Famed Boston University hockey coach Jack Kelley dies at 93

Jack Kelley, left and Steve Stirling celebrated after Boston University defeated Minnesota to win NCAA Hockey Championship in 1971.
Jack Kelley, left and Steve Stirling celebrated after Boston University defeated Minnesota to win NCAA Hockey Championship in 1971.

Jack Kelley, who coached Boston University to NCAA hockey championships in 1971 and 1972 before being named the first coach and general manager of the New England Whalers, has died, the school confirmed. He was 93.

Born in Malden, Kelley starred at Belmont High before attending BU, where he led the Terriers to the NCAA finals in 1950 and 1951. He finished his playing career in 1952 by being named first-team All-New England and All-East, and team MVP.

He coached at Colby College for seven years beginning in 1955 and was named NCAA Coach of the Year in 1962 after leading Colby to the semifinals of the first ECAC hockey tournament at Boston Arena. The following year, after Harry Cleverly resigned, he returned to BU and took over as coach.

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In 10 seasons at his alma mater, Kelley compiled a record of 206 wins, 80 losses, and 8 ties, good for a winning percentage of .720. The Terriers won six Beanpot titles and played in four NCAA final fours, culminating with the 1972 squad that won the Beanpot, the ECAC, and the NCAA championship.

Kelley’s teams featured 14 first-team All-Americans and 14 BU Hall of Famers. He is credited with founding the Friends of BU Hockey upon being hired in 1962. The group took the initiative of building Walter Brown Arena, which would not be completed until 1971.

Kelley coached in the inaugural game on Nov. 27, 1971, against Yale, and went 12-1-1 in that first season. The arena served as the home rink for the men’s team from 1971-2005, and is still used by the women’s team.

Prior to that, BU played its home games at Boston Arena, now Matthews Arena, and the team would have to take buses and cabs to games, with practices at all different hours.

“I remember wondering if the arena was ever going to be built,” Kelley said later. “Once it was built, though, all the frustrations and disappointments we went through were worthwhile. Now, we had our own rink on campus.

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“I remember the first game and the facility wasn’t completed, but we were in there. A lot of people paid a heck of a price to get the rink, but it was the players who created the legacy that is there now.”

After the 1972 season, Kelley joined the Whalers as they began their first season in the World Hockey Association, and led them to the inaugural Avco World Trophy.

He worked later as an administrator in the Detroit Red Wings organization, and served as president of the Pittsburgh Penguins until his retirement in 2001. In 1993, he was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame.

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