by Lisa McRitchie on 11/03/11 at 12:00 PM ET
At one time or another, every one of us has thought that we would like to give back and do something good for others. It’s easy to think about doing something good, or even give money to someone’s efforts, but it is quite another to spend your time, energy, talents and emotions without expecting anything in return.
Grant Fuhr is a proud Edmontonian, held a vital role in one of, if not the, greatest sports dynasties, has coached at the NHL level and has now returned home to Edmonton to co-coach the Edmonton Knights of Columbus AAA bantam Squires and as far as I can tell, couldn’t be happier doing it.
It was a beautiful autumn, Sunday afternoon in downtown Edmonton, a place I haven’t spent much time in since moving to Calgary for work. Coming back was still coming home. If you look past the construction you can see plant life and businesses that are trying to breathe life back into the city’s core and changing Edmonton’s downtown for the better. A new grocery store has been built that will make life easier for the people who make the city centre their home, including one in particular who calls this home, Hockey Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr.
We met in a busy coffee shop, full of smiling people and the clatter of cups. Of course anxious to meet Mr. Fuhr, I was more nervous than I have ever been for an interview. It is no offence to Paul Henderson, but perhaps I felt that way because his fame came before I was born, and because Fuhr played for my favourite team that I worried so much more about my appearance and general hockey knowledge I brought with me.
The door opened, I looked up, and there stood a man whose face I had seen so many times through the years, on television and in the newspapers. The man who Wayne Gretzky would want in net on his all time dream team. The man who met my eyes and shook my hand warmly set me at ease as he smiled and said hello. I could hardly wait to ask him the long list of questions I had in mind.
I knew that Fuhr had returned to coaching, but AAA bantam is quite different from the NHL. I wanted to know the sequence of events that led him to this point, I wanted to know how he was coaching, and ultimately why bantam?
Fuhr was a goalie coach for the Calgary Flames for two seasons, and then with the Phoenix Coyotes for six and then found himself looking at what to do next. “I’ve done a few years coaching, but never much with the kids. And I probably enjoyed that more because the kids are all eager to learn and that makes it fun.”
The move to Bantam came from “Barry [Rimmer] pretty much,” Says Fuhr. Rimmer is a friend and neighbour with whom Fuhr was quite familiar. “We’d coached together before in 2003, give or take, but we did Atom then because my son was playing. He knew that I was coming back to the city and knew that I liked coaching, and he likes coaching so we decided to try it again.”
It goes without question that the money and prestige of coaching in the AHL and NHL would hold more appeal for most and that a step to Bantam might be a step into obscurity. But with Fuhr, you know that this is not the case. With more Stanley Cup rings than I have pairs of shoes, Fuhr is intelligent, hardworking and would be a welcomed addition to any hockey organization. For Fuhr, the move to Bantam is out of love of the game and a desire to work with the youth and seemingly a chance to give back.
The Knights of Columbus hockey program is the “only city-wide provider of organized minor hockey from Initiation to Midget AAA.” Working with other organizations in the City of Edmonton, the Knights of Columbus are not only able to provide a structured hockey environment, but also help provide financial aid when required.
The emphasis especially with the addition of Grant Fuhr is the quality of hockey coaching and the interaction with the players helping to give them tools that will help them not only with their hockey, but also their lives.
I believe that in the coming years, research will show just how important a positive male influence is in a child’s behavior, both males and females. With an increasing number of divorces, and such a large number of female teachers, the importance of sports and coaching and especially by strong positive males increases. It is not a knock against women; it’s that both men and women can have an important role in developing the future.
Fuhr especially recognizes the importance of sport, having grown up with it himself. “Look what sport does; it takes away from all of your activities that are not good. It gives them direction, gets leadership out of them and develops their personal skills. So it’s actually building them for later on in life. “
Fuhr definitely puts the time and effort into making his kids into the best players, and the best people they can be. To do that, it helps to know where the players are and where they would like to go. “We did a little questionnaire a few weeks ago, to see what their goals in hockey were and they all want to go to the next level. A couple of them will skip the next level and go to juniors already, but they’re all aspiring to be at that next level. So that’s good, we’re on the same page there. Some have different views of how they’re going to get there but the basis is there.”
Working with the players, watching them take their games and talents to their next levels absolutely gives Fuhr a tremendous amount of pride. “You can see the really good ones that already way ahead of the game. The ones that aren’t, you watch them get better.” But, it’s never a smooth road to improvement.
Currently Fuhr’s Squires are not off to the best start, and are losing more games than they are winning. “We don’t quite get the sold out commitment yet. 3 and 5 is not good. We’ve got commitment to offence but we have no commitment to defence. That is our problem because they don’t see that offence starts in the defencive zone. From centre down, we allow them to be creative, but it all starts in your own end… Right now, we like turnovers in our own end.”
The losses aren’t overly upsetting to Fuhr “It’s all a part of the process. The only problem with the process is that it’s only a 32 game schedule so you don’t want to get too far behind. So it’s instilling it quickly. They’ve got good potential, it’s a really good hockey team, and we’ve got some really good kids they just need to buy into the commitment part of it.”
Fuhr brings with him the coaching and playing experience of the NHL and has been adapting that to the bantam level. While not every NHL team gives their prospects individual plans and reports on a very frequent level, Fuhr is trying to do just that with his bantam players.
Plans and reports require a lot of effort from the coaching staff; every game and every practice. “I write down what I see, I make little notes on the bench, and then I make a little reports after every game. Just so I have an idea of what we did well, what we didn’t do well, see what tendencies have changed and who’s doing what; it gives you an idea. At the end of the month, you make a little report for each player and a report for the parents so that they have an idea.
“It’s just something different. It just makes sense and I like doing it. And then the kids don’t get away with thinking that they’re fooling anyone. Sometimes they’ll think that they work hard and they won’t go to all of the hard places on the ice and they think that they’ve gotten away with it, but I’ve seen that so they’re not really fooling anyone.”
The reports and thorough planning were all just another part of the game for Fuhr, and so something that he was able to see a use for even at the Bantam level. Again though, this amount of effort and care seems to set Fuhr apart as a coach at this level.
A big reason behind spending all of the time required to make individual player reports is of course to help the parents as much as the child. Not every parent in the stands played the game at a higher level, and even fewer had a successful NHL career. Because of this, many parents will likely put faith in whatever Fuhr says or does but it is important to Fuhr to keep parents involved in the process, involved in their child’s development and up to date with what is going on. “They’re the biggest part of the team,” Fuhr says of the parents, “And they either overlook it themselves, or they get overlooked. Because you need them to get the kids a positive message too, you can’t have you giving them one message and the parents giving them a negative message because that doesn’t work; it clashes. So if they understand where you’re coming from, and you understand where they’re coming from and it’s all the same message, then it’s a bonus.
“At this age group, you’ve got to have positive parents, because not every game is going to go well. The last thing that you want is to get brow beaten when you get home because things didn’t go so well. You need the positive coming from them. So when they come down to the rink the next day, they’re happy to come to the rink.”
It’s not always an easy road for Fuhr when speaking with the parents. “The parents are fun, but they’re not sure what to say. So I stand to talk to them, and you can tell that they’re uncomfortable. I’m no different than they are. It’s like I tell the kids, whether you want to compete or not, doesn’t hurt me. I’ve already figured out how it works and been there. I’m just trying to show you what you need to do to get there.”
With Fuhr’s prestige comes a busy schedule and when he has to miss a game, he has someone record video. Otherwise, it’s the same procedure. “I just make notes as the game goes on. Then I give it the 24hour rule. I sleep on it, and then make my report in the morning. Then you don’t do it out of emotion, it takes the emotion out of it. If you get up in the morning and get at it, it’s a different feel.”
The best advice Fuhr can give his players, and any player out there trying to make it to the next level is to “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 kids 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.
“The fun part is not supposed to go away; you’re even supposed to have fun when you get to the pros. They’ve tried to take some of the fun out of it, but you’re supposed to have fun.”
I can’t say enough about what Grant Fuhr brings to minor hockey in Edmonton and to the Knights of Columbus hockey program more specifically. It is also impossible not to recognize how much Fuhr does because he loves the sport and genuinely cares about the development of youth hockey.
With Fuhr’s wealth of knowledge on all things hockey, and his interest in the city of Edmonton and the Oilers I of course had much more to write about than I have here so stay tuned for more Fuhr.
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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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