TORONTO -- The NHL Scouting Combine certainly has come a long way since the days of fitness testing in the basement of the Ritz-Carlton hotel here.
That was evident this week when the 19th Combine was held at the Westin Bristol Place and Toronto International Centre.
The professionalism exhibited by the entire NHL Central Scouting staff, the maturity of the fresh-faced prospects and the heightened awareness of the event aided in the popularity of what now is considered one of the NHL's premier events leading up to the draft.
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Through it all, however, there remained one constant -- the late E.J. McGuire still was very much in the minds and hearts of everyone in attendance.
McGuire, who served as Director of Central Scouting for seven years, died April 7, 2011, at age 58, following a five-month battle with Leiomyoscarcoma, a rare, incurable form of cancer. McGuire was the architect of many of the innovations Central Scouting pioneered in the past decade to achieve its mandate of providing the League's clubs with the most comprehensive list of NHL Draft-eligible prospects each season. The Combine was a major part of that process.
"The Combine was a near and dear event to E.J., and I think the staff just wants to carry on that spirit because it was such an important event," Central Scouting Director Dan Marr told NHL.com. "Everyone does their best on the Central Scouting staff to make sure that everything runs smoothly, particularly in our office with the work put in by Luke [McGoey] and Nathan [Ogilvie-Harris]. They do that so that E.J. would be proud."
Ogilvie-Harris is manager at Central Scouting, and McGoey serves as coordinator.
"I feel the event staff did a great job with the [fitness testing] setup and the room [at the Toronto International Centre] looked great," McGoey told NHL.com. "Each year we've been building a lot of momentum from the previous year. We had a tough time last year without E.J., but I think that kind of sparked the whole team to come through again this year and make it bigger and better.
"It's a big day for the players. This is a great prelude to the draft and there's a lot of good things that come out of the Combine each year."
The fitness testing was held at the Toronto International Centre for the first time. The setup proved to be everything McGuire would have hoped for.
"We had some weather issues, but there's nothing anyone can do about that with guys getting flights home, but this has been smooth," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "There's lots of space here and everyone seems happy and that's the main thing … making certain the teams we service are happy."
Long gone are the days of working out of a hotel basement with little media exposure and scarce resources. The NHL took the Combine to a whole new level this year and, in the process, didn't compromise the authenticity of the testing -- the primary reason this gathering took place.
"Another big piece I'm happy about is that more media was involved so there were more sit-down newspapers here and there was more buzz in the air," NHL Manager of Events Frank Macina said. "I think social media is our No. 1 asset. I've been looking at Twitter feeds all week and it's been great. Prospects and social media is an ally for the Combine and we want to make it as easy as possible, having them all come back with a smile on their face to promote this event."
This year's fitness testing venue was constructed in an 8,534-square-foot room, compared to 5,000-square-foot room used previously at the Westin Bristol Place, where interviews take place. Key sponsors for the event included Reebok, which outfitted the prospects head to toe, and Gatorade/G Series.
"Space-wise, [Toronto International Centre] has been great and the facility has been excited to have us," Macina said. "Unlike last year, the staff set up five VO2 Max bike tests as compared to only three in 2011 to help facilitate the process.
"Maybe we'll add more equipment next year to make it a faster day."
Thomas Meaney, NHL events manager, worked closely with Macina in the months leading up to and during the Combine. Jen Raimondi, senior manager of public relations, and information technology specialists Jack Gerien and John Ho also were critical in helping create a positive experience for everyone.
"All the players are far better prepared both for the interview process and the testing process [at the Combine] and I think that's evolved as the event has become more important," Marr said. "Everyone realizes that NHL teams are making a significant investment when they draft a player, so you get to find out a little more about the player when you get to meet him in the interview, and then get to find out their status with conditioning and fitness levels at this stage of their development."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale