Written by Judd Spicer
As a veteran of 1,018 NHL regular season and playoff games, Grant Fuhr’s vantage from between the pipes could be mildly described as learned.
The Hockey Hall of Famer’s view from the broadcast booth, however, has cast the luminary netminder back into the role of rookie.
Serving as the Firebirds’ radio and television broadcast color commentator for home games in the team’s inaugural season, Fuhr has stayed true to the readiness tenets which put five Stanley Cup rings on his fingers as a goaltending centerpiece of the Edmonton Oilers powerhouse teams of the 1980s.
“I still prepare the same way, where you want to learn the players from the opposing team,” says Fuhr, a desert resident for the past 14 years. “I do my prep work the night before or the morning of a game, so that when I get to the arena, I have ideas as to what I’m doing, so that when I do comment, I’m being as honest as possible knowing the players.”
In discussing his first-ever full-time broadcast gig, Fuhr continually puts candor at the forefront.
“It’s about telling it like it is,” states Fuhr. “The game dictates itself. The players, they appreciate honestly. It’s easy to sugarcoat it and make everything sunshine and roses, but then you’re not being honest to the players or the fans. But I’m having a ball doing it, coming into the arena and looking at the game from this different viewpoint. And, yeah, I work for the home team, but at the same time I’m still neutral. If things are bad, they’re bad; if they’re good, they’re good.”
Fuhr sees his teamwork alongside Evan Pivnick, CV play-by-play man and Firebirds’ Director of Broadcast and Communications, as a crucial assist to his own debut year on the mic.
“Evan’s not only good at what he does, he’s easy to work with,” Fuhr compliments. “Unfortunately for us, he’s gonna’ end up with an NHL club at some point – he’s that good. And he’s made my job so much easier because he’s easy to read; this job would be a lot different if I were working with something that I didn’t have chemistry with. But Evan and I do have that chemistry.”
From the ice to the stands, the native of Spruce Grove, Alberta has been equally enthused by the Firebirds’ chemistry between team and fans.
“The fan base has been great in embracing the team this year; now, it’s just a matter of building a long-term fan base,” Fuhr says. “The year started with people wanting to come out and see the new building – but I think people have fallen in love with hockey. And the really fun part has been fans starting to learn the nuances of the game; it’s been great to see the fans really grow into the game.”
Author of 403 NHL wins across his career (12th all-time) and winner of the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender in 1987-88, Fuhr sees his net métier as a key outlook for his broadcast calls.
“I was much better as a player than I am as a broadcaster,” he quips, “but as a goalie, you do see things differently; you’re used to analyzing the game, so it’s now just a matter of putting that analysis into words.”
With Fuhr’s words have come myriad Firebirds’ wins in the team’s debut year; with the team leading the AHL in win percentage heading into the close of March, the goalie-turned-commentator is eager for the club’s Calder Cup run.
“I think they’re in a good position heading into the playoffs, and have done a great job of keeping themselves in a position to win the division,” Fuhr continues. “They’re two points back with four (games) in-hand (as of March 21), so as long as they take care of business, they should win the Pacific and get the bye. If possible, you want to avoid that short, first round best-of-three series, where anything can happen to any team.”
Fuhr’s first-hand knowledge of a winning recipe has him seeing such ingredients as CV closes out the regular season.
“They’re a close group; you can tell,” he says. “I like the way they compete. They come out every night to compete, and they compete hard. As you get closer to the playoffs, the intensity rises in every aspect. You can see it with the guys, as things are starting to get a little more serious. They’ve got a well-rounded group, and can play any style that anybody wants to play. They can be physical if they have to, they have a lot of skill players and a nice mix of rookies and veterans.”
While no doubt sharing an on-ice kinship with the players, in a concerted effort to maintain autonomy, Fuhr has consciously kept up the boards between besties and broadcasts.
“I’ve played golf with the players a couple of times, but I try and stay separate too, so that I can stay neutral; if you spend a lot of time with players, it’s easy to get jaded toward that one side,” Fuhr explains. “I’ll probably see some of them a bit more when the season is over, but, during the season, I’ve tried to keep some distance. Part of being honest in this job is having that arm’s distance; what I want to bring to the fans is being honest about the game, whether it’s good or bad. If you’re hanging with the players all the time, getting close, it’s harder to have that honestly.”
For a former player, Fuhr self-deprecates about crossing over from the net to the booth. “I’ve gotten a hard time with the media people, because I swore I’d never be a media person,” he laughs. “I kind of count myself as in the interim now; I’m sort of media, but not really.”