Scouting can break your heart.
Projecting what 17-year-olds will do in life -- never mind on a hockey rink -- in just a few short years is an inexact science at its best and a near impossibility at its worst.
But the long odds and the hardships never deterred EJ McGuire from looking for the next find of the decade.
Scouting never broke McGuire. Instead, it defined his greatness.
For him, the bad coffee, the hard seat in the corner of the next municipal arena, the six-hour car trip, the inclement weather, the bad hotel or any of the other countless mishaps that befall those that chose the scouting fraternity could not put a damper on the thrill of possibly seeing -- and correctly identifying -- the potential for hockey stardom playing out before his eyes.
"When he made a point, he did it with such tact and professionalism. You could feel the passion in his voice every time he spoke and you just wanted to make sure you never disappointed him."
-- Jack Barzee, NHL Central Scouting
It was this passion that delivered McGuire to the pinnacle of his profession before cancer claimed him Thursday.
In the end, it was an unbeatable -- and extremely rare -- form of cancer that proved to be the only thing capable of extinguishing McGuire's burning passion for the game of hockey.
McGuire, 58, was the vice president of NHL Central Scouting, a 29-member collection of scouts entrusted to rank the top NHL Entry Draft-eligible prospects each season to help the League's member clubs in the draft selection process.
He was responsible for coordinating a staff that witnessed close to 3,000 games a season and expertly shepherding a disparate and strong-willed collection of scouts through the parochial squabbles that are as much a part of scouting as statistics.
And he did his job with a grace and a professionalism that endeared him to everyone that crossed his path.
"Without any question, his passion and leadership and ability taught me so much," Central Scouting's Jack Barzee told NHL.com. "When he made a point, he did it with such tact and professionalism. You could feel the passion in his voice every time he spoke and you just wanted to make sure you never disappointed him."
There likely isn't a rink in North America where the legacy of EJ McGuire hasn't been felt during four decades in the game as a coach and a scout.
As many have said since his passing, everything good about hockey could be found in McGuire.
He was as tough as nails, he was as loyal as they come and he was a team player who used his unique skill set for the betterment of whatever organization he called home at the time. And, like the best in the game, he exhibited a humbleness that belied the contributions he made to his profession.
At one time, McGuire was considered an up-and-coming coach.
Good enough, in fact, to catch the eye of Mike Keenan -- a legend in the making in the late-80s -- and to pioneer several advances in the way coaches look at the game today. In fact, while with Philadelphia, he pioneered the study of real-time stats; a facet of the game that was unheard of before McGuire's inquisitive mind realized it could help make his team better.
But McGuire didn't just employ technological advancements to help his teams win, he also had the elusive "hockey sense" that often differentiate the good from the great at the highest levels of the sport.
"He appeared when you needed him," said Dave Poulin, who was the captain during McGuire's first tenure with the Flyers. "He had a sense … he provided something very important for Mike and that was the pulse of the locker room and that's really critical in the game. It's important that the coaches have a sense of what's going on in the room. EJ could just appear, like a shadow. When something was going on he could appear just when he was needed. It was a pretty unique ability."
But for all his coaching genius, McGuire was a better scout. In the final analysis, it seems EJ was born to scout.
Anybody that has ever seen McGuire at a rink or holding court at an Entry Draft knows he was uniquely wired to navigate the numerous pratfalls that trip up so many of his peers in a profession that is filled with its unfair share of misses and disappointments.
Most importantly, McGuire had a boundless energy for the game -- and for life itself.
"EJ had two loves in life: His love of family and his passion for hockey," NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell
His appetite for the game is the stuff of legends.
It was not unusual for him to take in a pair of OHL games on a Sunday and then trek back to the League's Toronto offices to catch one of the late games in the War Room, enjoying the camaraderie of the hockey lifers around him.
His prodigious memory was a gift not only to him, but to the hockey world.
McGuire was asked to speak about prospects on an almost non-stop basis from November until June. He talked to print reporters, gave interviews on the radio and television and spoke at press conferences -- never saying no to any request for his time and expertise.
Yet, he never consulted a note. He could talk about the can't-miss prospect as easily as he could about a fifth-round tweener. All the prospects were special to him and, as a result, he made those prospects special to others.
McGuire's smile was priceless. In fact, it may have been the best tool in his arsenal.
He could disarm any situation, bridge any argument and break the deepest of ice with a quick up turn of the lips -- a genuine smile, one that traveled all the way up to his eyes.
McGuire used that smile to make people feel welcome in his world, never letting on that he had forgotten more hockey history and more players than you would ever know. For him, a love of hockey was the only key necessary open the door to his vast hockey knowledge.
It was the genuine, unfettered, unapologetic love of the game and the people that make it so special that defined McGuire and made him an inspiration to those that knew him best.
He will be missed, but never forgotten.