Bruins continue successful alliance

August 31, 2014

Shortly after the released of the 2014/15 American Hockey League’s schedule, the NHL’s Boston Bruins announced they had agreed to a long-term affiliation with the AHL Providence Bruins.

This will be the 23rd consecutive season the two clubs have worked together, making it one of the longest standing “player development agreements” between the two leagues.

The two clubs being just an hours car drive apart is just one of the benefits of the affiliation.

Over 190 players have spent time with both teams in their history working together, with such names including Patrice Bergeron, Johnny Boychuk, David Krejci, Torey Krug, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, Ryan Spooner, Niklas Svedberg and Tim Thomas.

The Providence Bruins have won five division championships and have reached the postseason 17 times in 22 years, capturing the Calder Cup championship in 1999.

Their straight run of making eleven straight playoff appearances was broken in the 2009/10 season and that started a three year barren spell for the team.

They’ve been back on track for the last two years however, making the second round before suffering tough losses on both occasions to Wilkes-Barre Scranton in seven game series.

Peter Chiarelli also announced that Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney has been named the General Manager of the Providence Bruins and that Jay Pandolfo has been hired as Development Coach.

As many NHL teams have shown as late, having a strong AHL team can be a key asset to success and furthering your progress.

 

Providence_Bruins_logo.svg

 


Medvescak look to avoid sophomore season

August 24, 2014

Medvescak Zagreb had a wonderful debut season in the KHL.

Making the playoffs and finishing sixth in the Western Conference with consummate ease in the end, was beyond the expectations of most.
The hard part will now be repeating the feat, which with that way the team is run will not be an easy task. Initially selling Medvescak as a place to play in the KHL to prospective coaches and players was always going to be problematic as the Croatian’s cannot pay the salaries of the wealthier Russian teams.

Medvescak were smart however and sold themselves as a way of players to advertise themselves for the bigger teams in the KHL by playing big ice minutes and agreeing not to stand in the way should a “larger club” look to acquire the services of one of their stars. Also you have the factor of Croatia being a more pleasant place to live than certain parts of Russia and the language barrier is not a huge issue as English is largely spoken there, especially in Zagreb as I’ve found myself.

It’s no surprise then to find a huge turnover of staff and players heading into Medvescak’s second KHL season.

 Chuck WeberChuck Weber

Gone is Head Coach Mark French who was offered a way back into North American hockey with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. Taking his place at the helm will be Chuck Weber, who like French before him will be coaching in Europe and the KHL for the first time. Weber’s coaching career has been spent in the lower ranks of North American hockey but not without success. Two Kelly Cup Championships wins with Cincinnati Cyclones in the space of three seasons the height of his head coaching career. His last four years have been spent in the AHL, the majority with San Antonio Rampage where last season he stepped down to become an assistant coach while taking on the extra responsibility’s of “Director of Operations.” Alan Letang has retired from playing and has been given an assistant coaches role where he takes over from the departing Don MacLean.

 Barry BrustBarry Brust

Goaltending has remained pretty much the same heading into 2014/15 as once more Barry Brust and Mark Dekanich will share duties between the pipes. Both were equally competent through the regular season and had remarkably similar records. Allowing 57 goals each and with .007 and .04 separating them respectively in save percentage and goals against averages. The third goaltender is an interesting selection in Sweden’s Christian Engstrand. His play in the last two seasons for Linkoping (SHL) is said to have been of the highest order and I can’t imagine he would be happy receiving little to no ice time next season.

 Shaone MorrisonnShaone Morrisonn

Of the ten defensemen used last season, only four in the form of Mathieu Carle, Mark Katic, Sasa Martinovic and Mark Popovic will return to Zagreb.

Doubling the defensive ranks will be the following four gentlemen.

Shawn Belle was playing in the AHL up until 2011 and was a former NHL first round pick. Vastly experienced, he’s very much a stay at home defenseman so don’t expect to see him jumping into the play that much.

Mark Flood is another experienced defenseman but with more offensive upside than Belle. Spent the majority of his career in the AHL before a first season in the KHL with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Went back to North America last year where he had a fairly successful season with a struggling Charlotte Checkers team.

Andrew Hutchinson is a veteran of 140 NHL and over 400 AHL games. Had two seasons with Barys Astana in recent times so he’ll be well aware of what he faces. Could well be used to quarterback the power play, an area where Medvescak will strive to improve.

Shaone Morrisonn is a physical presence on the back-end who will most likely be paired with a more offensive partner. Like his new team mates, he’s vastly experienced with 480 NHL games and has tasted the KHL before now. Is reported to be wearing an “A” this season.

Darren HaydarDarren Haydar

The biggest challenge faced by Medvescak’s management was to replenish the forward lines and replace Ryan Vesce, Matt Murley and Jonathan Cheechoo. Between them, those three contributed 50 goals and 109 points last season and were a huge part of the teams success. Bill Thomas will look to build on promising first year totals of eleven goals and 31 points. Joining him and the other returning five players will be a mixture of older professional’s, mostly who have plied their trade in the American Hockey League.

Darren Haydar is an AHL legend having played 774 games and averaging over a point per game during his career. Not the most mobile of players but has really good vision on the ice and is highly skilled. Spent his first season in Europe last year with DEL team EHC München .

Jason Krog was a teammate of Haydar’s on the Chicago Wolves and has also racked up a ton of AHL experience with 535 appearances. Playmaking Centreman who has played wing on occasion and his skill on the face-off should be a valuable asset. The 38 year old has spent the last three season with HV71 in the SHL.

Mike Hedden joins Medvescak after having won the Calder Cup with the dominant Texas Stars. He was a real force in the playoffs where he led in goal with nine. Smart and offensively gifted player who came to the professional game a little later than most but continues to improve year on year.

Pascal Pelletier spent three seasons in the NLA as captain of Langnau, before the Vancouver organisation tempted him back last year to play for their new AHL franchise. Considering the poor season Utica had, Pelletier was a standout with 22 goals and 62 points. He’s a committed two way winger who doesn’t know the meaning of giving up. That and his offensive abilities make up for his other deficiencies in size and speed.

Another winger is Brandon Segal who is a “big unit” and plays a physical brand of hockey. A committed two-way played like Pelletier, his hard work and decent shot makes up a little for his otherwise lack of offensive ability. His last two seasons in the AHL were his best for points production however.

Martin St. Pierre is someone I saw a lot of last season as his Hamilton Bulldogs team played the Toronto Marlies what felt like every week. He’s a smaller player but a real threat offensively and knows how to pick a pass. Definite power play option and six of his ten goals came with his team having the extra man. He’s predominately a Centreman and another who has a wealth of AHL experience with just under 600 games to his name.

Matt Anderson is the epitome of hard work, having to work his way up in professional hockey before making his NHL debut aged 30. A reliable and consistent performer in the AHL but failed to pull up tree’s to make the step up. He also suffered two concussions in his time with Albany which is a slight concern. Played in the KHL with Spartak Moskva last season and registered 11 goals/20 points.

Marcel Rodman is the exception to the rule as he’s the only man to have been consistently playing his hockey in Europe. Has plenty of international experience playing for Slovenia and spent the majority of his career in Austria where his record is nigh on PPG pace through 300+ games.

Anthony Stewart is the real unknown quantity , signed after a successful tryout. At his best he was a power winger who had decent hands and a better than average shot. The former NHL first round pick’s career has stumbled in recent times as he’s bounced around teams and league across the world. Last season he spent time with three different clubs including a stint with KHL team Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. At 29 years old he shouldn’t be washed up but I’ve no idea what to expect from him.

Brock Trotter also signs after a tryout. He’s missed two season through injury but there is plenty of upside should he be fully fit and firing. The 27 year old Centreman absolutely tore up the AHL in his second full season with the Hamilton Bulldogs, producing better than PPG pace. Decided to head to the KHL in 2010 and play for Dinamo Riga. A 26 point season was a fair effort but he was even better in the post season where he recorded nine points in eleven games.

KHL_Medvescak_Zagreb_Logo

One of the key’s for Medvescak to secure another successful is to continue their excellent home form. Of the 92 points accrued, 54 were gained on home turf as they lost just five games in regulation. I abhor the shootout but Medvescak lost eight of eleven they were involved in last year and also four of five games to be decided in overtime. Both area’s where they can look to improve.

Special teams were good overall during the regular season, although it didn’t seem like it at times. The power play was ranked seventh at almost 20% while the penalty kill was fourth best. That statistic is made more remarkable by the fact they were the third highest team in times shorthanded, an area they must look to seek improvement.

Predictions? I thought they might sneak into the playoffs last season when many doubted, so I’m feeling the pressure a little this time around. Starting almost from new again will be tough but I once more think Medvescak will be good enough to make the post season. Anything after that is a bonus.

 

 


Fans take step closer in action to sue NHL

August 22, 2014

Two years ago in New York, a lawsuit was filed by a group of unhappy NHL fans who claimed that the restrictions on broadcasting were inappropriately driving up the price of sports cable television packages. We are now heading towards an impending trial which I’ll touch upon later.

The lawsuit isn’t just filed at the NHL with the MLB also a target but for the purposes of this article I’ll concentrate on the NHL side of things.

The Toronto Star reported this back in 2012 and the following report from them fully explains the situation better than I could.

*** “No one in New York,” the court filings say, “has access to any live presentation of a contest involving the Rangers over the Internet, despite the fact that Rangers’ contests are routinely streamed over the Internet to consumers elsewhere. . . . The sole reason for this restriction is to interfere with competition.”

By restricting more widely available game telecasts, the league “is able to charge monopoly pricing and limit the choices available to consumers.”

The restrictions amount to a breach of U.S. antitrust law, charges the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Maple Leafs, is listed as a defendant, as are the NHL’s other 29 clubs.

The blackouts have long been a point of contention among fans when it comes to Game Centre Live, in particular. They are of course designed to protect the ratings of the network that owns the TV rights for the local team, but the consumer is often a big loser in that scenario.

It’s not just for teams in their home markets. For instance, in Iowa (where I got to find this out for myself the hard way), a fan who purchases the GCL package is likely to have games blacked out for each of the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues, whether that individual’s cable provider carries the networks that those teams are on or not. That’s a loss of a significant amount of games despite the cost associated with the service for the consumer.

What will make this trial even more interesting to follow is how it would impact each individual team’s flexibility in controlling their own broadcasting rights outside of their local market.

The NHL has prevented its teams from selling their TV rights outside of the local markets since 1985 according to Rick Westhead.***
NHL-Gamecenter-Blackout

 

The lawsuit will also challenge the NHL’s tactic of charging customers $179.80 for its full-season offering of games available on cable and satellite providers. Again, both of those packages, known as NHL Center Ice, black out in-market games.

The motion to dismiss was denied by Shira Scheindlin, a federal judge in New York, according to the New York Times and we are set for a trial to start in early 2015.

Interesting if the lawsuit is successful it would definitely benefit some teams in the NHL who would be able to stretch out their financial muscle across North America and across the world in some cases.

Imagine the Toronto Maple Leafs with the power to sell their brand and TV rights across the world?

I’m sure there might be some inside MLSE who hope this lawsuit bears fruition.

You could probably say the same for the original six and perhaps a handful of others.

As the Toronto Star says “The question for the individual teams is if they would be able to find a market for selling their rights beyond the boundaries of their local market. Surely, not every team would, but most owners probably wouldn’t mind finding another revenue stream that they can solely control.”

Television rights and blackouts have always been a course of contention, no more so than recently in Europe and my home in the UK, where we face average television coverage but also blackouts on our equivalent internet NHL package in the form of Game Center Live.

The NHL are putting a brave face on the situation with Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, quoted as saying that the NHL remains “confident of ultimately prevailing on the merits,” despite losing their motion to dismiss the case.

The impact of this case could well have a major impact on the NHL and the television rights moving forward and I imagine it’ll be a long drawn out affair with so many complex issues and laws to consider.

 

 


AHL enforcing tough men to change ways

August 19, 2014

The following rule was brought in by the American Hockey League this summer to start as of the 2014/15 season.

20.4 (“Major Penalties”)

An automatic game misconduct will be applied to any player who has been assessed two major penalties for fighting or three major penalties for any infraction in the same game.

The AHL were certainly stringent last year on offences they deemed worthy of further punishment using the following rule.

Rule 28 – Supplementary Discipline

28.1 Supplementary Discipline – In addition to the automatic fines and suspensions imposed under these rules, the President may, at his discretion, investigate any incident that occurs in connection with any Pre-season, Exhibition, League or Playoff game and may assess additional fines and/or suspensions for any offense committed during the course of a game or any aftermath thereof by a player, goalkeeper, Trainer, Manager, Coach or non-playing Club personnel or Club executive, whether or not such offense has been penalized by the Referee.

With that in mind and the ruling regarding helmets made stricter, I was intrigued to see whether AHL teams would re-sign their fighters and highest penalty minute collators from last season.

Here’s the low-down on the top ten worst offenders in 2013/14.

Zack Stortini led the way in PIM, attaining 299, while a member of the Norfolk Admirals. On seven occasions Stortini hit double figures in a single game while twice racking up 17 and 22 PIM respectively. Lehigh Valley Phantoms have acquired his services for the 14/15 season.

Michael Liambas finished second in the list but his PIM average usurped Stortini, at almost 4.5 minutes per game in his first full AHL season.

You may recognise the name as he was suspended for the remainder of the OHL season including playoffs for boarding Ben Fanelli during a game against the Kitchener Rangers in April of 2009. Milwaukee Admirals have re-signed him for next season.

Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond was the “AHL’s Most Penalized Player“ in 2010/11 with 334 PIM. Ironically during that season he picked up twice as many points as he acquired last year. In the second year of a two-way deal, it’s most likely Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will be his home again.

Brett Gallant has picked up PIM in the AHL with the ease Connor McDavid accrued goals and points in peewee. A total of 615PIM in 143 games for Gallant and last season he played his first 50+ games in the American Hockey League and passed the 250 barrier. He was re-signed to a one year-two way deal

Five and Six on the list both played for the Adirondack Phantoms but neither will be suiting up for the Philadelphia Flyers new AHL team, Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Both accrued 231PIM for the season but Zack Fitzgerald’s came in a staggering 38 games, at an average of over six. Shouldn’t really be too much of a surprise as he was the AHL’s PIM leader in 2009/10 and 2011/12. He is off to Scotland to be player/assistant coach for the Braehead Clan.

FightZack FitzGerald, left, of the Charlotte Checkers, fights with Piere-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, of the Albany Devils.
Image from http://www.CTpost.com

Brandon Manning hasn’t been offered a contract after finishing his entry level deal and is yet to find a new team. His points and PIM increased every season while with Adirondack and he suited up ten times for Philadelphia Flyers.

Bobby Robins is next and since coming back to the AHL with Providence Bruins, has consistently been amongst the top penalty minute earners. In fact last year he topped the table in that category. This will the second season of his two way deal with Boston.

Dane Byers is the first captain on the list and he will once more be wearing the “C” for the Hershey Bears in 2014. It was back to old ways for Byers whose total of 211PIM was a return to his highest total since his first full AHL season in 2006.

By no means is Kris Newbury just a hard nosed player as his 0.74PPG average in over 650 AHL games proves. He’s the third player to represent Adirondack Phantoms on the list as he spent the majority of the season with that team. Like the aforementioned Byers, his PIM tally is his highest in a long time, having to look back until his time with the Toronto Marlies in 2005/06 to see him hitting the 200 mark. Newbury has signed with the Hershey Bears after a loan spell toward the end of last year.

Completing the top ten is Curt Gogol, who began the season with Worcester Sharks before being traded and assigned to he Iowa Wild. Gogal has played under 150 games but passed the 500PIM mark with ease. He will be suiting up for his new team in 2014.

As mentioned, Adirondack Phantoms have three players in the top three with another inside the top 20.

Lake Erie Monsters are next with three player with Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Binghamton Senators both having two. The latter’s two representatives are remarkable both rookies in the form of Darren Kramer and Michael Sdao. Kramer’s total racked up at an average of night of four minutes per game

The question is will these players, let alone the teams, adapt for the new rules? It’s not just fighting that will be clamped down on as boarding and charging will be treated with as much disdain by the officials on the ice and those in charge of discipline inside the offices of the AHL.

I was witness to one of the games last season that has inevitably led to the AHL’s clamp down on discipline.

On Friday, March 7th 2014, the Toronto Marlies visited Lake Erie and both teams shared exactly 200 PIM.

Including ten fighting penalties and the same number of misconduct penalties, the officials weren’t at their best but there was nothing to excuse the majority of the behaviour from both teams.

The gloves being dropped after the opening face-off and again inside four minutes set the tone of the game.

I’m not anti-fighting per-se but a fight from the opening face-off is not a road hockey needs to be going down in this day and age.

I’m prepared to wager that the AHL will come down hard and fast with disciplinary action to set their stall early should players be ejected from games in the opening weeks of the season.

 

Note:

Rule 9.6 (“Helmets”)

A player on the ice whose helmet comes off during play will be assessed a minor penalty unless he immediately (a) exits the playing surface or (b) puts the helmet back on with the chin strap properly fastened.

 


Andy French Interview

August 18, 2014

Back in December of 2013, I was fortunate to be reporting at the Men’s U20 World Championship Group that GB were hosting in Dumfries, Scotland. With the Stanley Cup in town I was lucky to be present for it’s arrival and the huge buzz of excitement around it. 

Unfortunately I had some technical difficulties with the recordings made in December but with that resolved, here is the brief interview with General Secretary of Ice Hockey UK, Andy French, who I spoke with about the Stanley Cup and delved into the eligibility rules of players representing their country.

Getting the NHL’s Stanley Cup to the UK is obviously a huge achievement, how and when did you start that process?

It all started in May last year (2012).
I’m a good friend of Phil Pritchard (keeper of the cup) as I’ve known him many years, and after we won the bid to host here in Dumfries, I proposed the to ice hockey board that we have the 100 year dinner and one of other ideas to celebrate involved getting the cup here.
I have to thank the Hockey Hall Of Fame and Phil Pritchard especially, because he had to go through a lot of hoops to make it happen.
When it arrived yesterday it was great. Chris Ellis (GB media manager) gave me a pat on the back and said what a great job had been done. When you see it actually come off the plane and you’re there with it, it’s overwhelming and exciting because we’ve seen this process through to the end and then after tonight with the dinner that’ll be the icing on the cake. If GB can win a medal or stay in this championships divisional, it would have been a successful event from start to finish.

100yr_front_white

Image from http://www.icehockeyuk.com/ihukstore/ where this Anniversary Jersey is available to buy.

So would you say this was your proudest moment in hockey?

I’ve got a lot of proud moments really. I’ve been involved for 33 years, at various levels, club, league and general manager of the national teams. To be General Secretary of Ice Hockey UK and to have the people working around me, have the support that they give me and have faith in me with the things that I do , I’ve got to take my hat off to them.
The board of directors, vice president Jim Anderson, president Mohammed Ashraf, without a lot of people around me I wouldn’t be able to do the things I would like to in this job do without their support.

You’ve recently implemented a new coaching staff for Team GB, how do you feel that’s working out?

After the disappointments of some of the teams last year, we felt that a new coaching programme, infrastructure or whatever term you wish to use, was needed. We wanted to change the format of the way things were being done.
We went through a complete interview process, advertised heavily for the position, interviewed every single person, and we’ve implemented a new structure where the coaches overlap.
So for instance the head coach of the U20’s is now an assistant coach of the Men’s team and so we’ve got that knock on effect.
Hopefully they will learn and we’ll have that complete same programme from top to bottom and we’ve completed our aim in that regard.

Could you please explain how Josh Cook was ineligible to play in this tournament for GB while Liam Stewart does qualify and how those rules work?

I deal with international transfers and eligibility for national players. I was the person who submitted all the paperwork and appealed to the IIHF to enable Liam Stewart to become eligible to play for Great Britain. It was a long process which began two years go and the IIHF finally accepted his eligibility,
Liam Stewart for born in Great Britain and he has a green card to play in America so therefore he’s not a citizen of the U.S.
He is a citizen of New Zealand. Because he has two citizenships but was born in GB, he was given an exception case.
Josh Cook however was not born in the UK, he was born in Kelowna, Canada.
He moved to the UK when he was 3 or 4 years old and played hockey here until he was 12.
At that age he went back to Canada and has never played in the UK since.
IIHF regulations state that 737 days playing in that country from your 12th birthday, which sadly Josh has not attained. He and his father are most disappointed but we are doing everything we can.
There are ongoing requests from national bodies across the world which come up at congress every two years and this year in Minsk, Belarus, we will be attending and we’ve already submitted proposals
to change that rule. If that rule changes we feel that if a player has a passport for this country, bearing in mind a child cannot dictate where he or she plays if the parents decide to move, then we’d like to have them considered to play.
I even tried appealing the Josh Cook ruling, but the IIHF stand by their rules steadfastly.


From Vegas to Alaska, Francis chasing his dream

August 9, 2014

Chris Francis is not your archetypal hockey player. 

Born and bred in Vegas which is hardly a hotbed for producing hockey talent, he’s had to work hard to get where he is today.

Francis began playing roller hockey at the age of six and didn’t step foot onto an ice rink until four years later. Drafted in the United States Hockey League at 17 years of age, but after failing to agree terms he was signed by WHL side Portland Winterhawks.
His four seasons with Portland were a learning curve and he improved every season, registering more goals, assists and points to better the year before.
A final season tally of 82 points, including 26 goals, saw the Springfield Falcons offer him an AHL contract for the 2010/11 campaign.
Things didn’t quite pan out as Francis might have wished as he saw action in just four AHL games and split the rest of the season between the Las Vegas Wranglers (ECHL) and the Fort Wayne Komets (CHL).
Francis re-signed with the Wranglers after being cut for the 2011-12 season, and it would prove to be a fruitful year as the team reached the Kelly Cup Final and he would become a mainstay of the team, especially in the playoff run.

As he proved in Portland, Francis showed aptitude for improving his game.
A 48 point season, where he passed the twenty barrier in goals, saw him gain league recognition in making the ECHL All-Star Team.

Francis-Shootout-Goal-Stephen-Sylvanie

His production waned in 2013 but in an interview given during this summer, Francis refused to blame the terrible season the Wranglers had where they finished rock bottom, but accepted he could and should have been better as one of the team’s leaders.

With Las Vegas not able to secure a rink for 2014/15, all of their players became free-agents, Francis included. With thoughts of Europe on his mind, there was only one team in the ECHL who could keep him in America, and they would come calling.
The current Kelly Cup Champions in the form of the Alaska Aces were quick to snap up his services in what should be a profitable move for both parties. Alaska are looking for two straight Championships and their fourth overall, while Francis still harbours hopes of furthering his career by progressing into the AHL.
It’s an incredibly astute signing by Alaska as well, because Francis will not count as a “veteran” in their line-up. He has played 259 regular-season pro games and under ECHL rules, any skater who has played 260 or more pro games in qualifying leagues prior to the start of a season is considered a “veteran,’’ and each team is allowed a maximum of four veterans.

Having to up-sticks and move 3500 miles north holds no fear for the 25 year old who said “I’m very excited about the opportunity to come play for a defending champion that is great every year and carries the reputation of being very skilled, speedy and well coached.”

“Dynamic” is how Alaska’s head coach Rob Murray describes Francis, who believes that his new singing has the ability to make the step up from the ECHL. His speed and shooting abilities are well noted but it’s his two-way game that needs to improve.

Alaska Aces are without an affiliation right now but with NHL teams becoming younger there maybe an opportunity with an AHL side, should he get back on the right track this season.


Jim Gregory Interview

August 5, 2014

Back in December of 2013, I was fortunate to be reporting at the Men’s U20 World Championship Group that GB were hosting in Dumfries, Scotland. With the Stanley Cup in town I was lucky to interview amongst others, NHL and Hockey Hall of Fame stalwart Jim Gregory.

Unfortunately I had some technical difficulties with the recordings made in December but with that resolved, here is the first of those interviews, starting with the aforementioned Jim Gregory.

Jim Gregory coached and managed the Toronto Marlboros, winning two championships. As General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he led the team to eight playoff appearances in the 10 years he held the position. Worked for the NHL in many positions including scouting and directorship and is involved heavily with the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Are you enjoying your time back in the UK where your family is originally from?

Very much so. My Dad was born in Salford just outside of Manchester and came to Canada in 1930, and I’ve been here a couple of time to see where he grew up. I never met my grandparents but heard a lot about them and its just very nice to be back here in the UK.

It’s very nice to see you so well after your recent health scare, but you’re not slowing down at all and still involved with the NHL and chairman of the HHOF. Obviously hockey is still a real passion for you and keeps you going?

It sure is. I’ll give you a simple explanation of what it’s like. When my son was growing up, he was about 11 or 12 years old at school and the teacher asked him, “does your dad work?” He replied “no, he’s in hockey.”

Where did your passion for hockey originate from?

Well I grew up playing hockey and I went to try and be a hockey player. It was a different system back in the early 50s, there was no drafts and you played for teams that was sponsored by the NHL clubs, so I went to try and play for one of the teams that the Leafs sponsored but unfortunately I found out that I was better in my head than I was on the ice.

That was St. Mike’s wasn’t it?

Yes it certainly was.

Do you still have much to do with the St. Mike’s school?

I go there regularly. I was there just last week and I’m on the advisory board of the school and I keep in touch with as many of the people that I was involved with in those early days. My grandson just graduated from the school last June (2013) and it was good to be there for that.

I can’t speak to you without mentioning the Toronto Maple Leafs. Can you tell me what it was like to be a part of that organisation?

I went to work for the Leafs in 1959 and as I mentioned before there was no draft system so we had to go and recruit players and put them on those sponsored teams. The Toronto St’s Mikes and the Toronto Marlboro’s were the teams where prospects came to play as I tried myself.

The fellow that helped me out most in hockey was David Bower who was coach of St. Mike’s. One day he asked me if I wanted to do this as a livelihood and I thought he was crazy, joking with me, but he took me down and introduced me to Stafford Smythe who hired me and I went to work in the Maple Leafs system in 1959 and worked there for twenty years.

Jim Gregory photo

The Leafs made the playoffs last season in what feels like forever for their fans. As a former member of the organisation were you happy to see them finally make it back to the post season?

Well I work for the National Hockey League, have done since 1979, so I’m not allowed to cheer anymore. People say you gotta be cheering for the Maple Leafs as you used to work for them but I don’t cheer, and if you think about, if they fired you, you wouldn’t cheer for them. But I do watch what they’re doing through my job and try to be fair and impartial as I can and it was very nice to see them back in the playoffs.

If I may ask you about your role in the HHOF selection process and how the system works?

Well as chairman of the selection committee, there are 18 members on the panel and we each get a vote. The votes are all secret unless it’s unanimous and they announce that straight away. You need 15 votes to get in so it’s not easy. The panel is made up of diverse and knowledgeable group of people in hockey. They vote with their conscious to try and make the best selections and as I said you have to get 75% of the vote to be inducted.

The reason we are all here apart from the 100 year anniversary and the Stanley Cup being present, is a world championships hockey group in progress. Have you had a chance to watch any games so far?

I watched the games yesterday and really enjoyed it. I saw the game last night where the French team had a little difficulty but the hockey was good and it’s amazes me when watching now. I used to do a lot of scouting and when you see the quality of the players in today’s game compared to 25-30 years ago, even perhaps forty. While watching last night I noticed the difference in size of the players, but despite their size, the skating and playmaking ability is very much improved from all those years ago.

Would you say the speed of the game is also one of the biggest changes in the game during that time as well?

The speed and skating abilities are noticeably much better, not saying they were worse players back in those days but hard to see anyone from last night’s game who struggled in those departments like they maybe used to.

 

Jim Gregory was a joy to chat with and although he’s now in the latter part of his life, he’s as bright and switched on now as he ever was. The fact that he sat down on this day with many people he’d never met before, to talk hockey and enjoy doing so, says much about the man.

 


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