive reality show that pairs former NHL players with figure skaters. It was an experience he was originally reluctant to pursue and describes as the most difficult of his life.

“My wife convinced me to do it, but by the end of the show I actually started enjoying it because it gave me an adrenaline rush like hockey,” Bure says. “You’re not performing in front of 20,000 people, but this was just more cunning.”

Bure and his dance partner Ekaterina Gordeeva won the competition.
Of course, hockey is still a big part of his life. He coaches his three teenage children, all registered minor league players in California. More noticeably, Bure’s brother Pavel was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.

“Watching his highlight reel at the ceremony, the hair was standing up on my neck,” Bure says. “It was super cool and I couldn’t believe my brother is in the Hall of Fame. He deserves it.”

This article originally appeared in the March 3, 2014 edition of The Hockey News. For more great analysis, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to THN magazine.

Backchecking: Mike Moller

Adam Proteau
Mike Moller (Hockey Canada Images)

As a boy growing up in rural Alberta, Mike Moller was accustomed to matchbox-sized arenas. So it was fitting the scene of his best-known hockey moment – scoring the gold medal-winning goal that gave Canada its first World Junior Championship in 1982 – wasn’t an NHL-style facility, but rather a rink in Rochester, Minn., that couldn’t have had more than 2,000 people in it. “Playing in larger centers earlier in the tournament was a thrill,” Moller says of the games leading up to the final against the Czechs. “Winnipeg and Minnesota fans were just fantastic. But to play that game in a smaller center, where it was standing room only and people were hanging from the rafters, we were in our element.” Read more

Backchecking: Grant Marshall

(Grant Marshall, by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

By Adam Kozak

Dec. 4, 1990, is a day Grant Marshall will never forget. He was 17 years old playing in his first season in the Ontario League with the Ottawa 67’s when he was viciously checked from behind by Jason Young in a game against the Sudbury Wolves. The hit left him with a broken neck and temporary paralysis. In the blink of an eye, his NHL dream was put on hold.

“At that point I was so scared,” Marshall says. “I couldn’t move. My life was turned upside down.”

Read more

Backchecking: Jean-Guy Talbot

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images Sport)

There are several truly remarkable footnotes on the career of Jean-Guy Talbot.

In Quebec junior hockey in 1952, Talbot’s errant stick to the head of 19-year-old William ‘Scotty’ Bowman left the player with recurring headaches. That led to Bowman becoming tentative on the ice, which eventually pushed him toward the most successful coaching career in NHL history.

After Talbot turned pro, he won the Stanley Cup in each of his first five NHL seasons, a feat shared only by teammates Henri Richard, Claude Provost and Bob Turner. Led by Rocket Richard and Jean Beliveau, the Montreal Canadiens won the first of five consecutive Cups in 1955-56.

Read more