April 30, 2006

Bill Ranford

The Boston Bruins selected Bill Ranford with their second round pick in 1985. Despite playing solidly in 41 games in the 1986-87 season, it wasn't until he joined the Edmonton Oilers in late 1988 that he got a real chance to play.

Up until 1988-89, Ranford spent most of his time apprenticing in the minor leagues. Touted as a premier goaltending prospect, the Oilers coveted the young Brandon, Manitoba native when they were forced to deal contract hold-out Andy Moog. Moog - one of the best goalies of his era - was traded to Boston on March 8, 1988 in exchange for Ranford and left winger Geoff Courtnall. The moved helped the Oilers win the Stanley Cup that year - though Ranford backed up starter Grant Fuhr the entire way and Courtnall played a 4th line role.

Ranford again backed up Fuhr for most of the 1988-89 season, playing in just 29 games. It was beginning to look like Ranford would be destined to be backup goalie forever.

1989-90 was a different story altogether however. Fuhr suffered a serious shoulder injury that ended his season after 21 games. How would the Oilers be able to compete without their acrobatic superstar goalie? That question was quickly answered, as Ranford proved himself to equally as acrobatic and entertaining. It seemed as if Ranford's ability to raise his level of play so high infused the Oilers, giving them tremendous confidence. The Oilers went on to win the Stanley Cup in 1990, due largely to Ranford's brilliance. His 2.53 GAA in 22 post season games made him the unanimous choice for the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoffs most valuable player. And to make Ranford's second Cup championship even sweeter was the fact that it came against the man he was traded for and his old team - Andy Moog and the Boston Bruins.

Ranford was among the elite goalies in the league for the next few years after that. In 1990-91 he had the lion's share of the workload only to have Fuhr return from injuries late in the season. Coach John Muckler opted to go with Fuhr in the playoffs over the red hot Ranford. The move did not result as well as Muckler had hoped, as the Oilers were bounced from the playoffs.

1991-92 was another great season for Ranford. He regained his status as the Oilers number one goalie and almost got them back to the Cup finals, falling just short in the conference finals. And the season started off incredibly as Ranford was arguably Canada's best player in the 1991 Canada Cup. He was named MVP as Canada went undefeated en route to their 4th Canada Cup victory in 5 tries.

The Oilers fell on hard times as the mid-1990s approached. Financial restraints such as a low Canadian dollar and small market revenues forced the Oilers to trade off many of their remaining talents. Ranford remained a constant until 1996 though. His numbers would be greatly inflated over that time period, but he was spectacular and easily the best player on a weak Oilers team.

Perhaps Ranford's biggest highlight during that period was again in International Hockey. In both 1993 and 1994 Ranford was Canada's goalie at the World Championships. 1994 was especially sweet as Ranford back stopped Canada to their first gold medal finish in over 30 years.

By mid season 1995-96, the Oilers opted to trade Ranford. He was easily their biggest asset but he too became priced out of small-market Canada. The Oilers traded him back to the Bruins in exchange for a slew of prospects - Marius Czerkawski, Sean Brown and a first round pick which turned out to be Matthieu Descoteaux. Boston was desperate for goaltending help. Ranford turned in a very solid regular season for the Bruins, but was unable to get the team far in the playoffs.

Things started going downhill for Ranford from there on. He struggled with a weak Boston team in 1996-97 before being traded in a blockbuster to Washington. Joining Ranford were fellow veterans Adam Oates and Rick Tocchet while Jim Carey, Anson Carter, Jason Allison and a draft pick headed to Bean town.

Ranford never really got untracked in Washington. Soon Olaf Kolzig would emerge as the number one goalie there.

The hockey world began to write off Billy after he backed up Kolzig in Washington's thrilling ride to the Finals in 1998. Then he was released and jumped around a bit - Tampa Bay, Detroit and finally back to Edmonton where he backed up Tommy Salo for the 99-00 season - his last in the NHL.

"It was a great thrill to be able to finish my career where so many of my highlights happened" said Ranford.

Ranford did not leave any hints as to what he was going to do with the rest of his life at the time of his retirement, although he has been involved in a bar-and-grill chain restaurant in British Columbia.

Ranford also tried his glove hand at Hollywood. Ranford was asked to perform the goaltending scenes in Kurt Russell's movie "Miracle" which honoured the 1980 United States Olympic team that upset the mighty Soviets.

"Here's the weirdest thing," stated Ranford in a article for The Hockey News. "Having played for Canada on five different occasions, putting on the USA jersey was just bizarre."

No comments: