85 Years of Blood, Sweat and Cheers: Dirk Graham
In this edition of the "85 Years" series, Troy Murray discusses former teammate and fellow Selke Trophy winner Dirk Graham.
When you think about a player like Dirk Graham, you don’t really measure him by his numbers — even though they were very good — or his ability, which was also very high. I remember him as the ultimate leader and teammate. He had that charisma and character, and when he walked into a room he commanded your respect. Not only did he feel comfortable challenging players in the locker room, he was able to back it up on the ice. He was one of the best captains I ever played with.
On November 17, 1926, the Chicago Black Hawks took the ice for the first time. 85 years later, the Blackhawks hold an important place in NHL history and Chicago sports.
In celebration of the Blackhawks’ 85th anniversary, Blackhawks Magazine and chicagoblackhawks.com will profile some of the greatest players to ever don the sweater, with essays written by the people who knew them best: teammates, rivals, broadcasters and other members of the NHL community.
Check chicagoblackhawks.com every Wednesday for another entry in the "85 Years" series.
Recent "85 Years" essays:
> Doug Wilson, by Tony Esposito
> Eddie Belfour, by Darren Pang
> The Pony Line, by Harvey Wittenberg
> Pierre Pilote, by Glenn Hall
> Jonathan Toews, by Steve Yzerman
> Bill Hay, by Eric Nesterenko
> Bob Probert, by Dave Manson
Dirk was a latecomer to the NHL, but you didn’t look at his numbers and say, “This is what he’s all about.” I think it took time for people around the league to really understand what he was about: heart and character. He was just one of those players that you wanted to go to war with. If you were going into the corners, that’s the guy you wanted on your side. He was the ultimate teammate, a great linemate of mine for years, and I knew he was always watching out for me. He was a true competitor with the character inside that made him such a special player.
If there was anything going on and you found yourself in the middle of a scrum, Dirk was the first one to be there and have your back. I remember many times when there was some kind of battle going on, before you knew it, there was Dirk.
He competed hard. He was soft-spoken in a lot of ways, but when he did speak, everybody listened to him. Anybody who played with or against Dirk really respected him because of how honestly he played the game and how fiercely he competed. He was one of those guys that you hated to play against but you loved to play with. Maybe that’s the ultimate compliment that you could give a player — everybody on the opposing team knew that Dirk was out there, and if you were going to step across the line, he was going to hold you accountable.
It’s not that he was the biggest guy in the world, but it was the size of his heart and his determination that got him the success that he had in the league. Early on in his career, in the minors, he could have easily gone wayward, but he didn’t; he kept his focus where it needed to be and eventually made himself into an NHL player.
Dirk could score goals. He was an unbelievable penalty killer and an underrated player, but when you think of Dirk Graham, you think of the leader he was. Anybody who walked into that locker room and had a chance to be around him, that was the kind of guy you emulated. When you saw how hard he worked and how much he put into the game of hockey, everybody who saw him came out a better player.
After I moved on from the Blackhawks, we remained very good friends — which we still are today — but it was really different playing against Dirk the first few times. Even though we were good friends, you knew that once you were on the ice it was a different situation. That’s what made him so special. He was a true competitor, and he hated to lose more than just about anyone I ever played against. He would buy you a beer after the game, but that was only after playing a tough 60 minutes of hockey.
In my mind, there’s no question that he remains one of the Blackhawks’ best captains ever. When I think of the captain, I think of what he stands for and what he meant to his team, and if you could picture a guy who was a true representative of a Chicago Blackhawk, that’s the type of player you think of. Dirk Graham was that player. I’ve played under great captains in the league, and Dirk is one of the best leaders the Blackhawks had or ever will have.
Other than myself, Dirk still remains the only Blackhawk to win the Selke Trophy, and again that shows the character and determination that Dirk had. He worked extremely hard at both ends of the ice and took a lot of pride in all areas of the game.
I was fortunate to win the Selke a few years earlier, and when Dirk was selected in 1991, I thought to myself, “Hey, that’s pretty cool.” To share something like that with Dirk Graham is pretty special.