BILL RANFORD For all his great accomplish-ments, Bill Ranford never quite achieved the celebrity and recog-nition of the greats of his time.
Despite winning a Stanley Cup as a starter on a Wayne Gretzky–less Edmonton Oiler squad and leading his country to international triumphs, he would always be mentioned after the likes of Grant Fuhr and Patrick Roy, and he was all but forgotten when Martin Brodeur and Dominik Hasek hit their stride.
Born in Brandon, Manitoba, on December 14, 1966, Ranford spent his early childhood without a permanent home as he fol-lowed his military father from base to base, from Germany to sev-eral Canadian locales. It was Bill Sr.’s influence that put Ranford on skates, but not hockey skates—at least, not right away. “My dad was a big Bobby Orr fan and Bobby figure skated first. And so it was important to skate properly first,” said Ranford.
In his first year of organized hockey, Ranford played defence but took up goaltending after watching a friend of the family play in the nets with the Armed Forces. He’d root for Ken Dryden and Mike Palmateer, two goalies who couldn’t be much more differ-ent from each other, with one a 6-foot-4 quiet intellectual who used his size to flick away shots like bugs and the other a cocky 5-foot-9 acrobat.
By the time he hit his teens, Ranford was taking a run at fol-lowing them to the NHL. A third-round pick of the Boston Bruins in the 1985 entry draft, Ranford would play three seasons of ma-jor junior with the New Westminster Bruins before getting the call from Boston GM Harry Sinden. Ranford said,
I think I was 19 at the time and I got called into Harry Sinden’s office. The team wasn’t in the playoffs yet and he said, “We just wanted you here after your junior season to get used to the NHL shots and see what you could do, so keep working hard on your game and you never know what could happen.” As soon as I walked out of Harry’s office, he called my dad and told him I was playing the next afternoon so get to a satellite TV to watch the game. They didn’t tell me till I got to the rink the day of the game in the morning. I basically showed up and I saw a jersey hanging in the stall with my name on it, and the coach called me in to let me know I was starting that night.
The Bruins took on the Buffalo Sabres at Boston Garden, and they and Ranford came out victors with a 2-1 win. Ranford not only played in four of the Bruins’ last five regular season games, he also started the second and third games of the playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens.
“There’s no doubt I was nervous playing in the Montreal Fo-rum for my first NHL [playoff] game. But as far as realizing that I could play at that level, I was a bit more comfortable than I was my first game in the Boston Garden against Buffalo. It was pretty intimidating,” said Ranford.
After playing 41 games and another two in the playoffs in 1986–87, Ranford was sent down to the American Hockey League the following year. Terry O’Reilly took over as coach from Butch Goring and determined Ranford needed to pay his dues.
“I didn’t even get a chance in training camp, they sent me right to the minors. To go from the starter the previous year to not even getting a chance was a little bit of a rude awakening,” said Ran-ford.
Looking back, though, Ranford believes it probably was the best thing that could have happened to him. Instead of truly learn-ing the game like he needed to, he was going game to game func-tioning on adrenaline. With the Maine Mariners, he could learn how to really play at the pro level.
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