For some hockey players, the postseason brings out the best in them. John Grahame is one of those guys.
The Providence Bruins, defending American Hockey League Champs, suffered their share of adversity this season and barely squeezed into the playoffs after injuries and call-ups took their toll forcing coach Peter Laviolette to play an AHL-record 70 players throughout the course of the year. But this is where the story gets interesting. Enter Grahame.
He is already the answer to several great trivia questions, but “JG” as he likes to be called, has been keeping the puck out of the net all year whether playing for the moribund Boston Bruins, or the in-over-their-heads P-Bruins of the AHL regular season. John has made no bones about the fact that he would rather play in the NHL than on the farm any day of the week and twice on Sunday. After all, who wouldn’t? But when the ’99-’00 Boston Bruins season ended without a postseason berth for the second time in four years
(at no fault of Grahame’s by the way,) the parent club sent him and a large portion of the cast that brought you the 1999 Calder Cup, back down to Rhode Island’s capital city.
You see, John Grahame is rapidly proving that he is one of those rare athletes who actually thrives when the competition is toughest. Last year, he went 15-4 with a 2.38 GAA and .912 save percentage. He out-performed other netminders who were supposedly much
better than he. JF Labbe, Jose Theodore and Martin Biron found out to their great dismay, that when the game is on the line, John Grahame has few peers in the AHL. Going into the 1999 playoffs, he was looked upon as a glaring weakness on an otherwise stellar
Providence team. Grahame proved his worth in spades and won vindication as he skated around the Providence Civic Center ice with the Calder Cup after going a perfect 10-0 at home. But the story’s just getting started.
When Byron Dafoe decided to change his nickname from “Lord Byron” to “Lord Billfold” and held out to start the new season in Boston, Grahame won the Boston backup job by default. By the second week of the season, he was getting the majority of starts and
was wowing the Boston fans with his beautiful glove and impressive mobility. A little hot headed? Yes. A liability? Absolutely not. In fact, when Dafoe finally did get around to coming back, you could say that Grahame’s play was the catalyst of it all. I mean, Byron was counting on Sinden and Company to come crawling back to him with fists full of dollars after
Grahame and Robbie Tallas failed to get the job done. Didn’t happen. The fact is, Grahame was starting to get on a major roll before Byron wisely accepted Sinden’s offer and rejoined the team. With Tallas having to clear waivers in order to go down to Providence, the
answer was obvious. Grahame would have to go. He didn’t take the demotion well even though Assistant GM Mike O’Connell explained Boston’s position. Still, does it surprise you that Grahame would be furious? He is a competitor after all, and everybody in Beantown
knew he’d earned the right to stay. Better to show some fire than meek acceptance, I wager.
Of course, Grahame went back to Providence. He had his ups. Downs. The team seemed a shadow of its former self. Grahame wrestled with consistency issues. That and having to backstop a cobbled-together lineup with more ECHL players than proven American Leaguers. JG didn’t set the world on fire, but he gave his teams a chance to win. He played like a man waiting for his chance. And when opportunity came knocking in late
February, he answered the door.
A Tallas injury brought Grahame to Boston, but when Dafoe’s knee seized up on him for good in that infamous game against Vancouver, JG was up for the duration. He shut out the Capitals less than a week later, and put together several tremendous games including a victory against Pittsburgh in which the lackluster Bruins were clearly outplayed. Although he came up short in his bid to get his team into the postseason, John Grahame did what every goalie must do. He gave his team a chance to win every night. And so, when the NHL regular season ended on April 9, Grahame did not hit the golf course, but simply packed up his pads and headed down I-95 to that place where he’s had so much success in his young pro career.
The Providence Bruins led by Grahame, swept the Quebec Citadelles in three games straight. Facing the Lowell Lock Monsters and their own star in the cage,
Roberto Luongo, Grahame was magnificent when he needed to be. The end result? Another sweep. Next up, the Hartford Wolfpack, the AHL’s top regular season team, still smarting from a 4-0 spanking at the hands of Providence in last year’s playoffs. Grahame was unable
to go for Game 1, due to a flu bug. Veteran Kay Whitmore got the start and played well, but was unable to get the win. The stage set, Grahame went back to work. Shutting down the potent Wolfpack offense in Game 2, he helped the P-Bruins steal a 4-1 victory. Returning to home ice for Game 3, his team got the offense going in a 5-4 come-from-behind win, with John slamming the door in the final frame as he has been known to do so often. His crowning achievement was a 63-save gem of a performance in the Baby Bruins’ 3-2
double OT victory in Game 4 of the series. His brilliance had Hartford players and fans alike in awe and seriously wondering what else could be done to earn a win against him.
Providence has a long way to go, and Hartford is far from licked, but the evidence is there. Just watch the Providence Bruins play when JG is in net. They simply do not believe they can lose. And so far, they haven’t. Grahame is 10-0 this postseason. Make that 25-4 lifetime in the playoffs. Can you say clutch performer?
When the smoke clears and the last AHL team left standing is holding the Calder Cup, it may or may not be the Providence Bruins. But with John Grahame playing some of his best hockey ever, and the saying that history tends to repeat itself, I for one, would not want to bet against them.
I guess the great philosopher Dirty Harry Callahan said it best when he asked, “Do you feel lucky?” Well, do ya? Punk? With all things being equal, I think I’ll put my money on Grahame and the Providence Bruins to take it all.
How about you?