by Lisa Brown on 12/12/11 at 05:00 PM ET
Grant Fuhr is not only a AAA Bantam coach for the Knight’s of Columbus Squires in Edmonton, a Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender and a Stanley Cup champion, Fuhr is also an Oilers fan. Living in his home town, the city of Edmonton, Fuhr is in a position where he is able to follow his team closer than any other fan.
The Oilers honoured Fuhr December 2nd in a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The first 10,000 fans in attendance were given mini Fuhr jerseys and Fuhr himself dropped the puck in a ceremonial puck drop before the game.
The halls of Rexall place hold special memory for Fuhr, and although Fuhr looks as calm and cool as can be, Fuhr was undoubtedly delighted to be included in this growing season for the Oilers.
One of my first questions for Fuhr was how closely he followed his former team, after all the Oilers may have been his first, but they weren’t his only. “I’m still a diehard Oilers fan,” Fuhr proclaimed “I’m a hockey fan, but I’m also a fan of the Oilers. If I’m not working for somebody, I’m an Oilers fan. That hasn’t changed over the years. “
In fact, Fuhr says that he has always been an Oilers fan. They were after all his home town team. While Fuhr lived in Edmonton “They [the Oilers] had just started in the WHA, so I got to be a fan. I went to WHA games, sat at the old gardens. I’m old.” I disagreed with his old comment, but I’m sure that the miles and hours of hockey have left their mark.
Even while working for the Phoenix Coyotes, Fuhr was able to keep up with the Oilers, by watching the Oil Change series on the NHL Network. “That’s actually a good show. The best part was that you could get it in Phoenix. So, you could actually keep up with what was going on here, “ Fuhr explained. At the point of our conversation, Fuhr had not been approached to be a part of Oil Change, but the season is young, and Fuhr is only recently returned to the city.
Fuhr has also watched the Oilers in the standings as well as their games. Fuhr admits that he is still a hockey fan and spends a lot of time watching games. At this point, Fuhr likes what he sees with the Oilers. The team may not be a dynasty yet, but “It’s the right direction, right process but again, it’s still a process. The kids are good.”
Indeed they are. And although I am not sure what is being said of the young players or the Oilers in general in most cities, Fuhr was in Toronto when the story broke that Renney said he might bench Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Fuhr mentioned that it was a very big story in Toronto, but didn’t think that the team could afford to bench their leading point scorer. We were both grateful it didn’t happen; Fuhr recognizes what everyone else does, that Nugent-Hopkins is a “pretty good player.”
But, Fuhr commented that “He’s [Nugent-Hopkins] going to hit a wall by February just because most first year guys do. We had a bunch in Phoenix before I started coaching 14 year olds and they all hit a wall, February, somewhere in there where they just run out of gas. They’re playing against bigger men and they’re leaning on them all of the time and they’re just not used to it.” Renney and the rest of the Oilers coaching staff will of course do everything they can to make sure that they can delay or prevent as much exhaustion as they can, but Fuhr knows what he is talking about.
“You’ll see the second year kids like Jordan [Eberle] all with slow starts because they’re not fooling anyone anymore. They’re seeing better checkers, now it’s harder to play. They always have a tougher year the second year.” Thankfully although Eberle and Hall did get off to a slower start, he seems to have picked up the pace. For Taylor Hall, his injury may slow him down further, but Fuhr doesn’t like to call it a sophomore slump “It’s not a slump they just see better players.”
While we discussed the kids, and the young players the Oilers were bringing in, we started discussing the draft. “I’m surprised they don’t draft more 19 year old kids. They’ve got the extra year of experience at that level and the deal is that you can still draft a kid who’s 19 and you’re going to see more of what you’re going to get.” Fuhr remarked, and he makes a strong point. Sometimes that one year is a lot of physical and mental development for a player. Of course Furhr isn’t the first or only person to think this.
Perhaps in time the idea may catch on further. There are still teams that target more 19 year olds, but typically that happens in a later round, or even with professional try-outs. But, Furh reminded me “You give yourself some leeway with a draft pick; you don’t have to sign them right away.” And he’s right. By drafting a 19 year old player that you like you can take your time. Most times. “They’re all worried about getting that 18 year old guy but in the later rounds, why not take try with a 19 year old, they’re a more developed hockey player. And now you don’t have to sign them.”
In the meantime if you are an Oilers fan you never know who might be sitting next to you in the lounge, or who you might see taking in a game at Rexall. It may even be Mr. Fuhr, hoping with the rest of us that the Oilers make the playoffs and turn into the team we all hope they can be.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
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