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.
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.