Mike Grier, the NHL's first black general manager, started out as a bench warmer in college

Mike Grier spent the first game of his freshman season at Boston University not on the ice but in the stands, not ready for the roster, ...


Mike Grier spent the first game of his freshman season at Boston University not on the ice but in the stands, not ready for the roster, dealing with a high school freshman checking the schedule. He saw little ice time the next three games and then was told that was what he could expect for the rest of the season as well.

The humbling experience lit a fire under Holliston, Mass.’s big right wing, and set him on a path that ultimately led to college hockey stardom, a 14-season NHL career, and where he is today – the new general manager of the San Jose Sharks and the first black general manager. in league history.

“I was a pretty good player, and I was told I wasn’t going to play that much, that’s never happened to me in my life,” said Grier, who spent three seasons with the Sharks during of his NHL career, during a press conference. tuesday. “The lesson is that there is no easy path. The only thing to do was work harder, train harder. I was just determined to get my place back in the lineup and not let anyone take it away from me.

Announcing the appointment, Jonathan Becher, president of the franchise’s parent company, Sharks Sports and Entertainment, said Grier’s tenacity was one of the qualities that landed him the job. “There are very few candidates who have the strength of character to lead not only in good times but in difficult times,” he said. “Mike has always demonstrated that.”

That night in the BU stands even played a part in the team’s decision. The rookie Grier hung out with was Chris Drury, who is now president and general manager of the Rangers. Drury brought Grier to the Rangers a year ago as a hockey operations adviser, a position in which Grier essentially served as assistant general manager. Drury urged San Jose to give Grier the job, and the Sharks front office listened.

The number of black players in the NHL remains low but has increased over the past decade, and in recent years members of minority groups have secured positions in sports management and media. Kim Davis, who is African American, is the league’s senior executive vice president for social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs. Delvina Morrow, also African-American, is the senior director of strategic and community initiatives for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kevin Weekes and Anson Carter, former black players, regularly appear as analysts on NHL television broadcasts.

Women have also made progress in front offices. After the Devils hired Kate Madigan this week, there are five female assistant general managers at four NHL franchises.

Grier, 47, said being the league’s first black general manager meant a lot to him. “It’s not something I take lightly,” he said. “I realize the responsibility that comes with the territory, but I’m in. If we do well, hopefully it opens doors for someone to follow.

Although Grier is the NHL’s first black general manager, he is not the first in his family to hold such a position. His brother, Chris, has played for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins since 2016.

“Growing up, we talked about the challenges of building rosters,” Mike Grier said. “At dinner, I would like to talk about football. They would like to talk about hockey. They certainly helped me a lot.

Prior to his year with the Rangers front office, Mike Grier spent four years as a scout for Chicago and two as an assistant coach for the Devils. During his playing career, he registered 162 goals and 221 assists in 1,060 games.

Grier was born in Detroit, the son of Bobby Grier, a former college running back turned coach. When Bobby was named an assistant coach at Boston College, he moved his family to the Boston area, where Mike started playing hockey at age 4. Bobby then went on to coach the Patriots.

In 1984, when Mike was 9 years old, he was featured in Sports Illustrated for scoring 227 goals in two seasons. A few years later, while hoping to follow his older brother, Chris, into youth football, Mike broke the local Pop Warner league’s 120-pound weight limit and he stuck with hockey.

In youth hockey, Grier regularly heard derogatory comments, and sometimes racial slurs, from parents and opposing players. His mother, Wendy, who died in 2009, told him to respond with actions, not words. “Just put the puck in the net,” she said.

UB men’s hockey coach at the time, Jack Parker, noticed Grier because of his height — 6-foot-1 and over 200 pounds — but one of his assistants saw another trait.

“His teammates are all waiting to hang out with him after the game and then four or five guys from the other team come over and want to talk to him too,” Parker, 77, said. “He just had that type of personality.”

Grier arrived for his first season weighing nearly 250 pounds, and after having little ice time, he hit hard in the weight room.

“He was just determined to be the best hockey player he could be,” said Jay Pandolfo, who played with Grier at BU and became the Terriers’ head coach in May after five seasons as a Bruins assistant. “He wasn’t going to be denied.”

In his sophomore season — by which time Drury was a fourth-line freshman and one of his closest friends — Grier was 20 pounds lighter and his body fat had dropped to 12 percent. to 25. He scored 29 goals, tied for team highs, was named to the All-American First Team, and helped BU win a national championship.

Grier said he rarely heard racist comments on the ice in college. Once when he did, Drury retaliated. “I was mad at Drury because he almost started a fight, until I found out why,” Parker said.

Grier was drafted in the ninth round in 1993 by St. Louis, and when he decided to return to BU for a third season, the club traded rights with Edmonton. He signed with the Oilers after his freshman year and quickly became known as a dependable role player – the kind of guy who does the critical tasks that don’t appear on the score sheet, like forechecking and head-to-head victory.

Over the years, this attention to the intricacies of hockey has led many coaches and teammates to say that Grier has the potential to be a coach or even a general manager one day.

“He played the game the right way and had great demeanor,” said Ryan Miller, who was the Buffalo Sabers goaltender during Grier’s two stints with the team. “He prepared and brought a competitive nature to the ice, and when you have that and know how to interact with people, it makes sense that people can see Mike in so many different roles.”

On Tuesday, Grier was asked what kind of game he wants from the Sharks. He replied, “Tenacious. Very competitive. Quick. In your face.” It was also an apt description of the way he played.

In six seasons in Edmonton, Grier scored 20 goals twice. It made headlines in 1997 when Chris Simon, a Washington Capitals enforcer, used a racial slur in an altercation with Grier and was suspended for three games.

In 2004, Grier was playing for Buffalo – as a right-winger on a line centered by Drury. The two clicked, and with Miller in goal, the Sabers made it to the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals, losing to Carolina in seven games.

He spent three seasons with the Sharks, then returned to the Sabers for the final two campaigns. In Game 7 of the first round of the 2011 qualifiers against Philadelphia, a first-period shot came out of Grier’s glove and past Miller, propelling the Flyers to victory. After the game, Grier sat in his uniform in the visitors’ locker room, crying, until well after his teammates showered.

It was his last game, but not the end of his hockey career.

“I think he’ll do very well as a GM, for the same reasons he did well in every other aspect of his life,” Parker said. “He’s a competitor. He knows the people and the hockey. He’s a class act.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Mike Grier, the NHL's first black general manager, started out as a bench warmer in college
Mike Grier, the NHL's first black general manager, started out as a bench warmer in college
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