ST. PAUL -- It was with heavy hearts that the National Hockey League kicked off the 2011 Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on Friday.
That's because for the first time in nine years, Central Scouting's longtime executive director EJ McGuire was not there. McGuire, 58, 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 draft-eligible prospects each season -- culminating with the draft.
Diagnosed this past December with leiomyoscarcoma, a rare and incurable form of cancer that aggressively attacks the cells that make up the involuntary muscles within the body, McGuire waged a brave five-month battle with the disease before passing away on April 7. His loss was felt this weekend when the Entry Draft was staged in the Twin Cities.
In his memory, all NHL team personnel wore pins with the initials "EJ." Prior to the Edmonton Oilers making the first selection of the draft, NHL Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell offered a tribute that was following by a video montage of McGuire, as everyone knew him.
"EJ was a fabulous husband, father and a friend and he was committed to making certain Central Scouting was the best it would be," Campbell said.
"It was really special, you just see dad coming through those little girls," Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "The poise they have and how much class they exude. It was just emotional again as it has been all week. I was proud of them and thought it was a great tribute."
McGuire's wife, Terry, and his two daughters, Erin and Jacqueline, were invited by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to the stage podium to announce that the Oilers were on the clock. The family was given a moving standing ovation by all in attendance.
Just five days before his death, McGuire told the scouts via speakerphone during the final Central Scouting rankings meeting: "I want you to do the job you were paid to do."
They certainly did.
"Panic is never a word you associate with EJ, ever, in any situation and we just followed his lead," Gregory said. "He always had us be on the lookout for anything the teams needed. He'd always tell us about being prepared and then we look at how do we improve, how are we better this year than we were last year ... that's what we talked about. We turned the draft into something that was showcasing what we can really do, and what we want to do, and as long as those things came out every day while we were here, he was happy."
"EJ had a great wit and I admired his intelligence," said Hockey East scout Gary Eggleston, the longest-tenured member of McGuire's scouting group. "I think, probably as much as anything, I admired EJ's humanity. He was a great person and a great influence me, even at my age."