The NHL Combine officially kicked off today as the players started the week long interview process with all 30 teams at the Westin Bristol Place in Toronto. After a few days of being asked hard questions, seemingly mundane questions, psychological questions and repetitive questions, they’ll finally get to show what they can do physically on Friday and Saturday as they go through medical and physical testing on Friday and Saturday. The structure of the Combine is no different than it was last year, but the spirit couldn’t have changed anymore if they tried.
The central figure of the combine, former Director of NHL’s Central Scouting, E.J. McGuire won’t be greeting players, scouts, and media members this year as he passed away from Leiomyosarcoma on April 7th at the age of 58. But even though he won’t physically be at this year’s combine, his spirit is at the forefront of many attendees’ minds.
Two members of Central Scouting shared their thoughts with Mike G. Morreale at NHL.com:
Central Scouting manager Nathan Ogilvie-Harris:
“We want to honor E.J. by making this a great event this year. 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).”
NHL Central Scouting videographer and scout David Gregory:
“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. 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.”
With the explosion of interest and accessibility with the internet, hockey fans are paying attention to prospects like never before. In the middle of the boom was EJ McGuire—sharing his knowledge with anyone who showed a remote interest (and sometimes even with those who didn’t). His passion shone through with every interview, as he’d talk about the players who were expected to excel, as well as the borderline prospects with the same enthusiasm. His eagerness to share his knowledge spread to all types of fans all over North America—from the casual fan who wanted to know who his team could select, to the super fan who wanted to know everything there was to know about the hidden gems.
Make no mistake that McGuire and his staff were some of the hardest working people associated with the sport 365 days per year; but the NHL Combine and Draft were his Super Bowl and World Series. Since his passing last month, people in the hockey world knew the Scouting Combine was going to be tough without McGuire. But while the show must go on, it’s great to hear he’s still one of the driving forces to make sure the event is a rousing success.