Thursday, February 18, 2016

Review: Grant Fuhr (2014)

By Grant Fuhr with Bruce Dowbiggin

Here's why I was interested in an autobiography by Grant Fuhr:

When I was covering the Buffalo Sabres in the lockout-shortened 1995 season, Fuhr was on the roster. He was in the process of losing his starting job to Dominik Hasek, whose NHL career was just taking off. Fuhr made the "mistake" of getting hurt in the 1993-94 season, giving Hasek his chance. That was a tough situation for Fuhr, who already had had enough success for a few careers, but was taking matters relatively smoothly under the circumstances.

I always recall Fuhr being polite and pleasant, but I can't say I'd ever describe his remarks to the media as "insightful." I'm not saying Fuhr was unintelligent by any means, but he wasn't a memorable talker. So it was easy to wonder if co-author Bruce Dowbiggin would have any luck getting material out of Fuhr.

The results are in, and it looks as if my initial impression was more or less on target. "Grant Fuhr" doesn't offer too much about the hockey life of a Hall of Fame goalie.

The format might be the first clue to these findings. Instead of Fuhr supplying most of the material, it's Dowbiggin who does the heavy lifting in terms of the facts of the goalie's life story. Fuhr simply adds quotes every so often. This certainly adds a little distance of the story to the subject, and Fuhr doesn't have many good stories to add. It's not as if Dowbiggin supplies an even-handed narrative  to Fuhr's life. If anything, the co-author goes a little overboard to praise Fuhr's accomplishments ... even though the goalie's body of work stands up pretty well. The facts speak pretty well for Fuhr's career and don't need a sales job.

For those who don't know or remember, Fuhr has an odd position in the history of hockey goalies. He played on the greatest offensive machine of all time, the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s. They were always on the attack, leaving Fuhr to fend for himself a lot. That led to a higher goals-against average than he might have had elsewhere, but he won a lot of 4-3 and 5-4 games when the team needed him to make that clutch third-period save. And that led to a series of Stanley Cups in that era.

The Oilers couldn't afford to pay all of those stars forever, and Fuhr eventually joined players like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey on a train out of town. Fuhr went throug Toronto, Buffalo and Los Angeles before landing full-time work in St. Louis, where the Blues came close to a great playoff run than most people outside of Missouri might remember. Retirement followed shortly after his time with the Blues ended.

Fuhr doesn't go into great detail about his time in Buffalo, with one exception. The story about how Fuhr was allowed to join a country club in suburban Buffalo, allegedly because of his race, does come up here. It was a claim that Fuhr made at the time, and it received plenty of attention then. The story I heard from the proverbial sources that the country club had a much larger problem with the fact that Fuhr was suspended by the NHL earlier in his career for cocaine use. No matter what the true story was, there is little doubt that the club handled the situation is a rather clumsy manner, and it didn't do much good for anyone.

"Grant Fuhr" doesn't cover too much that's new about the goalie and his hockey times. The 200 or so pages can be read in a day rather easily. Unless you are a huge fan of Fuhr, you'll find that other hockey books will be better sources of information on those Oilers' teams - which probably are still of interest to those who love the game.

Two stars

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