Jim Gregory, the longtime hockey man and a former Maple Leafs general manager was stricken by a heart attack on Thursday. As of Friday afternoon the 73-year-old is in critical condition at a Toronto hospital.
Himself induced into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007, Gregory is a courtly, unpretentious man whose gentle nature and sense of industry brought him to every corner of the hockey world. He is the rarest of men, someone whose exposure to stars only left him more grounded.
Gregory has been the chair of the Hall’s selection committee since 1998. When Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr, Ron Francis, Cam Neely, Patrick Roy, Denis Savard and Scott Stevens, were invited into the Hall, the voice at the other end of the phone belonged to Jim Gregory.
Not bad for a kid from tiny Dunnville, Ontario, whose biggest break came when he failed to make the St. Mike’s s junior B team in 1953.
Gregory never hide his disappointment at not making the team. “I thought I was pretty good,” he would later say but it was Gregory’s enormous good luck to have Father David Bauer, a legendary figure in Canadian hockey, as his home room teacher.
Bauer asked him to keep stats and buy supplies for the team. By the time his career at St. Mike’s had ended, Gregory was the trainer and manager. In 1961, Gregory guided St. Mike’s to a Memorial Cup championship
St. Mike’ was affiliated with the Leafs at the time and as he moved up the Leafs organization he was tutored by greats Bob Davidson, Joe Primeau, King Clancy and later, Punch Imlach. Gregory was there when St. Mike’s was merged with the Marlies in the early 1960s and when Imlach was fired in 1969, it became Gregory’s turn in the firing line under bombastic owner Harold Ballard.
Gregory assembled very strong teams that included Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald and Borje Salming. Gregory was canned when the Leafs failed to win a cup but his team managed to make the playoffs eight of his 10 years.
Once again, Gregory found great success in the wake of failure. Then-NHL president John Ziegler offered him the position of Central Scouting Director. Gregory oversaw the bureau’s transition from an organization with North American scouting emphasis to a global one. Building Central Scouting was one of the coups of his career and a way to find jobs in the industry for young people who wanted to work in the sport Gregory loved.
The league promoted him to executive director of hockey operations and as senior vice-president, hockey operations. Gregory ushered in the video replay system that is now universally accepted.
Gregory’s legion of friends are stunned at the news of his illness. As a decade of Hall of Famers will tell you, he's the voice of immortality.