Oilers retire Grant Fuhr's No. 31

Updated: October 9, 2003, 11:57 PM ET

EDMONTON, Alberta -- Hall of Fame goalie Grant Fuhr looked almost tortured as he stood at center ice and watched his Edmonton Oilers No. 31 jersey lifted to the rafters Thursday night at Skyreach Centre.

He was much more comfortable staring down opposing shooters than he ever was talking in public.

So it was with a faint heart that he took center stage to accept the adulation of his fans for his role in bringing five Stanley Cups to Edmonton during the 1980s.

The damp-eyed Fuhr had the crowd of 16,000 roaring when he took to the podium before the Oilers opened the season against San Jose. He was decked out in his goaltending gear, including the mask.

"I have been part of a lot of opening nights, but none better than this," said Fuhr, who played 19 NHL seasons.

Fuhr, who admitted later he had a few sleepless nights in anticipation of the event, said it is hard for him to speak in public.

"I hate speaking," he said. "I made more speeches in the last two days than I will make in the rest of my life."

After watching a montage of some of the highlights of a career that featured five Stanley Cups, 403 wins, a Vezina Trophy, six All-Star appearances and 74 Oilers playoff victories, Fuhr alluded to some of the tough times in his career. He was suspended by the NHL in 1990 for 60 games when he revealed he had a substance abuse problem.

"Everybody here stuck with me and that's a beautiful thing," he said. "The group of guys we had here were just one big family. I was happy to be a part of that."

He will have to make a longer speech at his Hockey Hall of Fame induction Nov. 3, but he was hoping it might be easier there than addressing the fans in the city where he grew up.

"He wasn't a rah-rah guy in the dressing room," said Charlie Huddy, now an Oilers assistant coach. "He was one of those guys who just went out and did his damage on the ice."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index