SKATING AWAY ON HIS OWN TERMS
As the NHL miles added up, so too did the toll on Graham. By the time 1994-95 season had wrapped up, Graham came to the conclusion it was time to walk away – while he still could.
Wanting to make sure he left on his terms, Graham’s remarkable playing career came to a close with nearly 800 NHL games to his name.
“It was important for me to be able to walk away from the game on my own terms a little bit and to be healthy and walk around, play golf, and workout when I was older,” Graham, who still calls the Chicago area home, pointed out.
“There was a part of me that I wanted to move away from the game, or playing at least anyways, because my first few years playing [pro] hockey weren’t great, so I wanted to get out – I don’t know if on top is the right term – still being able to contribute. It was a difficult decision, but it was kind of made by my body saying it’s time.”
MAKING HISTORY BEHIND THE BENCH
While it’s been more than two decades since his last NHL game as a player, Graham has never left the game.
He immediately stepped into a coaching role as an assistant with Chicago after his playing days, and has gone onto coach and scout at both the NHL and AHL levels.
Among his many stops over the years, Graham made history in 1998 with Chicago, when he became the first black head coach in NHL history – something that didn’t strike Graham at the time, but has meant more over the years.
“At the time, no, but I think reflecting back especially the way things are moving now, I think it was good,” said Graham of whether he thought much about the significance his hiring had at the time.
“At any point if young kids – whether they’re black, white, Hispanic or whatever – can see someone doing something a little different that looks like you and inspire them to reach for those stars, I think that’s always a huge positive.”
“As we move along, the more coaches of colour [that are] coaching in the NHL, or the AHL, the more expected it’s going to be. It’s just a matter of time. There are more black players playing now, so I think it’s tremendous for the game, obviously. It’ll continue to move in the right direction as we move forward. Looking back it was a tremendous thing and hopefully it inspired some kids along the way.”