Wayne Gretzky says that Grant Fuhr is the greatest goalie of all time. He is the favorite of The Great One. That’s as great of a status as anyone could hope to have. Fuhr had a remarkable career, largely played out with the Edmonton Oilers. He broke still standing league records for most games played by a goalie (79 of the 82 in a season). He was a great teammate and more importantly, a building block for the team and the community surrounding it. The 1984-1985 Oilers have been voted the Greatest Team of All Time, by NHL fan survey. Every team in that conversation can only get there through superhuman efforts of goal tending. That’s what it takes to be the most successful team. On and off the ice, he has been a great role model for the next generation of young men, inspired by his play. Notably, he was the first black player inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame.
Making Coco: The Grant Fuhr Story is a director’s cut of some material previously appearing on Sportsnet. It’s finely combed over with highlight reels and personal interviews from many of the leagues most significant talent. Friends from his playing days pepper the sports bio with fun loving anecdotes and a broad appreciation for Fuhr, the human, not just an athlete. It amounts to many talking heads interspersed with game footage you’ve likely seen, his career being a highlight reel of significant moments in hockey history. This is the story of a well-loved goalie and why he made a significant impact on the people who played the game with him. There is enough appeal in this premise alone. It’s a career retrospective more than a human-interest story. But it’s an especially well made and tightly finessed one of those.
The 1984-1985 Oilers were a well-oiled machine. Pre-parity league, you could have a team with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, and Grant Fuhr, all Hall of Famers. These old teams used to be this dominant because they had all the great players. These days, we watch Edmonton tank year after year, hoping to replicate the success, inevitably landing Connor McDavid, but without the means to build an exacting line around him. It’s important to catalog the past where these great combinations where still a plausibility. When the game was high scoring and as rough as sports come. This high-flying Oilers offense are historically great but could only achieve what they did with the support backing them.
Fuhr almost never made it onto the team. Paul Coffey laughs, that his first impression of Fuhr was from a game where he let in eight goals. The General Manager said, trust us, you’ve seen 2 games, I’ve seen 100, and he’s the real deal. And it all proved out exactly this way on the ice. Fuhr played right through injury, through familial loss, through hardships and victories, he was always reliable and gave his best every game. A year after winning the cup, his father passed, and the team could not pull out a victory. But Fuhr was in the game, giving a full and rounded effort anyway, saying he has no memory except one giveaway from the game – his personal grieving was so much larger – but at a loss for anything else, hockey is always there. The following year, he’d show off why he’s one of the greatest acrobatic and reflexive goalies in league history. Grant often went golfing before playoff games. Gretzky recounts that he once played 54 holes before a game. The media asked, “why 54 holes,” and he had said, “it got dark, I couldn’t play 72.” After that, his team still won the 1987-1988 Stanley Cup.
Making Coco: The Grant Fuhr Story tells less about what makes the man than you might like. It is finely detailed with the heroism of his professional hockey career but skimps on personal detail. This makes it the kind of typified Sportsnet-esque documentary you might usually get on a renowned professional athlete. The director starts off with a strong visual style. Lots of outdoor games paired with footage of Edmonton. It hints throughout at his strong upbringing through adoption and the influence of his father. We’re left wishing we could dig in a little more on the personal conflicts. When bouts of drug abuse are brought up, they are brushed off. His former teammates are here to talk about a member of their own adoptive family. They’re not going to bury the hatchet here. It makes for a linear routed showing of a player we all already love. Great for the new hockey fan and for the nostalgia but not provoking much in the way of new information or feelings. His story is important nonetheless – and for being the first man of color inducted into the Hall of Fame – it would have been lovely to get some detail of that experience in hockey, beyond influencing a generation of current black players.
“Grant Fuhr is not the greatest goalie ever. But there is nobody better.”