Mike Grier admits he has been keeping his eyes on the scores of the New England Patriots’ perfect season with a little more interest than the next guy.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound winger, you see, was born in Detroit, but grew up in Boston the son of Bobby Grier, who was then the director of pro scouting for the Patriots. You would often see young Michael in the locker room chatting with Patriots like Teddy Bruschi, Troy Brown or Mike Vrabel or on the sidelines rubbing elbows with Bill Parcells or Raymond Berry. The up-close-and-personal experience opened the youngster’s eyes to what it takes to be a professional athlete and a great team player.
Grier will tell you now that he’s more of a Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins fan, because his dad works for the Texans and his brother, Chris, is a scout for the Dolphins. But...
"I haven’t been around that locker room for about seven years, but I’ll never forget how Teddy Bruschi and Troy Brown treated a little kid who always had a lot of questions," Grier said. "I remember seeing how much they had to sacrifice to be a good team ... and what it took to get to the Super Bowl.
"Growing up in that atmosphere was special. I learned a lot about winning, what it takes to have a successful team and being a good teammate. I was able to talk with some of the coaches that my dad worked with -- Raymond Berry, Coach Parcells.
”I was a very lucky kid. I saw it up close and I got to use it. I still swear it helped me avoid a lot of the pressures my teammates had when we got into big-game, big-pressure situations and won our national championship at Boston University in 1995."
Currently, Grier is using that big-game savvy to help the San Jose Sharks in their battle in the Pacific Division against the likes of the Dallas Stars and defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks.
Grier will have a chance to watch the Patriots play the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. The Sharks host the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night, but have “Super Sunday” off, so after practice, Grier will be able to see the game.
|Sharks alternate captain Mike Grier is looking forward to watching the New England Patriots compete in Sunday's Super Bowl, a team his father Bobby once worked for as a Pro Scouting Director. |
That special gift that Bobby Grier gave his sons goes beyond the athletic genes he had as a three-year starter in the backfield at the University of Iowa, leading the Hawkeyes in rushing his senior year. He then went on to coach at Eastern Michigan University, before joining the Pats and working his way up from running backs coach to the director of pro scouting-personnel boss for 18 years before he left New England in 2000.
Sometimes Grier says it takes a football mentality to survive in the NHL.
Mike Grier isn’t a playmaker like Tom Brady. His statistics don’t tell the story about the kind of player he is. Only twice has he reached the 20-goal mark in his 11 NHL seasons. But he definitely makes an impact in many other ways -- he’s a major part of the Sharks’ second-ranked penalty-killing team, scores big goals (four of his six goals this season have been game-winners). In addition, he’s blocked 40 shots and thrown 77 hits.
"I’ll never forget my dad telling me; ‘Whatever you do, do it 100 percent," Mike said, in answer to a question about the best advice he’s ever gotten. "I don’t remember how many times I heard my dad say; 'Players that you want are the guys that play their best at the most important time.' That has kind of stuck with me all through my life."
Mike was a key player for the Buffalo Sabres when they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in 2006, before they lost to the eventual Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes.
"To see the (Stanley Cup) Final right in front of you and not get there ... sure it was disheartening," said Grier, who became a free agent that summer. "It made my decision to sign with the best team possible, with the best chance to win, an easy one. I looked at San Jose and saw Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau there and I thought that, over the three years I signed my contract, they had the best chance to win the Cup."
"He's not just a low maintenance guy, he's a no maintenance guy. He's a true professional.” --- Ron Wilson on Mike Grier
"Mike's a physically dominant guy who makes an impact in all the little areas that help you win games," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. "He kills penalties, he scores big goals and he punishes people."
"He's ready every night," coach Ron Wilson said. "He's not just a low maintenance guy, he's a no maintenance guy. He's a true professional.
"When Doug Wilson called me told see what I thought about signing Mike Grier, I told him; ‘I’ve been trying to get Mike on my team for 10 years all the way back to when I was coaching in Washington and I remember seeing him play at Boston University and was a force on the ice every night."
"Guys feed off of the intensity he brings," said linemate Patrick Marleau.
Wilson did wind up convincing Capitals GM George McPhee to acquire Grier, but it didn’t happen until after Ron was fired as coach in Washington. That was the second of three NHL stops the 33-year-old Grier made (Edmonton, Washington and Buffalo) before arriving in San Jose in July of 2006 -- just three days into free agency, so you can tell how interested the Sharks were to get the valuable forward.
"Growing up in that atmosphere was special. I learned a lot about winning, what it takes to have a successful team and being a good teammate.” --- Mike Grier
Statistics have never been what Grier is all about. It's the steamroller hits. The penalty-killing. The leadership.
"Guys like Mike Grier are glue to a team," said former BU and Sabres teammate Chris Drury, who also left Buffalo in free agency for a big contract with the New York Rangers.
Given those football bloodlines, one has to wonder how Mike wound up with a hockey stick in his hands instead of playing linebacker somewhere with his ability to bang bodies. Truth is, Grier was too big for youth football, so he played soccer, baseball, basketball. He got into hockey because ...
"When I went to try out for Pop Warner football, they had a 114-pound weight limit that I was never going to make," Grier remembered. "But that was good for me. I liked hockey better. I had been skating since I was 4 and I just loved the sport.
"It was also a sport I could have for myself."
Mike Grier may look like a linebacker on skates at times, but hockey has been very, very good for him. He got his degree in sociology at Boston University and he’s living his dream as a player in the NHL.
And he can still root for the Patriots, Texans and Dolphins for the fun of it.
From the look of San Jose's friday practice, it appears that the recently acquired Jody Shelley will play his first game for the men in teal on Saturday afternoon.
The Sharks return home on Saturday to face the Chicago Blackhawks at HP Pavilion at San Jose. The game is set for a special 2:00 PM (Pacific) start and will be broadcast on FSN Bay Area in HD, KFOX 98.5 FM, Sharks Radio Network Affiliates and SJSHARKS.com.