CANTLON’S CORNER: EXCLUSIVE – PIERRE MCGUIRE CALLED TO THE HALL
BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
HARTFORD, CT – Sometimes an unexpected phone call turns out to be the best.
“I didn’t expect it at all, but I’ll never forget the phone call from Lanny McDonald and what it means to me, and how he approached and explained everything to me. I know some of the people on the selection committee, and I’m overwhelmed in a positive way. I’m very excited, very grateful, and amazingly honored. It’s not a responsibility that I’m gonna take lightly and I’m excited to learn the process as we go along here,” the perpetually pumped up McGuire said.
There was no lobbying for this prestigious position.
“My name was presented to the board, was voted, and unanimously selected,” McGuire remarked. “I’m like. ‘OK thank-you. Honest to goodness, no idea this was coming. I was taken aback in a positive way, to be honest actually shocked when he told me just really, really grateful.”
Would an incoming member have a list of candidates they think should be headed to Yonge Street in Toronto, where the Hockey Hall of Fame is located?
“I honestly don’t know. It’s always kept quiet and secretive. That’s one thing you will learn as you get to your first meeting I received same amazing initial correspondence from members of the committee in the last 24-to-48 hours I appreciate it. Amazingly, I had a very nice conversation with Igor Larionov over at the Olympic Games in South Korea, whose on the board, and he never said a word to me.
“Mike Farber, (of Sports Illustrated), is also on the committee and we had some discussion via phone. I’m just learning the process. I really won’t know about it till I’m at my first meeting. I’m just looking forward to knowing how it all goes down,” McGuire said.
McGuire was a head coach for half a season with the Hartford Whalers. It was his first, and only NHL head coaching gig. He spent three seasons total with the Whalers organization.
One reason there was an opening was Scotty Bowman, the legendary coach who spent time with the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings and was an executive with the Chicago Blackhawks, who’s also the owner of nine Stanley Cup rings, is stepping aside from the selection committee at the age of 84.
McGuire has a relationship with Bowman. It dates back to McGuire’s days as an Assistant Coach at St. Lawrence University when Bowman came to visit his daughter who was attending the upstate New York school.
“You never replace a Scotty Bowman. He’s an icon. He’ll never be replaced. He’s the winningest coach of all-time, that record will never be broken. He’s the only guy to coach in five decades the 1950’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and his last game came in 2002.
“I’m tickled pink to say I will sit in his chair. I’ll never come close to replacing him.”
Reverence is not too strong of an adjective to describe the effect Bowman had on McGuire and his professional trajectory.
“Scotty has always been my mentor and an amazing friend. I really tried to listen to him and follow him. He has given me sage advice over the years; jobs I should have taken, jobs I did take. He’s not only an amazing hockey man, he has been an amazingly loyal friend. He is somebody I cherish and appreciate his friendship.”
It’s not too strong to suggest Bowman may have had the primary assist in McGuire’s candidacy.
McGuire was thankful for receiving this high honor.
“In the modern day, Ray Shero, now of the New Jersey Devils, and Randy Sexton (the assistant GM who worked with McGuire in Ottawa), Tim Murray in Buffalo and finally, Joe Marsh in St. Lawrence. I don’t think I ever met a more kind and humble person than Joe Marsh.”
As previously mentioned, McGuire was a coach at St. Lawrence when they were a collegiate powerhouse, not only in the ECAC but the nation in the 1980’s. Marsh was recently named the women’s hockey coach at Dartmouth. “In the two years I worked with him, we won a lot of games. We had a lot of fun. We got a lot of players to commit there. It was delightful and two years there went by way too quick. We still talk a lot and I’m very grateful for his friendship, too.”
McGuire, born in the Le Belle province in Montreal was living in the Mont-Royal, Westmount, and Sainte-Adele neighborhoods until his family moved to New Jersey during his formative years. The family settled in Northern New Jersey and Pierre attended Bergen Catholic High School, which was one of the top academic and athletic parochial schools in the area. It’s something he’s never forgotten and credits for his development.
“I started out at Lower Canada College my first two years and my last two years were at Bergen Catholic. I was fortunate to have gone to such an amazing school. I played football and hockey and lettered in both. In football, I played for a legend in Tony Carson and John DeCarlo who, believe it or not, is an off-ice official for the New Jersey Devils.” McGuire said with a laugh. “It’s kinda crazy how its all come full circle. I appreciated my time there and you never forget your roots and it helped me become the person I am today. The teaching and coaches at Bergen Catholic shaped me.”
McGuire’s son is now playing the sport. He matriculates in prep school hockey at Belmont Hill in Massachusetts. McGuire rattles off prep schools as easily as he does a Winnipeg Jets lineup. His devotion to all levels of hockey was likely another factor in his selection.
“I’ve been following it since I was released from the New Jersey Devils training camp,“ McGuire said. He played one season of international hockey in Holland after having a collegiate career at Hobart College, a Division III program. “I coached right away in upstate New York (Hobart College) and in Massachusetts (with Babson College, where he worked with former Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ head coach, Steve Stirling) and at St. Lawrence. I’ve been following them American (Hockey) League, major junior, college and Europe players ever since.
“When you have a son playing, you get to see the younger players. I’ve seen the 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 age birthdates play a ton. The next few three-or-four, maybe five drafts, are going to be very good,” McGuire commented.
That range of depth in the sport certainly has helped McGuire in the quiet deliberation of his candidacy at the college of hockey cardinals.
The change in the game from his days in Hartford even seems astounding.
“The players are better. The equipment is better, and there are more rinks today. One of my mentors (the late) “Badger” Bob Johnson, then with the Pittsburgh Penguins, had a vision when he was with USA hockey with more rinks in the inner cities of America, and you see where you’re getting better and better and better players from very non-traditional hockey places.
“It is interesting to see how it has transitioned over time. USA Hockey with grassroots programming and (NHL) moves into non-traditional places like Florida, Tampa Bay, Dallas, Carolina, Arizona, LA, Anaheim, San Jose, and now Nashville. When you have a player like Auston Matthews (Toronto), who is from Arizona, is a prime example, and five first-rounders from St. Louis in one draft.”
He first dipped his toe in the Nutmeg State was his three years in the early 1990’s with the Whalers, two and a half as an assistant coach and a half season at the helm of the Whalers.
“We had the third-best record at one point when we had five major injuries and our season got sunk there. It was a pleasure coaching a then 19-year-old Christopher Pronger and getting to know the late Brad McCrimmon (with whom he paired Pronger). I appreciated talking to Mr. (Richard) Gordon, appreciated his friendship, and he helped me in many ways as an owner getting to know other owners. We all kinda knew the team might move, but the fans there were great, a real hard-core set of fans. They were great and electrifying and when they left, I knew there was a really good chance it wasn’t gonna come back. We fought every day to have then stay but once the team was sold, I got kicked to the curb and a couple of years later the team was moved.”
After being a head coaching with the Baton Rouge Kingfish (ECHL), he made a career change, heading back to Montreal and becoming the Canadiens radio color guy on English broadcasts on CJAD-AM (800). His media portfolio continues in the city with a 5 pm slot every day with Mitch Melnick on TSN 690 AM as well as his work on NBC.
McGuire also wanted to thank another part of his hockey community.
“Man, I got one more person (to thank). How can I forget him? Sam Flood at NBC Sports. He was the one who created the Inside the Glass concept. He’s been unbelievable to my family and I wouldn’t have left TSN (The Sports Network). He’s a visionary and cerebral that’s off the charts. He’s an icon in the media business. It was he and Dick Ebersol who came up with the Inside the Glass idea and they approached me in 2004 and said if you think you can do it, the job, it’s yours. I said ‘I don’t think the league will allow you to do it,’ and they said, ‘Leave that to us.’ It was stimulating (the idea). Number one and number two. They said, ‘Are you up for a challenge to help grow the game?’ The game isn’t going to grow anymore in Canada, and he was right about that, and he said it would grow more in the United States, and he was right about that, and if you have seen the national package it has grown every year. I wanted to learn more about the TV business and I told him, ‘You’re my Scotty Bowman of TV.”
Now, McGuire, who has ridden the hockey rail to many different stops in many different outfits, as coach, scout, and broadcaster, can now add one more ticket to be punched in Toronto as a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame Selection committee member.