The New Jersey Devils hired former National Hockey League forward Mike Grier as an assistant coach Monday, adding to professional hockey’s minority coaching ranks.
A Detroit native, Grier played 1,060 NHL games as a right wing from 1996-97 to 2008-09 for the Edmonton Oilers, Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, and San Jose Sharks.
A 1993 St. Louis Blues ninth-round draft pick out of Boston University, Grier went on to score 162 goals, 221 assists and accumulate 510 penalty minutes in 1,060 NHL regular season games.
He collected 14 goals, 14 assists and 72 penalty minutes in 101 Stanley Cup Playoff contests.
“We are looking forward to having Mike join our organization,” said Devils Head Coach John Hynes. “Having played 14 years and over 1,000 NHL games as a forward, Mike will lean on his experience in leadership roles to work with our players. He was a highly-respected teammate and had the ability to relate to all players with his personality, demeanor and experience. These attributes will be valuable in communicating and developing our players, as we continue to build a strong culture.”
Football is the Grier family business. Mike’s brother, Chris Grier, is general manager of the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins. Their father, Bobby Grier, served as director of player personnel for the New England Patriots and was a personnel advisor for the Houston Texans.
But Mike, despite having a football-esque 6-foot-1, 224-pound frame during his playing days, opted for the ice rink over the gridiron.
He became the NHL’s fourth U.S.-born black player. He followed Indiana native Donald Brashear, Maine’s Mike McHugh, and Ocala, Florida’s Valmore James who became the NHL’s first African-American player when he debuted with Sabres in the 1981-82 season.
James and Brashear were tough guys, on-ice enforcers known more for their fists than their scoring hands. McHugh played only 20 NHL games for the Sharks and Minnesota North Stars and scored only one goal.
Grier combined toughness with a scoring touch. He was the NHL’s first African-American player to score more than 20 goals in a season.
At Boston University, Grier notched 29 goals and 26 assists in 37 games in 1994-95 and helped power the Terriers to an NCAA Frozen Four championship. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the NCAA’s top men’s hockey player.
Grier played for Team USA at the 1995 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship and won a bronze medal skating for the U.S. at the 2004 IIHF Men’s World Championship.
“It’s really something that I’m proud of, being one of the first to break through,” Grier told the Color of Hockey in 2014. “The (minority) players who are coming up now are skill players who are contributing to their teams. It’s only natural to get more kids of color in the game.”
Barring any moves, Grier will be one of six NHL coaches of color when the 2018-19 season begins in October.
Scott Gomez is on the Islanders coaching staff and Nigel Kirwan serves as a video coach for the Lightning.
Paul Jerrard was the only NHL coach of color to work behind the bench during games last season. The Calgary Flames fired Jerrard in April and the NCAA Division I University of Nebraska Omaha Mavericks hired him in May to be the team’s assistant coach.
Former NHL pugilist Peter Worrell was hired earlier this month as an assistant coach for the Fayetteville Marksmen of the South Professional Hockey League.
In May, the SPHL’s Macon Mayhem named Leo Thomas its head coach, making him the only black professional hockey head coach in North America.
Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. And download the Color of Hockey podcast from iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play.