TORONTO -- Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people in hockey have felt the influence and guidance of the late Jim Gregory during the past six-plus decades. Former defensemen Rod Seiling is grateful to have been one of them.
"Over the course of my career, Jimmy was my trainer, my coach and my general manager," said Seiling, 74, who has been thinking a great deal about Gregory since the latter died on Wednesday at age 83.
More than filling a variety of roles, he said, it was Gregory who in 1964 converted a versatile player into a full-time defenseman, the position he ultimately would play for 979 NHL games from 1962-63 through 1978-79 for the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Atlanta Flames and, for a single game, the Washington Capitals
Seiling first came to know Gregory for two seasons in Toronto with the major junior St. Michael's Majors, from 1960-62. In Seiling's second season, he finished with 50 points (24 goals, 26 assists) in 31 games.
The Memorial Cup-champion 1963-64 Toronto Marlboros. Rod Seiling is front row, far right, coach Jim Gregory directly beside him.
Their paths would cross again with the 1963-64 Toronto Marlboros, whom Gregory coached to the Memorial Cup championship.
The dominant Marlboros romped to the 1964 title, a powerhouse stocked by Marlies and St. Michael's players. Seiling had 67 points (13 goals, 54 assists) in 67 games.
"We had a leg up," Seiling recalled of the pooled rosters. "And Jimmy let us play. We were a bit shy on defense, but we had an abundance of great forwards. I'd played defense a bit and they'd put me back there at different times, so I said to Jimmy, 'Why don't you let me play defense from the start of the season? You're going to put me back there before the season is over, anyway.' And he said, 'Sure, why not?' I played defense the entire year.
"Everybody loved Jimmy because he was a great people person. He managed people and egos and he got the most out of us."
Rod Seiling with the early 1960s major-junior St. Michael's Majors, and during the mid-1970s with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The two men would be reunited in the NHL a decade later, from 1974-76, Seiling acquired by GM Gregory's Maple Leafs from the Capitals in a trade for forward Tim Ecclestone and defenseman Willie Brossart.
If Gregory was an excellent hockey man, Seiling believes he was an even better family man. The defenseman and his wife got to know Gregory, his wife, their children and the couple's siblings.
Video: Dave Stubbs pays tribute to Jim Gregory
"Jimmy was always interested in you as a person," Seiling said from his Florida home. "He wanted to know what was going on in your life, how you were doing. That was first and foremost -- his interest in you as a person. Whenever I saw him, the first thing was, 'How are you doing? What have you been doing? How's your family?' Those things, the things that count in real life, are the things I think about with Jimmy and (wife) Rosalie and the kids."
Rod Seiling in action with the New York Rangers in the early 1970s.
Seiling most remembers his former trainer, coach and GM's "big smile, the way he loved people and knew how to treat everyone. He was just fabulous.
"It didn't matter who you were. Whether you were the trainer or the president, the star player or the player who got on the ice once or twice a game, Jimmy treated everyone equally and he treated them fairly.
"When you talk about good people, he was the best of the best. You meet a lot of great people in your life, but I doubt that I'll have the honor or be lucky enough to meet anyone as good as Jimmy."
Photos: Hockey Hall of Fame/Getty Images