When Hockey Hall of Famer and current NHL senior vice president of hockey operations Jim Gregory heard he was being honoured with the Order of St. Michael, he felt he wasn’t special enough to receive it.
“It’s unbelievable the people that get that award: Dick Duff and Father David Bauer … I just didn’t think it was an achievement I could ever reach,” he said. “It’s certainly a huge honour and I love the fact that it happened but I never thought it would ever happen.”
But his alma mater, St. Michael’s College School announced Jan. 17, that Gregory would be one of six people being recognized by the all-boys school at an induction ceremony April 26.
For Gregory, it’s a crowning achievement to a career filled with building some of the most successful teams in hockey history. But it’s one that wouldn’t have happened without one of the touchstones of St. Mike’s hockey heritage.
After Gregory was cut from the St. Mike’s Majors, it was Bauer, before he became a priest, who encouraged him to find a way to stay connected to the game he loves.
“In my head I was better than I was in reality,” he said, with a laugh. “In any case I had Mr. Bauer as my homeroom teacher and he talked to me and I was very discouraged.
“He said, ‘No, we’ll get you another tryout, don’t worry about it’,” he added. “He was running a midget team that had a lot of good players on it, Gerry Cheevers, Terry O’Malley, Paul Jackson, the Drapers (Bruce and Dave) and I went and helped him when he needed help.”
It was that experience that led him on the path to the National Hockey League. Sage advice from hockey legends like Joe Primeau helped him build up a portfolio that would one day lead him to a job interview with Stafford Smythe of Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I wouldn’t have the Maple Leafs job if it wasn’t for Bauer and my association with St. Mike’s,” he said. “I’d still be working in a factory or some place if it wasn’t for Father Bauer.”
Like opening a book to the pages of the past, Gregory recalls his legacy on the NHL in a managerial capacity.
In particular three big moments: the introduction of the NHL draft, bringing Borje Salming to Toronto and the formation of Central Scouting.
“The big change in 1964, and it was the idea of Stafford Smythe, was to start a draft like they had in other sports,” he said. “The people who worked with the Leafs didn’t want it but he did because teams like the Rangers and Boston weren’t able to sign the players.
“If the Maple Leafs went to try and get a guy and Boston went to get (the same) guy, 99 percent of the time, the guy would want to be with the Leaf team.”
At that same time he helped form Central Scouting. Then with the onset of the European invasion, the Toronto GM sent out one of his top scouts to seek out one of Toronto’s most memorable blueliners.
“I sent Gerry McNamara to scout Inge Hammarström and he got there and he said, ‘I’ve got a guy here and I can’t believe how good he is’,” he said. “Back in those days to get a player you had to put him on a thing called the negotiation list.
“So McNamara called me at 2 o’clock in the morning, he was excited and I put Salming’s name on the list.”
In 1979 Gregory parted ways with the Maple Leafs, but was snatched up by then-NHL President John Ziegler to be the director of Central Scouting.
Still with most of his life being a mover in the big leagues, he never forgets where he came from.
“I owe everything I have today to St. Mike’s, including my wife (Rosalie) and our children.”
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