SUN Hockey Pool

Jim Gregory

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:54 PM ET

The end of Jim Gregory's playing career put him on the path to the Hall of Fame's builder wing.

Despondent at not making the St. Michael's College junior B team in 1953 -- "I had thought I was pretty good," he recalled with a laugh -- he took home-room teacher David Bauer up on an offer to help with the school's junior A club.

"He hadn't become the famous Father Bauer yet, but he asked me to keep statistics and buy supplies for the team," Gregory said. "By the time I finished school I was the trainer, and later the manager. I loved it."

AN EVENTFUL JOURNEY

The next five decades would take Gregory on an eventful journey, from helping to start a new junior league, to scouting and coaching in the Maple Leafs system, general manager of that club for 10 years during the turbulent Harold Ballard era, to the NHL central scouting bureau, head of the Hall's selection committee, amid several duties as NHL executive vice-president.

The 72-year-old seems to be everywhere at once -- at the NHL's Toronto office, or around the league presenting milestone awards to players, or at the annual draft, taking over for commissioner Gary Bettman after Round 1 to keep order during the lengthy process.

"He has really held my hand in my six or seven years on this job," NHL hockey operations vice-president Mike Murphy said. "He pays such attention to detail. I've known him since I was a bantam with the Toronto Marlies and the amazing thing is his how he keeps everything in perspective -- family, friends, his faith and the game."

Gregory grew up in Dunnville, near Hamilton, playing on the backyard rinks of George St.

"It was the war years, the men were away, so it was the mothers and relatives who took care of things," he said. "There was a grandfather on the street who kept the rink flooded.

"My dad signed up on the first day of the war. He was from England (Salford, near Manchester) and thought if he joined the RCAF it would be the quickest way to get home and get in the fight. But they wound up sending him all over Canada. I was so happy when I became GM of the Leafs that I could buy him a ticket to go home and visit."

Such gestures are important to Gregory, who took great pleasure through the years in making the phone call informing players and builders they'd been selected for the Hall.

En route home from a family function near Dunnville in the spring he received news of his own induction.

"I was on medical leave for a mild stroke and forgot there was a committee meeting that day," he said. "When I got the call, I had to pull over on the highway, I was so surprised."

Gregory briefly held one job outside hockey, a purchaser for Colgate Palmolive, before the likes of Bauer and hockey greats such as Bob Davidson, Joe Primeau, King Clancy, Punch Imlach and Stafford Smythe convinced him of a future in management.

Guiding St. Mike's to the 1961 Memorial Cup boosted Gregory's profile, and when St. Mikes and the Marlies merged in the early '60s as the Leafs' junior affiliate, Gregory was a GM and coach for two more junior titles. Gradually, he became familiar with the full Leafs operation from farm team to big club.

"Counting when I played for him at Neil McNeil (in the short-lived Metro League), I was with him 15 years," ex-Leaf defenceman Jim McKenny said. "He was the heart of the team. If you asked him a favour, he immediately made it the focus of his day."

When Imlach was cashed in after the Leaf fortunes sank in 1969, Gregory was hired by Smythe. But after the latter's death and Ballard's power play to snare both the Leafs and Maple Leaf Gardens, Gregory found himself butting heads with the bombastic owner. Many think Gregory deserves a place in the Hall just for putting up with Pal Hal, who among many bad moves, let star Leafs escape to the rival World Hockey Association.

ARGUED A LOT

"I will not cut up Harold," Gregory said. "He did things you didn't like and I argued with him a lot, but when I hired coaches such as Red Kelly and Roger Neilson, he thought they were great ideas."

Until Cliff Fletcher's arrival in the early 1990s, the closest the Leafs came to a post 1967 Cup were the late-'70s teams Gregory built. He surrounded Darryl Sittler with a talented draft cast that included Lanny McDonald, Tiger Williams and Mike Palmateer and made some astute trades.

"I was playing for Los Angeles in 1977-78, when Jim took a page from the Flyers book and made the Leafs about the hardest team in the league to play against," Murphy said. "You came into Toronto, you felt lucky to get out with your life."

After parting ways with Ballard in 1979, Gregory's familiarity with the emerging European talent pool saw NHL president John Ziegler offer him the post of central scouting bureau director.

"When I'm asked about my biggest accomplishment, I like to say it's been the 60 or so people that came through Central Scouting who went on to work elsewhere (in hockey)," Gregory said. "The chance I gave others was the payback for the chance I had been given."

Gregory's longevity in the game is a tribute to his fair and square dealings.

"Father Bauer taught me from the start about treating people fairly and keeping your priorities in life straight," Gregory said. "You meet people in this business who think very highly of themselves, but I would remember King, whom I compare to Babe Ruth, or a great Leaf such as Syl Apps or Teeder Kennedy. If people like that could be (humble), why not me?"

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THE JIM GREGORY FILE

- Born Nov. 4, 1935, in Port Colborne, Ont., raised in Dunnville.

- Became a trainer with the junior A St. Michael's Majors during the mid-1950s.

- As manager of St. Mike's, won the 1961 Memorial Cup.

- Hired to assist GM/coach Punch Imlach as a scout in 1968-69.

- Replaced Imlach as Leafs general manager in 1969. Toronto would make the playoffs eight times in Gregory's 10 seasons and get as far as the 1978 Stanley Cup semi-final.

- After leaving the Leafs in 1979, his knowledge of the emerging European talent pool helped him land the post of NHL central scouting director.

- In 1986, his role expanded to executive director of hockey operations.

- Became chairman of the Hockey Hall Of Fame selection committee in 1998.

- Now holds the title of senior vice-president, hockey operations for the NHL. One of his projects was to implement video goal reviews.

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WHAT THEY SAID

"Jim Gregory typifies everything that is good, pure and special about being a hockey person. He is passionate about the game, his knowledge of its history and traditions is second to none, and he has devoted decades to serving the sport in any way and every way possible."

-- Gary Bettman

"He knows the players, the schedule, game operations, the CBA, the officials ... he's a wealth of information and that's why he deserves to be in the Hall."

-- NHL vice-president Mike Murphy

"He was our coach and general manager at St. Mike's and Neil McNeil, but also our surrogate father."

-- Jim McKenny


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