His spirit was willing but his body was telling him it had enough. With that, Mike Grier took the hint and announced his retirement from the National Hockey League after playing in 1,060 games over 14 seasons. It was far from major NHL news but at a time when we wonder which Sabres players will show up on a game by game basis, even a period by period basis(see the Philadelphia game for the most recent example), Grier's announcement stood out to me.
He wasn't blessed with blazing speed or incredible hands or a rocket shot but Mike Grier gave you everything he had every time he stepped on the ice. There are numerous roles on each team and one of the more important roles is a steady, veteran player who provides leadership on and off the ice. With Grier you knew you would get an honest effort whether the game was home or away. It didn't matter if the game was the beginning of the season, during the dog days of January and February or in pressure packed games down the stretch should the team be battling for a playoff spot. The opponent didn't make a difference since Grier didn't fear any team. The second game in a back to back set, the first game back East after a long Western swing, the third game in 6 nights, you never had to worry about what you were going to get from Mike Grier.
He played a key role on the Buffalo Sabres 2005-06 team that made it to the Conference Finals before injuries caught up with them against Carolina. There were bigger names and more productive players but Grier was a glue guy. His influence on younger players like Thomas Vanek, whose stall was once next to Grier's in the locker room, is paying dividends today.
Grier was a guest on our show this past week and told us that team will always hold a special place in his heart. He played on more talented teams in San Jose but Grier said there was something special about that group of Sabres, a group he said had heart and chemistry. It was Grier's best chance at a Stanley Cup ring in a career that also saw him play in Edmonton and Washington. Grier admits he thinks "what if" every now and then about the rash of injuries the Sabres were hit with over their playoff run.
During this week's Lindy Ruff show on WGR, the Sabres Head Coach called Grier the ultimate team player who possessed both great character and work ethic. Ruff said as good a competitor as Grier was, he was an even better teammate. I don't really know but maybe Ruff had some current players in mind as he reflected on Grier's 2 stints in Buffalo and said there were never any excuses and he never had to tell Grier to work harder.
The first American born black player to play in the NHL, Grier finished with 121 goals and 221 assists in those 1,060 games. As far as the future goes, for the short term, Grier is enjoying spending time with his wife and three kids in Boston, the city where Grier was raised. But hockey is in his blood and Grier told WGR he would like to get back in the game at some point. The idea of coaching and teaching younger players is appealing and beyond that Grier has is interested in a front office career, working on the personnel side. Who knows what the future does hold but you can bet Grier will be a success as whatever job he lands and will continue to provide a great example of work ethic and exemplify the term class act.