Adam Graves came into the OHL in 1985 heralded as one of the most skilled 17-year-old players in the province.
He was happy to get the praise, but Graves was a consummate team-first player and was far more interested in helping the Windsor Spitfires become champions.
“My father always told me that teams win and lose games, individual players don’t,” said Graves after scoring 27 goals and 64 points as a rookie 1985-86. “I’ve always tried to play and act that way no matter what happens to me personally.”
By the time he was finished with his junior career, Graves had put that advice to good use, leading the Spitfires to their best season in franchise history and their first OHL championship.
Graves enjoyed a sensational sophomore season, scoring 45 times and reaching the 100-point plateau in 66 games, but was anxious to start his final season knowing that the team was on the verge of greatness.
“I don’t have any personal goals for points or anything like that,” admitted Graves, the first pick in the second round (22nd overall) of the NHL Draft by the Detroit Red Wings. “I want to be on a championship team. I really think we have an excellent chance this year, but it’s not going to be up to me or any other single player – it’s going to have to be a complete team effort. There’s nothing I want more than to be on a Memorial Cup champion team.”
Graves started the 1987-88 season in Detroit, suiting up for nine games before heading back across the border to rejoin the Spitfires. The Toronto native was disappointed to be heading back to junior, but knew that he had an opportunity to be part of something special with the No. 1 ranked Spitfires.
“Adam struggled in his first few games back with the Spitfires,” said Spitfires’ coach Tom Webster. “He was trying too hard and he was trying to do too much. Once he realized that he didn’t have to go out and do it all – both on the ice and off – he settled down and led by example in just about all aspects in the organization.”
Graves led his team to the OHL championship and then the championship game of the 1988 Memorial Cup. The Spitfires beat Medicine Hat in the final round robin game during which Graves received a gash to his ear that needed 22 stitches to close, but the Tigers proved to be too much in the finale, winning 7-6.
Graves just missed his ultimate goal, but had established himself as a blue chip NHL prospect. He went on to play 15 NHL seasons and won the Stanley Cup twice.
“Adam Graves has always been one of the most genuine persons I’ve ever met in my life,” said former teammate Paul Maurice, who went on to coach in the OHL and NHL. “His success never changed him one bit. He was – and is – a true team player, not only in the game of hockey but in the game of life.”
Written by Aaron Bell