The 1989/'90 edition of the Edmonton Oilers wasn’t supposed to accomplish much.
A full season removed from the Gretzky era, the team had just come off its earliest playoff exit in seven years, losing in the first round to the L.A. Kings. Disgruntled forward Jimmy Carson, a key component of the Gretzky deal, asked to be traded early into the season; and perennial all-star goalie Grant Fuhr was plagued with a shoulder injury that kept him out of the line-up more times than not.
Out of this tumult however, emerged a rising star in the form of a quiet, unassuming goaltender by the name of Bill Ranford.
It was during the 1990 playoffs when ‘Grant Fuhr’s backup’ earned his place in Edmonton Oiler lore. After a slow start, the 23 year old Ranford was spectacular, backstopping the team to its fifth Stanley Cup and earning the Conn-Smythe trophy as the league’s most valuable playoff performer.
Ranford remained an Oiler stalwart for several years. (Ranford owns the current Oiler record for most games played by a goalie) He was dealt to the Boston Bruins in 1995 and went on to play for four other NHL teams before returning to Edmonton in 2000 for his final season.
“(Retiring as an Oiler) was huge for me,” says Ranford.
“I enjoyed the city and the fans and to be able to go back there was very special.”
Ranford began to prepare for his post-hockey career while he was still a player. In 1996 he partnered with childhood friend and Vancouver businessman Darren Flintoff to purchase the Mr. Mike’s Family Steakhouse restaurant chain. The duo is credited with increasing average store sales by 300% and for successfully expanding the chain into Alberta prior to selling the business in 2006.
Despite his business interests, Ranford was ‘itching’ to get back into hockey; in 2004, he joined the Vancouver Giants of the WHL as their part-time goaltending consultant. He remained with the Giants until 2006 when he was approached by the Los Angeles Kings to work for them in the same capacity.
Now, in his fifth season with the Kings, the former Oiler has, in the eyes of many, become one of the top goaltending coaches in the game - a sentiment shared by his superiors.
“I really admire the way Billy went from being a pro athlete, to studying the way the position is played, as it is very different these days, than in his playing days. A lot of former athletes would have taken the attitude that they know it all from their years playing the game,” says Ron Hextall, Assistant General Manager of the L.A. Kings.
“Billy offers the technical knowledge to the goalies, but what is special is that he can talk to them from the mental side as well, as he has been through everything that these kids have and will go through, throughout their careers.”
Ranford works closely with the Kings’ two young Jonathans - goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier. He is with the team two weeks out of every month, and spends the other two weeks analyzing video from his home office in New Westminster, British Columbia.
As for his future, Ranford says that he’d like to continue being a goalie coach or even an assistant coach but has no ambitions beyond that. The still unassuming Ranford, would rather leave the higher profile jobs to others.
“You have to be a special breed to be a head coach or general manager,” he asserts.
“I just don’t think I have that type of personality.”