BU In His Blood

Mike Grier played three seasons at Boston University, winning a national championship in 1995. Following year, after his junior season, he left the program. But BU never really left him.

Over a 14-year NHL career, his ties to the school played a role in his success, and just recently had a direct impact on what he has become: the first black general manager in the National Hockey League. 

The San Jose Sharks appointed Grier to the post in July. In making the announcement, the club’s brain trust was swayed by a strong recommendation from the N.Y. Rangers’ president and GM, Chris Drury, who was a freshman on BU’s ’95 national championship team – and Grier’s roommate. 

But Drury knows Grier from more than just their dog days with the Terriers – in 2021 he hired Grier to work for the Rangers in what amounted to an assistant GM job. 

“The BU community is very tight,” Grier admitted. “We all love the school and are proud of the program. A lot of us go back in the summer and play in golf tournaments.” 

That, Grier added, is a testament to Jack Parker, the legendary BU coach for 40 seasons and winner of three national titles. 

“He’s what binds us together and it’s probably all the lessons we learned from him that we’ve advanced in hockey.”

Grier hopes his new role will inspire other minorities and women to pursue the increasing opportunities that are opening up in the NHL and in hockey in general. 

“Since my playing days the league itself has gotten more and more diverse, there’s more Black players in the league and more minorities in the league,” he said. “I’m always looking to give people opportunities. The goal is to hire the best people and people who are passionate about their job and work hard, and I’m going to do my best to give opportunities to people to show what they can do.”

A gritty right wing who played three seasons with the Sharks in his career, Grier said he’s also pleased to see the rise of American talent. 

“When I was first starting out you had Keith Tkachuk and Roenick, Dougie Weight, Tony Amonte, really good players,” Grier said. “Now it’s kind of the next generation. We have the leading goal scorer in Austin Matthews. You look at players like Trevor Zegras and the skill level is through the roof. The talent in USA Hockey is as high as it’s ever been.”

As for the BU connections, the Grier clan is actually quite a story. His father Bobby played college football and then became an assistant at Eastern Michigan. When Boston College offered Bobby a job, the Grier family moved to one of the nation’s true hockey hotbeds. Mike and his older brother Chris bother took up the hockey but soon Chris gravitated to football. Mike was a big kid, and too heavy to make the 120-pound weight limit in the local youth football league. 

It was actually a break. When he was nine, he scored 227 goals over two seasons and was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” section. He was a star in prep school hockey and as a senior he was drafted in the ninth round but the St Louis Blues. To call Grier a long shot to make The Show, consider this: the league doesn’t even have a ninth round anymore.

When he arrived at BU he looked more like an offensive lineman than a hockey player, and for the first game he was a healthy scratch, and was told to take care of a recruit who was checking out the program, a kid from Connecticut named Drury. 

Not liking the view from the stands, Grier kicked his off-ice workouts into high gear, dropped 25 pounds, became faster and stronger, and in his sophomore season scored 29 goals in 37 games was named a first-team All-American. He also helped the Terriers to the national title, defeating Maine, 6-2.

“When Mike got in better shape, his skating improved tremendously,” Parker recalled. “The pace of his game picked up and when he carried the puck up the ice, they couldn’t stop him. Guys just bounced off of him.”

After one more season at BU, he signed the Edmonton Oilers, scored 21 goals in his rookie season and had 20 in two more of his first six seasons as an NHLer. By 2005 he was playing for Buffalo on a line centered by Drury. The two clicked and the Sabres made it to the eastern conference finals, losing to eventual champions Carolina Hurricanes in seven games. 

“If it hadn’t been for some injuries, we might have won the Cup,” said Grier, who retired in 2011 having played 1,060 games with 162 goals and 221 assists. 

He followed up his playing career with stints as a Devils assistant and Blackhawks scout before joining the Rangers.

As Mike was making his name in hockey his father and brother gaining ground in football. Bobby became an assistant coach and scout for the Patriots and the Houston Texans. In 2016, Chris was named GM of the Miami Dolphins. 

In naming Grier to the GM post, the Sharks’ president, Jonathan Becher said the team did more than 200 hours of interviews, with former players and league executives, to find the best person for the job. 

“Mike separated himself from the pack,” Becher said. “One of the strongest proponents for Mike was Chris Drury.” 

And after the Rangers’ run last season to the conference finals, it seems that when Drury speaks, people listen.

Grier’s hiring is where that BU theme really picks up steam. In one of his first moves, he hired a new coach – David Quinn who had played at BU in the 1980s. While Grier was skating for the Terriers, Quinn was trying to figure out how to stop him as an assistant at Northeastern. 

Over the years they got together at summer golf outings, and when Quinn was coaching the Terriers from 2013 to 2018, Grier made a habit of dropping by.

 “I’d go over to school and work out and Quinnie was kind enough to talk hockey with me,” Grier recalled. 

Quinn, by the way, coached the Rangers for three seasons and this year stepped up for USA Hockey, coaching the men’s national teams in the both the 2022 Olympics and World Championships.

The Terriers pipeline in San Jose doesn’t stop there. Veteran winger Matt Nieto also played for a certain school located along the banks of the Charles River, as did John McCarthy, the head coach of the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda.

Grier said he hopes to mold the Sharks into a fast, tenacious, in-your-face team – pretty much how he played. He said it might take a little time to challenge for the Cup, but he promised the Sharks would battle like, well, terriers – that’s terriers with a lower-case T.

“We’re going try to win every night and try to make the playoffs. If we don’t, we will at least be competitive all season long and put out an effort that we can all be proud of,” he said. 

“If we’re not quite there yet, we’re not quite there yet, but we’re going to play hard every single night.”

 

Neal Boudette is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Issue: 
2022-09

Poll

What's Your Favorite Thing About The Hockey Season?
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