It's about who you know

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

Casey Stengel once told Congress that he had been fired as a manager in the low minors.

"We call it discharged," the Old Perfesser said, "because there was no question I had to leave."

Hockey is the same kind of business but there are survivors, hard-working cheerful guys with contacts spread throughout the game. They get fired, too, they just find work faster than most.

Edward John (E.J.) McGuire is the new director of the NHL's Central Scouting combine. The announcement of his hiring extended McGuire's string of consecutive winters worked to 30. It's not a record but it's not bad.

The trick to eating consistently, said the 53-year-old McGuire, is to have the right linemates.

"You stay in contact with the (former Rangers GM) Neil Smiths," McGuire said with a laugh, "because those guys could resurface. If someone decides to put a team in Honolulu, you want to be able to say 'Neil, remember me. I'm the perfect guy to get your pineapple drinks.' "

Networks twist through pro sports like veins through the body. There is, for example, an Edmonton Oilers network spearheaded by GM Kevin Lowe and the new coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, Old Whatshisname. The network extends to former coaches Glen Sather in New York and John Muckler in Ottawa, into alumni and media and countless businesses.

The Montreal Canadiens network winters in Minnesota where the entire upper management core including GM Doug Risebrough and coach Jacques Lemaire is comprised of former Habs.

The Peterborough Mafia gave us coaches Roger Neilson, Mike Keenan and Craig Ramsay. There is a tight coaches network influenced heavily by the dean, Scotty Bowman, and commentators Harry Neale and Pierre McGuire, a brotherhood of goaltenders and the still potent old curmudgeons Bob Pulford in Chicago and Harry Sinden in Boston.

McGuire understands networks. You want to go academic? He has a PhD in kinesiology from the University of Waterloo and roots in the Canadian and American college game.

He is tight with Colin Campbell, the league's director of hockey operations. McGuire has major junior connections having coached the Guelph Storm in the OHL. He has had a hand in coaching 10 different hockey clubs.

Born in Buffalo, McGuire played much of his hockey on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge. He was a poor player but a quick study. It took only eight years for McGuire to rise from an assistant coach at State University in Western New York to an assistant coach for Keenan in Philadelphia.

Keenan had just taken a job to coach the Rochester Americans and he was kicking around his future with some friends at the Roger Neilson Hockey School. "Harry (Neale) or Roger pointed over to me and told Mike 'that guy over there knows Rochester,'" McGuire said.

And on that single twist of luck, McGuire built a career.

In the beginning, McGuire's single greatest attribute might have been his willingness to drive. The Leafs maintained a St. Catharines entry in the American League. McGuire would drive from Waterloo, where he was coaching, to scout teams playing in St. Kitts.

"The games were on Wednesday and I would drive to St. Catharines, and then drive home to fax Keenan a scouting report," McGuire said. "Mike would use it for the practice on Thursday and the game on Friday."

McGuire stayed with Keenan for four years in Philadelphia and three more in Chicago and then the carousel began in earnest: A desultory year as the head guy in Maine was followed by three years as an assistant under Rick Bowness for the newborn Ottawa Senators.

"As coaches, you so badly want to be able to help your team," McGuire said. "We used to put so much effort into our warmup drills. People used to tell us, 'guys, it doesn't matter how this team warms up. You've got the wrong Hull, (Jody instead of Brett) and the wrong Turgeon (Sylvain instead of Pierre).'"

McGuire and the longtime director, Frank Bonello, will direct a staff of nine full-time and 10-part-time scouts spread across the country. Theirs is the list checked in dressing rooms across the land.

As for the old boys network, McGuire makes no apologies.

"There are people who might complain about the so-called old boys network," McGuire said. "My advice is to become part of the network. Volunteer to help, get involved. Hockey people tend to take care of hockey people."


Videos

Photos