Mike Grier, the NHL’s first black general manager, started out as a college reserve.

Mike Grier played the first game of his first season at Boston University not on the ice, but in the stands, unprepared for the squad, looking after a high school rookie testing the program. He spent little time on the ice in the next three games and was then told that he could expect the same for the rest of the season.

The humiliating experience ignited a fire under the big right flank from Holliston, Massachusetts and set him on a course that would eventually lead to college hockey stardom, a 14-season NHL career, and where he is today – the Sun’s newly appointed general manager. -Jose Sharks and the first black general manager. in league history.

“I was a pretty good player, and when they told me I wouldn’t play that much, that never happened to me in my life,” Grier, who spent three seasons with the Sharks during his career in NHL. on Tuesday. “The lesson is that there are no easy ways. The only thing that needed to be done was to work harder, train more. I was just determined to get my place back in the roster and not let anyone take it away.”

In announcing the appointment, Jonathan Becher, president of franchise parent company Sharks Sports and Entertainment, said Grier’s tenacity was one of the qualities that got him the job. “There are very few candidates who have the strength of character to lead not only in good times but also in difficult times,” he said. “Mike consistently demonstrated it.”

That night in the BU stands even played a role in the team’s decision. The rookie Grier hung out with was Chris Drury, who is now president and general manager of the Rangers. Drury brought Grier to the Rangers a year ago as a hockey operations adviser, for whom Grier essentially worked as an assistant general manager. Drury urged San Jose to give Grier a job, and the Sharks front office listened.

The number of black players in the NHL remains small, but has increased over the past decade, and in recent years minority groups have taken positions in management and sports media. Kim Davis, an African American, is the league’s senior executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives, and legislative affairs. Delvina Morrow, also African American, is the senior director of strategic and community initiatives for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kevin Wicks and Anson Carter, former black players, regularly appear as analysts on NHL television.

Women have also made progress in the front offices. Since the Devils hired Kate Madigan this week, four NHL clubs have added five female assistant general managers.

Grier, 47, said it meant a lot to him to be the league’s first black general manager. “This is not something I take lightly,” he said. “I understand the responsibility associated with the territory, but I am for it. If we succeed, hopefully it will open some doors for someone to come after us.”

Although Grier became the first black general manager in the NHL, he is not the first in his family to hold such a position. His brother Chris has been playing for the Miami Dolphins in the NFL since 2016.

“When we were growing up, we talked about the problems of forming squads,” said Mike Grier. “At dinner I would like to talk about football. They would like to talk about hockey. They definitely helped me a lot.”

Before he spent a year in the Rangers front office, Mike Grier spent four years as a scout with Chicago and two years as an assistant coach with the Devils. During his playing career, he scored 162 goals and made 221 assists in 1,060 games.

Grier was born in Detroit to Bobby Grier, a former college runner turned coach. When Bobby was promoted to assistant coach at Boston College, he moved his family to the Boston area where Mike started playing hockey at the age of 4. Bobby later became a coach with the Patriots.

In 1984, when Mike was 9 years old, he highlighted in Sports Illustrated for scoring 227 goals in two seasons. A few years later, when he was hoping to follow his older brother Chris’s lead in youth football, Mike broke the 120-pound weight limit set by the local Pop Warner league and settled on hockey.

In junior hockey, Grier regularly heard derogatory comments, and sometimes racial slurs, from opposing parents and players. His mother is Wendy, who died in 2009would tell him to respond with actions, not words. “Just put the puck in the net,” she said.

At the time, BU men’s hockey coach Jack Parker noticed Grier because of his height – 6’1″ and over 200 pounds – but one of his assistants noticed another trait.

“All his teammates are waiting to chat with him after the game, and then four or five guys from the other team come in and want to talk to him too,” Parker, 77, said. “He just had that type of personality.”

Grier arrived for his first season weighing around 250 pounds, and after getting little time on the ice, hit the gym hard.

“He was just determined to be the best hockey player he could be,” said Jay Pandolfo, who played with Grier at BU and became the Terriers head coach in May after five seasons as an assistant to the Bruins. “He wasn’t going to be denied.”

In his sophomore year—by which time Drury was a freshman in fourth place and one of his closest friends—Grier was 20 pounds lighter and his body fat dropped from 25 percent to 12 percent. team, was named the first All-American team and helped BU win the national championship.

Grier said he rarely heard racist comments on the ice in college. Once, when he did, Drury got his revenge. “I was mad at Drury because he almost started a fight until he found out why,” Parker said.

Grier was selected in the ninth round of the 1993 Draft by the St. Louis Club. Louis, and when he decided to return to BU for a third season, the club sold his rights to Edmonton. He signed with the Oilers after his freshman year and quickly became known as a reliable role player—the kind of guy who does important things that don’t show up on the scoresheet, like pre-checking and winning one-on-one battles.

Over the years, this attention to the intricacies of hockey has led several coaches and teammates to say that Grier has the potential to someday be a coach or even a general manager.

“He played the game right and had great demeanor,” said Ryan Miller, who was the Buffalo Sabres’ goaltender during Grier’s two spells with the team. “He prepared and brought a competitive nature to the ice and when you have that and you know how to interact with people, it becomes clear why people can see Mike in so many different roles.”

On Tuesday, Grier was asked what kind of game he wants from the Sharks. He replied: “Strong. Highly competitive. Fast. Into your face It was also a fitting description of how he played.

Grier scored 20 goals twice in six seasons with Edmonton. It made headlines in 1997 when Chris Simon, an enforcer from the Washington Capitals, used a racial slur in a quarrel with Grier and was suspended for three games.

By 2004, Grier was playing right wing for Buffalo in a line centered by Drury. The two came together, and with Miller in goal, the Sabers advanced to the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals, losing to the Carolinas in seven games.

He spent three seasons with the Sharks before returning to the Sabers for the final two campaigns. AT 7th game of the first round of the 2011 playoffs against Philadelphia, the first-period shot came off Grier’s glove and went past Miller, leading the Flyers to the win. After the game, Grier sat in his uniform in the visitors’ locker room, crying until his teammates took a shower.

It turned out to be his last game, but not the end of his hockey career.

“I think he will succeed as a GM for the same reasons he has succeeded in every other aspect of his life,” Parker said. “He is a competitor. He knows people and hockey. He’s a great actor.”