May 03, 2016

Ron Grahame

Ron Grahame is arguably the best goaltender in the history of the World Hockey Association. Having spent his best years in the rebel league, he was at best average at the NHL level.

Grahame, a Victoria, British Columbia native, was known as 'reverend' because he didn't drink or smoke. He seldom swore and was a very quiet person.

"I grew up normally religious," he said. "But I was very close to my father and when he died of cancer my beliefs were shaken and I have questions ever since. I am no different than many others who are trying to find their way and I'm uncertain about a lot of things in life."

Ron was a thinking goaltender who had a stand up style and covered the angles well, despite a tendency to come out too far on shooters. He was not a natural and had to work hard to play correctly.

Ron wanted an education and went on to the University of Denver to secure a Bachelor of Arts by 1973. He also starred on the ice.  He was a NCAA and WCHA all star while posting 81 victories in 119 games. Despite posting 2.92 GAA in his final season he never was drafted by the NHL.

He was, however, drafted by the WHA's New York Raiders, but promptly traded to Houston before he turned pro. He turned pro in 1973-74 with the Macon Whoopees of the old Southern Hockey League where he played well in 46 contests. A a late season call up from the Houston Aeros was the beginning of Grahame's run as WHA hockey big shot.

Grahame finished the year for the Aeros (yep, Gordie Howe's team) with a 3-0-1 record and a tiny 1.20 GAA. He became the starting goalie for the Aero's in the following season. He posted a league leading 33 wins despite playing in only 43 games. He also led the league in shutouts (4) and GAA (3.03).

He also was a significant part of the Aero's victorious playoff run. Backed by Grahame's spectacular goaltending and Gordie Howe's 17 points, the Aeros won the Avco Cup, the WHA equivalent of the Stanley Cup. Grahame posted a 12-1 record while posting 3 shutouts and a 2.00 GAA in the 1974 playoffs. He was named as the WHA playoff MVP and the WHA's top goalie for the regular season.

Grahame's second WHA season was solid but not quite as good. He posted 39 wins in 57 games but his GAA ballooned to 3.27. He again led the Aeros into the playoffs, leading all goalies with 14 appearances, but lost the Avco Cup in the end. His bloated 3.97 GAA in the playoffs didn't help much.

Grahame had a comeback year of sorts in 1976-77. He was again named the WHA's top goalie after a 27 win season in 39 games, as well as a league leading 4 shutouts and 2.74 GAA. However playoff success would again elude the Aeros who were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.

Grahame enjoyed much success in his 3 years in the WHA, but his dream was to play in the NHL. When the Boston Bruins came calling in the summer of 1977, Grahame quickly bolted the Texas town for Beantown.

Grahame would enjoy a fine 1977-78 season with the Bruins. He was the team's top goalie for much of the season, posting a 26-6-7 record with 3 shutouts and 2.57 GAA. But come playoff time Bruins coach Don Cherry opted to go with the veteran Gerry Cheevers.

After his spectacular rookie season many teams became interested in the availability of Grahame's services. With Cheevers performing admirably in the playoffs, and the Bruins only able to protect two goalies prior to the new season, the Bruins were listening to all offers. Finally the Bruins traded Grahame to Los Angeles in exchange for their first round pick, and opting to keep Cheevers and Gilles Gilbert. It turned out to be a great trade for Boston as that draft pick was used to select Ray Bourque.

Grahame, who had the good fortune to play behind good teams most of his career, struggled with the lowly LA Kings. He played 2-plus seasons in LA posting 23 wins in 66 games. His best season GAA was a huge 4.19.

The Kings sold the struggling Grahame to the Quebec Nordiques in 1980. He would play only 8 games for the Nords (1-5-1) before finishing what proved to be his final season of hockey in the AHL.

Grahame's NHL totals (50-43-15, 5 shutouts, 3.79 GAA) aren't anything to get too excited about. But his WHA numbers were. His 102 wins ranks him 8th overall on the all time win list in WHA history. This despite the fact he only played 3 seasons. His career 2.99 GAA ranks as the best while his 12 career shutouts rank him at number 3.

After hanging up his goalie pads Grahame returned to the University of Denver to serve as a coach and then as vice-chancellor of sport supervision.

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