Fuhr's task: Beating foes and fans, too


BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- If somebody wants to go looking for the missing link, New Haven, Conn., is a good place to start. There are some real Cro-Magnons out there. Look no farther than the life form who ran up to Grant Fuhr waving a plastic bag with white powder in it. It was this gorilla's idea of a joke. It was a sick joke. Very sick.

Fuhr had just finished serving a five-month NHL suspension for substance abuse and wouldn't it be hilarious to wave white powder in his face while he's down in the minors getting back in shape? It probably was hilarious to some people in the crowd, particularly those who chanted "Just say no" and "Grant does it up the nose, do-dah, do-dah."

There's a jerk in Springfield, Mass., who would have found it funny, too. This jerk tried getting a baggie of white powder to Fuhr while he was on the bench. A note was attached. It said, "Pay me later."

There are some real sickos in some American Hockey League cities. John Muckler, Fuhr's and the Edmonton Oilers' coach, said he has seen fans in New Haven belly up to the boards to stick players with forks and knives as they skated by.

"That's just the way they are," Muckler said. "I don't know what makes them that way. It's the minority. It's always the minority that gives the majority a bad name."

Speaking of bad names. For the first time in his career, Fuhr, who is black, was the object of racial slurs. Where? In New Haven, of course. "It's just a rough kind of town," Fuhr said. "It's not something I'll lose sleep over."

Fuhr is sleeping a lot better now than he did in September, when the Edmonton Journal alleged he had had a substance abuse problem since the early '80s. His ex-wife, Corrine, told the Journal she was getting phone calls from drug dealers even after Fuhr moved out. "I still have hard feelings [toward Corrine]," Fuhr said. "I'll probably continue to have them."

Within days of the Journal story, NHL commissioner John Ziegler suspended Fuhr. The NHL is unlike the NFL; there's no second chance for drug abusers. Fuhr claims he spent 2 1/2 weeks at a rehabilitation center in Florida in the summer of '89 and had been clean for a year when the Journal story appeared. It didn't matter. NHL rules don't allow for leniency.

They do, however, allow for suspensions to be lifted. Fuhr's was lifted earlier this month. After brushing up a week in the minors, Fuhr's first game back in the NHL was Monday night. Nice comeback. He stopped 27 shots in the Oilers' 4-0 shutout of the New Jersey Devils.

Fuhr, once called "the greatest goalie in the world" by former teammate Wayne Gretzky, sat out last night's game against the North Stars at Met Center. Muckler doesn't want to rush Fuhr and still is deciding how to rotate him and Bill Ranford. It's even possible Fuhr will be traded.

Whatever happens, Fuhr thinks he can handle it. He's handling everything better than he did a few months ago.

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