WHL experience still stands out for Fuhr

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Grant Fuhr has a conversation during the Prince Albert Kinsmen/Raiders Sportsman Dinner at the Ches Leach Lounge last Saturday night.

Although he never played in the Art Hauser Centre and his previous trip to the area was back in the late 1970’s for a minor baseball tournament, Grant Fuhr’s visit to Prince Albert on Saturday brought back memories of his time in the Western Hockey League with the Victoria Cougars.

“I had a lot of fun playing in the WHL,” Fuhr said prior to last Saturday’s Prince Albert Kinsmen/Raiders Sportsman Dinner at the Ches Leach Lounge. “It’s still a great memory when you look back on the trips to Regina and Saskatoon, or places like Winnipeg or Billings who were in the league at that point.

“I think people forget just how much fun you have in junior hockey and that’s where you learn how to travel. That was a bit of an eye-opener for me, especially being in Victoria as we had a lot of long bus hours.”

Fuhr, who turned 57 last month, was part of a Cougars side that posted a 60-11-1 record in 1980-81 on their way to winning their only league championship.

That team is also the only WHL side to come back from a 3-1 series to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup as they rattled off three wins in three nights to beat the Calgary Wranglers.

“We made things a little harder on ourselves than it probably should have been in the final,” Fuhr joked. “It’s hard to get out of the WHL as the teams are always strong, as that was the case that year as we beat our biggest rivals in Portland before we even played Calgary.

“We weren’t very good at the Memorial Cup in Windsor and I think we hit a bit of a flat spot after the league final. However, there were some really good teams there. The Cornwall team that won had Doug Gilmour and Dale Hawerchuk on it and that Kitchener team had Brian Bellows and Al MacInnis in their lineup. We had a good team as well, but we just couldn’t get our feet underneath us.”

During his 20 years in the National Hockey League, Fuhr won the Vezina Trophy in 1988, lifted the Stanley Cup on five occasions with the Edmonton Oilers and attended six all-star games.

However, the lasting memory of a career that saw him enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame was the friendships that he made along the way.

“I think that’s what I missed the most when I retired as you get used to seeing the guys all the time,” Fuhr said. “Those Edmonton teams are still very close and we usually try to get together if we are all in the same city.”

One of those former Oilers that Fuhr shared a close bond with is Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid, as they were teammates from 1981 to 1985 when Habscheid was dealt to the Minnesota North Stars.

“Marc lived with me when he came to Edmonton and we had a lot of fun together as roommates,” said Fuhr, who now helps run a golf course in Palm Springs, Calif.

“He was a great talent and he probably could have made it on any other team in the league, but as an offensive centre that just happened to be where we strong as we had Wayne (Gretzky) and Mark (Messier) on our top two lines.”