Jack Riley, one of the iconic figures in the history of amateur hockey in the United States, passed away on February 3 at the age of 95. One of three brothers enshrined in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Riley starred at Dartmouth College in the 1940's and went on to play for the 1948 U.S. Olympic Team in St. Moritz, Switzerland. But it was as a coach, and perhaps as a father, that Riley left his greatest impact on the game.
He began a 36-season career at West Point in the fall of 1950, winning 542 games, before turning the program over to Rob, a former Boston College standout. Rob won 257 games over 18 seasons before handing the reins to brother Brian in 1986. As of this writing, Brian has added 120 Riley wins through this season, his 12th.
But beyond the 900+ wins by the family, Riley's most memorable hockey accomplishment came in 1960 when he led the U.S. Olympic Team to the gold medal at the Squaw Valley Games in what was the first "Miracle on Ice." Riley, who had been a player-coach of the 1949 U.S. National Team, led the team to seven straight wins, including the first U.S. win ever against the defending champions from the Soviet Union. To put it in perspective, the Soviets won every gold medal from 1956 to 1992, with two exceptions: 1960 and 1980. Given that the Canadian team was even better than the Soviets in 1960, that gold medal was truly a miracle on ice.
Riley the player had been a winner as well. Entering Dartmouth in the fall of 1940, he was teamed up with Dick Rondeau and Bill Harrison by coach Eddie Jeremiah and the trio formed one of the great lines in college hockey history. It was on the backs of this trio that Dartmouth ran up a 45- game unbeaten streak that began on December 23, 1941. Jack Riley was injured and did not play in that game but contributed significantly to the early days of The Streak until World War II interrupted.
By the time the unbeaten streak reached 28 games at the end of the 1942-43 season, 22-year old Jack Riley had logged more than 600 hours of flight time and had become a flight instructor in Atlanta. By May of 1945, his name was called and he entered the war, becoming a highly decorated fighter pilot in the Pacific Theater.
The war would end and the unbeaten streak was snapped in January of 1946. Jack Riley was back at Dartmouth at that time but he always took pains to point out that while he had returned to school, he was not an active player when Yale took a 6-4 streak-ending win.
In 2004, a few of Riley's former players got together to discuss the possibility of a book being written about their old coach. Stories were shared and a few articles were penned. Ed Hickey, a career military man who played for Jack in the late 1950's and who returned to West Point as an assistant coach, said of Riley, "He stood for all the right values. He was tough but he was fair. He was as competitive as anyone I ever met. He served his country, in war, at West Point, and in the Olympics. And first and foremost, he was a good family man. If his life was a movie, he would have been played by John Wayne."
Said 1984 U.S. Olympic coach Lou Vairo, "Jack was a leading USA Hockey player during his playing days. He led us often as a coach in International hockey, capping it off with a great gold medal Victory in 1960. He built and led a great Army program at West Point and always made himself available to anyone in hockey, especially youth hockey players and coaches. He was a great USA fighter pilot that led many sorties in the Pacific during WW II. He was a dear friend and a man I greatly respected and always appreciated. May Jack rest in peace. Thanks for everything, Jack Riley."