fb-pixel Skip to main content

Famed Boston University hockey coach Jack Kelley dies at 93

Jack Kelley (left) and Steve Stirling celebrated after Boston University defeated Minnesota to win the 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, Kelley returned to BU and took over as coach.


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.

That standard of excellence was continued by his 1967-68 captain, Jack Parker, who went on to lead the Terriers for 40 years.

“We’ve lost an incredible man who meant so much to this university,” said Parker. “He established BU hockey as a national entity, and beyond his impressive record as a coach, his legacy and impact on his former players is hard to match. I’ve always heard so many of the guys who played in my era say that outside of their parents, Jack was the most important person in their lives. That definitely was the case for me. He got the absolute best out of his players and turned us all into men.”

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.

Jack Kelley received a hug from former BU coach Jack Parker after Mike Eruzione (left) introduced the members of the 1971-72 hockey team at a ceremony at Walter Brown Arena in 2005.Globe staff Justine Hunt

“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.

"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.

“It’s a sad day not only for all Whaler fans but for all hockey fans,” Whalers Founder Howard L. Baldwin said in a statement. “Jack Kelley was always the heart and soul of the Whalers.”


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.

“If you bought into what Jack was selling, you undoubtedly became a better person, a better player, and for several of us, a better coach,” said Steve Stirling, captain of the 1970-71 squad and the first Terrier to become a head coach in the NHL in 2003. “I always looked forward to our yearly phone call to catch up on life and talk hockey.

”He was way ahead of his time in terms of paying attention to detail and he was so focused on play in all three zones. Jack was great at finding both American and Canadian talent and then meshing us all together to create a winning culture."

Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.