While I was sitting at my desk Thursday morning, I was distraught to read a text message that said NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire had passed away at the young age of 58, succumbing to cancer.
I met E.J. for the first and only time at the NHL Scouting Combine while I was working for The Hockey News in Toronto in the summer of 2009. I was shocked at how considerate and respectful he was, as many people in a position as high as his are often snooty, rude and simply don't care what anyone has to say to them.
E.J, however, when I introduced myself to him, stopped what he was doing and partook in an in-depth 10-minute conversation about the draft and his love of prospects.
It was apparent from speaking with him face-to-face that he simply loved the game, loved what he did and was willing to talk as long as possible about his work. After I asked him numerous questions about his position, he began asking me about my short life in the hockey industry, and seemed genuinely interested to do so.
He listened intently as I gave concise answers, hoping to hear him share more wisdom before my bosses at The Hockey News called me over for an assignment. Fortunately for me, he was the one that had to excuse himself when CBC, TSN and other journalists surrounded him, requesting interviews—he granted each and every one.
A few weeks later, I had the privilege of interviewing him over the phone for an article I wrote on the art of drafting goaltenders.
I spoke with him for more than 25 minutes, almost in awe of the brilliance that came through the phone and into my ear. He seemed to know everything about every prospect I asked him about, whether they were draft-eligible in three years or drafted five years ago.
When I hung up, I looked down and noticed that I had clicked the wrong switch on the phone and failed to record any of the conversation.
Although the thought came into my mind that I completely blew the first big story my editors had assigned to me, I was not even slightly upset, because I was simply still reminiscing over every word E.J. had said to me—and conveniently remembered many of the quotes he gave, with no aid of voice recorder or pen and paper.
After my article was published, I sent him an email with a link to the piece. I'll never forget the phone call I received from him afterwards, in which he congratulated me, wished me well and told me how happy he was to meet someone who loved the game as much as he did.
I can't remember a time since when I've received a greater compliment from anyone.
Often times fans will claim, "I can do a better job than this GM or that broadcaster or so-and-so commissioner." And many times, that may be true.
But I'll promise you this: no one was better at doing his job than E.J. McGuire.
He was so well-respected in the hockey industry. When he was diagnosed with cancer and certain media members found out, he requested they not reveal it to the public for the privacy of his family. Every single media member obliged.
They all loved him so much that they didn't dare disrespect his wish for his personal life not to be invaded.
That's the kind of person every sports league needs in their front office, and the NHL was lucky to have him for as long as they did.
Although the death of E.J. is a sad day for the hockey world, and a tragedy for the world of scouting, it is important to also celebrate his life and what he contributed to the game. I doubt anyone in that position will ever be as loved and respected as E.J. was, but that's more a compliment to him than an insult to anyone else who holds the job.
My condolences go out to E.J.'s family and friends, in addition to the entire hockey community who were privileged to know him.
Alan Bass, a writer for The Hockey News and THN.com, is the author of The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed The NHL Forever. He has worked for the Philadelphia Flyers' Fan Development department, going to schools throughout the tri-state area to teach about fitness and the importance of teamwork. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College Division II hockey team as well. You can contact him at Alanbasswriting@aol.com.