-- A familiar face and unmistakable voice will be missed here at the Westin Bristol Place this week when the NHL Scouting Combine is held for 102 of the top 2011 Entry Draft-eligible hockey prospects from around the world.
NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire, who passed away from a rare form of cancer in April, will not be present for the first time in nine years, but his spirit undoubtedly will carry on throughout the Combine, which starts Monday with player interviews at the Westin Bristol Place and concludes at the Toronto Congress Center with fitness and medical testing Friday and Saturday.
"This was one of the events that, because of E.J., we saw so much progress and growth in our department," NHL Central Scouting videographer and scout David Gregory told NHL.com. "In an event like this, you definitely want to make sure this one is great for him. You want to make sure that we're living up to the standards he set for us."
For the past eight years, McGuire was the undeniable go-to man at the Combine, the person with the encyclopedic knowledge of the next generation of NHL players. It was under McGuire's close watch that the Scouting Combine became such a prominent fixture not only for NHL general managers and scouts, but the media and fans thirsting to learn about tomorrow's stars today.
"E.J. was the face of the Scouting Combine," Central Scouting manager Nathan Ogilvie-Harris told NHL.com. "He was the one doing hundreds of media interviews at this time by representing the department and talking about the top 50 to 100 guys attending the Combine.
"He was the one in the lobby … the first person a general manager, scout or player would see when they walked through the revolving doors of the hotel. He'd introduce himself to a prospect and talk to them and provide advice on what to expect at the Draft. He was always so personable to them and made them feel welcome."
Diagnosed this past December with leiomyoscarcoma, an incurable form of cancer that aggressively attacks the cells that make up the involuntary muscles within the body, McGuire, 58, waged a brave five-month battle with the disease before passing in the early morning of April 7. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.
"We want to honor E.J. by making this a great event this year," Ogilvie-Harris said. "This was his centerpiece. He helped grow the Combine from the days of starting out in a hotel basement (at the then-Park Plaza Hotel) in a small room with not much media exposure, to where we are today where we're spread out and holding the physical testing in a more conducive setting (Toronto Congress Center)."
McGuire, who began his career at Central Scouting shortly after his last coaching position, as an assistant with the Philadelphia Flyers
in 2001-02, not only loved the game, but those young players who made it wonderful to watch. And it showed in his zest and enthusiasm in every interview he conducted.
"Even though he had numerous interviews to do, he'd always have a different story to tell about a particular player each time," Ogilvie-Harris said. "He put a different spin on it every time even though he was talking about the same player. He had a talent for public speaking."
Gregory said McGuire always held the media in high regard, especially since it would prove to be a valuable outlet for greater exposure to the young athletes.
"He looked at it as an opportunity to make sure people understood everything that the NHL was about and certainly what our department was about," Gregory said. "The Combine was a great opportunity to talk to a lot of media, a lot of teams, and people that you usually don't get to see too often during the year. He had so much passion for what he did and what he believed in. E.J. took the opportunity to solidify all the relationships with vendors and those who worked the Combine. He would set up shop at the hotel and talk and meet with anybody. That was one of the amazing things about E.J.; he made everyone that wanted to talk to him feel like the most important person in the building."
"E.J. was the face of the Scouting Combine. … He was the one in the lobby … the first person a general manager, scout or player would see when they walked through the revolving doors of the hotel. He'd introduce himself to a prospect and talk to them and provide advice on what to expect at the Draft. He was always so personable to them and made them feel welcome."
-- Nathan Ogilvie-Harris
In honor of McGuire, Central Scouting will be distributing caps to all the attending prospects that bear the inscription "E.J." on the right side.
Jim Gregory, who served as Director of Central Scouting for many years before becoming NHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations, always respected the way McGuire went about his business.
"He did his job and allowed others to do theirs and was inconspicuous," Gregory said. "He was a great person and he turned Central Scouting into something special."
Jim's son, David, recalls the excitement in McGuire's voice during conversations he had with him regarding the notable changes to this year's Combine, especially the move to Toronto Congress Center for the fitness and medical testing.
"We felt we had all the room in the world when we moved to the Westin, but three years later we're bursting at the seams already," David Gregory said. "We're providing for the media, we're providing for the teams … we want them both to have what they need. E.J. always felt, and we agreed, that it was great for the media to let the world know what these kids were going through prior to the Entry Draft.
"E.J. always knew that as the Combine grew, the Westin was not going to be enough and we had to consider some other options. He was definitely excited to see where it was going and to have more people from the League involved. Everyone saw what E.J. was doing and wanted to make it good for him, so there's that internal partnership within the League as well that really inspired him."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale