Mike Grier already has his strategy down for coaching a squad of some of the best 2015 NHL draft-eligible players born in the United States: just open the bench door and point them to the ice.
“You’ve got all the best players around so you won’t have to do too much,” Grier told me. “I’ll keep everyone involved and keep the lines flowing.”
Grier will test his coaching philosophy on September 25 when he serves as a bench boss at the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, home of the Buffalo Sabres.
“It’s definitely an honor to be involved in this event,” Grier said. “It’s a big deal for USA Hockey and you’ll have a lot of NHL teams watching.”
Forty-two players who’ll be eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft will compete on teams coached by Grier – who played 15 seasons for the Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, Washington Capitals, and San Jose Sharks – and Eddie Olczyk, the lead hockey analyst for the NHL on NBC and NBC Sports Network.
Olczyk played 16 seasons for the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Los Angeles Kings, and Pittsburgh Penguins. He helped guide the Rangers to its Stanley Cup victory in 1994 and is a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
A Detroit native and Boston University hockey standout, Grier was the NHL’s fourth U.S.-born black player. He followed Indiana-born forward 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 touch. Grier combined toughness with scoring. He was the NHL’s first African-American player to score more than 20 goals in a season. He finished his career with 162 goals, 383 total points and 510 penalty minutes in 1,060 games.
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 said. “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.”
These days, Grier is involved in coaching youth hockey coaching and he served as an on-ice instructor last month at USA Hockey’s Boys’ Select 17 Player Development Camp.
“I’m just seeing what comes,” Grier said. “I like working with kids on the player development side of it and giving back to the kids.”