During a Hall of Fame career that included five Stanley Cup wins, the former Edmonton Oilers goaltender encountered many casual fans who thought they could be as good as him. It made his recent invitation to appear on the Spike TV program “Pros vs. Joes” more enticing as it allowed him to give a few people a little taste of life in the big leagues.
“It’s fun to see the average fans’ perspective on it and how easy they think it is,” Fuhr said from Carson, Calif., where the show was taped. “Things that happen in a split-second look a lot longer on TV.”
The program’s concept is simple: Three ordinary contestants compete against four retired professional athletes in a series of athletic competitions related to each athlete’s sport.
Fuhr appeared alongside former NBA star Tim Hardaway, former NFLer Kordell Stewart and former major-leaguer Will Clark in an episode for the second season of the show, which starts airing in January.
It didn’t take long for the Pros to rattle the Joes in that particular episode.
“I think they were a little cocky until they got into the first couple events,” said Fuhr. “Then they had the starch taken out of them.”
The first season of the show included appearances from former football stars Jerry Rice, Bo Jackson and Jim McMahon along with former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Dave Stewart.
Fuhr was happy to be invited for the second season.
The 44-year-old spends most of his time now as the goaltending coach for the Phoenix Coyotes. Essentially, he sees his role as being a part-time instructor and part-time psychologist for Coyotes goalies Curtis Joseph and David LeNeveu.
“A lot of it is just being an extra set of eyes for them,” Fuhr explained. “They can tell me what they’re feeling and thinking and I can tell them whether that’s what’s happening or not.”
Fuhr held a similar role in Calgary for two years after finishing his career with the Flames in 2000. He later spent time as a goalie coach in the Western Hockey League with the Prince George Cougars.
Ultimately, Fuhr thinks he might one day become the head coach of a junior team.
“I like the teaching aspect of it and the kids are fun to be around,” he said.
On “Pros vs. Joes” Fuhr had a chance to teach lessons of a different kind, despite not being anywhere near the top shape he was in during his playing days.
In his events on the show, Fuhr put on full equipment for the first time in two years and played goal while the contestants tried to score on him before reversing roles and taking shots on them.
“I’m not in the best shape anymore but the three Joes that we have with us don’t look like they’ve been on a lot of ice,” said Fuhr. “I definitely had a big advantage.”
Even though Fuhr thoroughly enjoyed humbling the guys he was competing against, he was also able to identify with them.
He grew up in the Edmonton suburb of Spruce Grove and still has many childhood friends that continue to play recreational hockey well into their 40’s.
They would classify as Joes on the TV show, but they serve to remind Fuhr how lucky he was – and still is – for being able to use the game as a way to make a living.
“Especially growing up in Canada, everybody wants to play hockey as a kid,” he said. “If you don’t play it as a job you’re going to play it as a game anyway.
“I’m just fortunate enough that I kind of fell into it and the game took a liking to me.”
Fuhr was a natural athlete and a junior standout with the WHL’s Victoria Cougars before making the jump straight to the NHL with Edmonton in 1981-82.
His career included the five Stanley Cups with the Oilers and also took him to Toronto, Buffalo, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Calgary. Fuhr won 403 career games was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility in 2003.
He never really had time to consider what he would have done if professional hockey hadn’t panned out.
“I have no idea,” Fuhr said when asked what type of Joe he would be. “Playing in the NHL is something I wanted to do from the time I was five or six years old.”
He’s glad it worked out.
Fuhr had no qualms about saying why he preferred the life of a Pro to the life of a Joe.
“It’s a lot more comfortable on my side of things,” he said.