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Mike Grier, the N.H.L.’s First Black General Manager, Began as a College Benchwarmer


Mike Grier spent the primary game of his freshman season at Boston University not on the ice but within the stands, unready for the lineup, minding a highschool recruit trying out this system. He saw little ice time in the following three games after which was told that was what he could expect for the remainder of the season, too.

The humbling experience lit a hearth under the large right wing from Holliston, Mass., and set him on a course that eventually led to school hockey stardom, a 14-season N.H.L. profession, and where he’s today — the newly appointed general manager of the San Jose Sharks, and the primary Black general manager. in league history.

“I used to be a reasonably good player, and being told I wasn’t going to play that much, that never happened to me in my life,” Grier, who spent three seasons with the Sharks during his N.H.L. profession, said at a news conference on Tuesday. “The lesson there may be there’s no easy way. The one thing to do was to work harder, practice harder. I used to be just determined to win my spot back within the lineup and never let anyone take it away.”

In announcing the appointment, Jonathan Becher, the president of the franchise’s parent company, Sharks Sports and Entertainment, said Grier’s tenacity was considered one of the qualities that had landed him the job. “There are precious few candidates who’ve the strength of character to guide not only in good times but in difficult ones,” he said. “Mike has consistently demonstrated that.”

That night within the stands at B.U. even had a job within the team’s decision. The recruit Grier frolicked with was Chris Drury, who’s now the Rangers’ president and general manager. Drury brought Grier to the Rangers a 12 months ago as a hockey operations adviser, a post wherein Grier essentially served as an assistant general manager. Drury urged San Jose to present Grier the job, and the Sharks’ front office listened.

The variety of Black players within the N.H.L. stays small but has increased over the past decade, and in recent times, members of minority groups have gained posts in management and the sports media. Kim Davis, who’s African American, is the league’s senior executive vp 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, Black former players, appear frequently as analysts on N.H.L. telecasts.

Women have made progress in front offices, too. After the Devils’ hiring of Kate Madigan this week, there are five female assistant general managers across 4 N.H.L. franchises.

Grier, 47, said being the league’s first Black general manager meant lots to him. “It’s not something I take frivolously,” he said. “I realize the responsibility that comes with the territory, but I’m up for it. If we do well, hopefully it’s going to open some doors for somebody to follow.”

While Grier is the primary Black general manager within the N.H.L., he’s not the primary one in his family to have such a position. His brother, Chris, has been within the role for the Miami Dolphins of the N.F.L. since 2016.

“Growing up, we talked concerning the challenges of constructing rosters,” Mike Grier said. “At dinner I’d need to talk football. They’d need to talk hockey. They definitely helped me lots.”

Before his 12 months with the Rangers’ front office, Mike Grier spent 4 years as a scout for Chicago and two as an assistant coach for the Devils. In his playing profession, he notched 162 goals and 221 assists in 1,060 games.

Grier was born in Detroit, a son of Bobby Grier, a former college running back who had gone into coaching. When Bobby was named an assistant coach for Boston College, he moved his family to the Boston area, where Mike began playing hockey at age 4. Bobby later became a coach with the Patriots.

In 1984, when Mike was 9, he was highlighted in Sports Illustrated for having scored 227 goals over two seasons. A number of years later, when he hoped to follow his older brother, Chris, into youth football, Mike exceeded the local Pop Warner league’s 120-pound weight limit, and he stuck with hockey.

In youth hockey, Grier frequently heard derogatory comments, and sometimes racial slurs, from parents and opposing players. His mother, Wendy, who died in 2009, would tell him to reply with actions, not words. “Just put the puck in the online,” she would say.

The B.U. men’s hockey coach on the time, Jack Parker, noticed Grier due to his size — 6 feet 1 inch and over 200 kilos — but considered one of his assistants had seen one other trait.

“His teammates are all waiting to hang around with him after the sport, after which 4 or five guys from the opposite team come over and need to check with him, too,” Parker, 77, said. “He just had that sort of personality.”

Grier arrived for his freshman season weighing near 250 kilos, and after getting little ice time, he hit the burden room hard.

“He was just determined to make himself as an excellent a hockey player as he could,” said Jay Pandolfo, who played with Grier at B.U. and have become 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 then Drury was a freshman on the fourth line and considered one of his closest friends — Grier was 20 kilos lighter, and his body fat had fallen to 12 percent from 25. He scored 29 goals, tied for tops on the team, was named a first-team all-American, and helped B.U. win a national championship.

Grier has said he rarely heard racist comments on the ice in college. One time when he did, Drury retaliated. “I used to be mad at Drury because he almost began a fight, until I discovered why,” Parker said.

Grier had been drafted within the ninth round in 1993 by St. Louis, and when he decided to return to B.U. for a 3rd season, the club traded his rights to Edmonton. He signed with the Oilers after his junior 12 months and quickly became often called a reliable role player — the type of guy who does the critical tasks that don’t show up on the rating sheet, like forechecking and winning one-on-one battles.

Through the years, that spotlight to hockey’s finer points caused several coaches and teammates to say Grier had the potential to be a coach or perhaps a general manager someday.

“He played the sport the suitable way and had a fantastic demeanor,” said Ryan Miller, who was the Buffalo Sabres’ goalie during Grier’s two stints with the team. “He prepared and brought a competitive nature to the ice, and when you’ve that and you understand the best way to interact with people, it is sensible why people can see Mike in so many various roles.”

On Tuesday, Grier was asked what sort of game he wanted from the Sharks. He responded: “Tenacious. Highly competitive. Fast. In your face.” It was also an apt description of how he played.

In six seasons in Edmonton, Grier twice scored 20 goals. He was forged into headlines in 1997 when Chris Simon, an enforcer with the Washington Capitals, used a racial slur in an altercation with Grier and was suspended for 3 games.

By 2004, Grier was playing for Buffalo — as the suitable wing on a line centered by Drury. The 2 clicked, and with Miller in goal, the Sabres made it to the 2006 Eastern Conference finals, losing to Carolina in seven games.

He spent three seasons with the Sharks after which returned to the Sabres for 2 final campaigns. In Game 7 in the primary round of the 2011 playoffs against Philadelphia, a first-period shot went off Grier’s glove and past Miller, sparking the Flyers to victory. After the sport, Grier sat in his uniform within the visitors’ locker room, crying, until well after his teammates had showered.

It proved to be his last game but not the top of his profession in hockey.

“I feel he’ll do real well as G.M., for a similar reasons he’s done well in every other aspect of his life,” Parker said. “He’s a competitor. He knows people and hockey. He’s a category act.”

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