Doug Grant spent countless hours playing shinny on the backyard rink of the late George Daddy Dawe and the frozen ice of the Bay of Islands when he was growing up in Curling.
It would be the start to something special.
Grant, who is now 69, went on to establish himself as one of the province’s best when he became the first Newfoundland goalie to play in the National Hockey League when he signed with the Detroit Red Wings in 1973.
Grant patrolled the crease for a Corner Brook peewee team that also produced the first Corner Brook native to play in the NHL — Joe Lundrigan, who played with both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals.
The Corner Brook peewee squad played St. John’s in a one-game showdown for the provincial title during the 1958-59 season and the Royals downed the townies 1-0 with Grant recording the shutout.
The following season, Grant recorded another shutout as the Corner Brook squad beat Harbour Grace 3-0 in the provincial final at Bell Island.
In February of 1960, Corner Brook travelled to Rimouski for an annual Quebec international hockey tournament and lost to Rimouski 2-1, and two months later the Rimouski team came to Corner Brook for a two-game series with the first game ending in a 1-1 draw and the Royals earning a 2-1 victory in the other game.
Grant graduated from the minor hockey ranks and played five seasons with the Corner Brook Royals before he and wife Rosalind decided to move to St. John’s so Grant could attend Memorial University.
A scout from the Detroit Red Wings organization watched Grant perform in a 4-3 loss to Saint Mary’s in college hockey in 1972 and an invite to the Red Wings training camp for the following season was offered.
Grant would eventually work out a deal that would make him the property of the Red Wings and his NHL pension says he played 431 NHL games between the Red Wings and the St. Louis Blues where he ended his career.
“All the way growing up through, nobody ever thinks you’re going to make the NHL because that was so far removed from us guys,” Grant said.
He did make the show and he believes surviving the pro-hockey racket was a pretty decent accomplishment. It was a whirlwind journey: one day he was playing with his buddies and next thing you know he’s one of the goalies on the big screen in living rooms around the world so he will always have fond memories.
He learned that timing in life is everything, regardless of what somebody does for a living. There were times when he thought he would get other opportunities to extend his playing career and a case where a coaching gig didn’t materialize because of a change in the head coach, but he learned to live with it because hockey was more than a game.
“Hockey is a business and it’s treated that way, and as soon as a player realizes that the better off you are too because that’s what you are,” he said. “Management make decisions based on what they see and you go along with it same as any other job.”
“You have a job to do and that’s it,” he said.
Professional hockey paved the way for Grant’s life after the goalie pads had been put to the wayside. He retired from a sales career with Molson Coors after 23 years of service in 2006 and his status as a former NHLer didn’t hurt his chance of finding success.
“A lot of the places I went into I had the advantage of name recognition and, in Newfoundland, of course, everybody likes hockey and they want to talk hockey so I think that gave me a foot in the door,” he said.
He was one of the elite and thankful for what life brought from hockey.
Newfoundland and Labrador has produced a number of NHLers and it wouldn’t be a big deal if more followed, but Grant believes every minor hockey player must make sure they are having fun first before they think about big dreams.
He said a player must have luck and a lot of skill to make it to the NHL regardless of where they played the game growing up. If a person is fortunate enough to get a college education from playing or happens to be one of the few who turn pro that’s really good stuff, but he insists having fun playing the game is what matters most.
“When I was a young fella it was always fun for me,” he said. “If you’re not having fun there’s no point in playing, and don’t play because somebody else wants you to do it. Do it because you want to do it.
“You go to be able to play the game, enjoy yourself and when the game is over just walk away from it,” he added.
Grant is looking forward to seeing some of his friends when he returns to Corner Brook next week for Hockey Day in Canada events.
Despite his pedigree as a puckstopper, Grant won’t be strapping on the goalie pads for the Alumni game. He figures he’s safer being behind the bench changing the lines and letting the younger guys do the work.
“I won’t be playing goal. Those days are over. The old knees and the body aren’t responding the way it used to one time,” he said with a hearty chuckle.