by Lisa Brown on 12/14/11 at 04:00 PM ET
While speaking to five time Stanley Cup winning, Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Grant Fuhr who is now coaching AAA Bantam hockey for the Knights of Columbus in Edmonton I had to ask what was next, what were Fuhr’s coaching ambitions. Not that coaching AAA Bantam might not be enough, but was this where Fuhr intended to stay for a while, or was this a jumping block. Fuhr happily exclaimed that working with youth hockey was a delight, and something that he truly enjoyed doing. In fact, Fuhr intends to coach the Knights of Columbus AAA Bantam Squires next season as well but also does have further coaching aspirations; they focus around coaching junior hockey. “I enjoy doing this, but I wouldn’t mind coaching [major] junior. Junior hockey is awesome and it’s a lot of fun.”
Fun, that’s a key word and something that most people wish that they could associate with their jobs or their career. So few of us get to pursue our hobbies as a career and even fewer continue to keep the fun. That is in part why Fuhr would like to get involved with junior hockey, should the opportunity present itself. Fuhr can appreciate that the players in junior are not playing for their next big contract just yet; they are still “Playing for the process to get to that point.”
The reason Fuhr enjoys working with youth hockey as much as he does; Fuhr absolutely feels a tremendous amount of pride working with player development at the Bantam level. “You can see the really good ones that already way ahead of the game. The ones that aren’t, you watch them get better. We’ve got five or six first years so the ones then try to catch the second years. Developmentally, it’s different; it’s a little bit of a different style than they’ve ever seen. It’s a little higher tempo and they’ve got to make some adjustments to that.”
And that sense of pride would most certainly continue, working with those special players who are playing to take the next step. The favourite part of coaching for Fuhr is “The process. The kids all know what the goal is but they have no idea what the process is to get there. So seeing them go through the process and trying to figure it all out is half the fun.”
Living in Edmonton for so much of his life, Fuhr has watched the changes in junior hockey. “The Oil Kings used to be such a big deal even when I was growing up. The first game I went to Rick LeLacheur was the captain. His sister used to babysit me (halfway though) still love junior hockey.” With connections like that to the team, it would be easy to feel a certain fondness for the organization, but clearly Fuhr’s passions go beyond the personal connections and centre on the hockey.
“What people don’t realize is that it’s good hockey and its kids just trying to get through school.” And while playing a 72 game season as well. “That’s the biggest difference from when I played junior; the education program. Because now you’re getting kids that are thinking about going to US college who will play in the WHL because they now get 4 years of school when they’re done. So that’s a big deal.”
Fuhr brings up excellent points about junior hockey in Canada. This is the best opportunity players have to picked up by NCAA schools if they wish to get a degree and pursue at least the opportunity of a career outside of hockey. Edmonton native Taylor Fedun is one of those players. Fedun played AJHL (Alberta Junior Hockey League) before moving on to play hockey for Princeton where he earned my dream degree; aerospace engineering. Fedun didn’t know if he would be able to get any further than NCAA hockey, but made sure that he had something that he could fall back on, but an extremely useful and recognizable degree as well.
Back to the Edmonton Oil Kings “Why the Oil Kings haven’t caught on, I just don’t know. I’m not sure what it is. They used to draw great.” The team was an expansion team, and Edmonton has become an Oiler town more than a hockey town in general, but Edmontonians still love their hockey. The Oil Kings have been growing and developing and seeing successes from season to season. Of course there will be years where success will ebb and flow due to the maturation of players, and the graduation and initiation of various players. As the Oil Kings continue to see success in terms of winning, the popularity could grow. “You have to win to get success,” says Fuhr, and I think he’s right; everyone loves a winner, a winner is easy to get behind and support.
There are a number of excellent hockey players that come up through the systems in Alberta, not just Edmonton where Fuhr came from. In some ways, you wonder if it is a case of hockey genetics, or if there is a lot more to it than that. Fuhr believes that the success has a lot to do with the development processes and systems in place. “Alberta has really good programs. The only disappointing part is that we [Edmonton KC hockey] don’t play the southern division. I would like to play against the southern division to see how they compare. That would be interesting. We’re lucky, we get to play some of the outside talent, Grande Prairie, Camrose, Leduc, spruce grove, but it would be like to see some of the other areas.”
If the opportunity came up to coach juniors, I wondered if there was anywhere in particular Fuhr would like to work, CHL or otherwise. “I’m wide open and I’m used to moving. I’m pretty much settled here now, so it has to be the right job in the right spot, otherwise I’ll stay here and work with the kids,” Fuhr replied.
Does this mean that right now Fuhr is in the right place? “It’s a freebie. It’s where I get to go to the rink and watch hockey… Watching the kids and what they’re supposed to do, and when they’re not it sort of frustrates you a little bit, but for the most part they get it.”
If there is one thing that Fuhr would like to impart on anyone who pursues any level of hockey, it is one especially simple message: “Enjoy it and they have to make sure that that’s what they want to do. I think that if you’re going to put the time and commitment in and the parents are going to put the time and commitment in you’ve got to make sure. Parents make a big sacrifice driving them around. So, if a kid is not sure he wants to be there, and he’s not having fun with it then maybe it’s not the right choice, it kind of defeats the purpose.”
This is Fuhr’s first year coaching Bantam AAA and his name does carry a lot of weight in the city, and so I can only imagine what it must be like for those in the Edmonton Knight’s of Columbus organization to count Fuhr among themselves. At the same time, I’m sure that everyone would like to see Fuhr reach his goals just as much as the players he coaches. Fuhr is delighted to be where he is, doing what he is doing and the players whose lives will be influenced by having Fuhr instruct them will be the better for it.
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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.
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