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Jack Riley, 95; coached first US hockey team to win Olympic gold

Jack Riley (right), coach of the US hockey team, hugged Russian team captain Nikolai Sologubov at the 1960 Games.

Associated Press file 1960

Jack Riley (right), coach of the US hockey team, hugged Russian team captain Nikolai Sologubov at the 1960 Games.

Jack Riley’s hockey journey began at Medford High and led him through Dartmouth College, the 1948 US Olympic team, and the 1949 World Championships, when he led the US squad as a player-coach.

But nothing compared to Feb. 28, 1960, at the Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif., when as head coach of the US team he watched the Americans score six unanswered goals in the third period to defeat Czechoslovakia, 9-4, and win the country’s first hockey gold medal.

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When Mr. Riley, who was head coach of the Army team, arrived home at West Point the next evening, he and his wife, Maureen, were welcomed with a 21-gun salute fired from seven cannons. They were symbolic of the seven teams the US team defeated, including consecutive upsets over Canada and the Soviet Union.

“It wasn’t always brotherly love, but this extraordinary group pulled together where it really counted … on the ice,” he wrote in a foreword to the 2009 book “1960: Miracle at Squaw Valley.”

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Mr. Riley, who coached at the US Military Academy from 1950 to 1986 and who is enshrined in the United States and International Hockey halls of fame, died Wednesday in Decatur House in Sandwich. He was 95 and previously lived in Marstons Mills.

“Of all his memorabilia, and there were many, his Olympic gold medal was the one he treasured the most,” said his son Rob, who succeeded Mr. Riley as Army’s head coach and is now athletic director at Regis College.

The 1960 US team included captain Jack Kirrane of Brookline; Dick Rodenhiser of Malden; and the Cleary brothers from Cambridge, Billy and Bob, who had starred at Harvard and were late additions to the team. Mr. Riley was criticized by some players for adding the Clearys and standout defenseman John Mayasich from Minnesota, while cutting others who had been with the team through a grueling training camp at West Point and on an exhibition tour.

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“We had played some very good college teams and we weren’t setting the world on fire,” Mr. Riley recalled in the 2009 documentary “Forgotten Miracle.” When some team members threatened to leave, Mr. Riley and Kirrane persuaded them to stay.

“Jack had us practice so hard our tongues were hanging out,” Bill Cleary recalled. “He didn’t show us or John Mayasich any favoritism. He was a stickler for being in shape and that made us a tough team to play in the third period. He was intense and he loved to win, and he made you want to give that extra effort.”

Cleary, a former Harvard hockey coach and athletic director, led the US team in scoring. His goal in the opening period helped the Americans beat the Soviet Union for the first time, 3-2. Bob Cleary, who died last year, opened the scoring when the US topped a Canadian team captained by future Bruins coach and general manager Harry Sinden, 2-1. Bob Cleary then fueled the comeback against the Czechs with two third period goals.

“Jack was a master of putting his line and defense combinations together,” Rodenhiser said.

Born in 1920, John Patrick Riley played hockey and soccer at Medford High because the school’s hockey coach thought soccer was a great way to stay agile and in condition.

He was captain of the hockey team at Dartmouth, where his studies were interrupted by World War II, when he served as a Navy pilot in the Pacific. He returned to graduate in 1947 and was a member of the 1948 US Olympic team.

The following year, as player-coach of the US team, he brought on 21-year-old defenseman Jack Kelley from Medford. Kelley went on to star as a player and become a two-time NCAA tournament-winning coach at Boston University.

“One day Jack said to me, half-jokingly, ‘Do you know Maureen Hines? Get me a date with her and I’ll put you on the team,’ ” Kelley recalled.

Kelley and Hines had worked together at the Snow Inn in Harwichport, and he arranged the date. After the World Championships in Stockholm, Mr. Riley married Hines. She died of cancer in 1989.

Kelley said he “learned more hockey in four months” playing with that US team than at any time during his career, “and that was because of Jack Riley. He scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Czechoslovakia at the championships, skating through the whole Czech team like Bobby Orr. … I can still visualize it.”

Mr. Riley was one of four hockey-playing brothers and the father of four sons and a daughter who also excelled at the sport. His brothers Joe and Bill starred at Dartmouth. Their youngest brother, Jim, played at BU.

Mr. Riley’s son Jay of Wrentham played at Harvard and was an assistant coach at Brown and Cornell. He was followed by Mark of Newton, a Boston College co-captain; Rob of Hamilton, also a BC co-captain; and Brian of West Point, N.Y., a former Brown hockey captain and Army’s current head coach. Mr. Riley’s daughter, Mary Beth of Lakeville, was a hockey and soccer star at St. Lawrence University.

At West Point, Mr. Riley’s teams posted a 542-343-20 record. He was named NCAA Coach of the Year in 1957 and 1960 and was an assistant athletic director and a liaison to Congress.

A member at the Hyannisport Club, he had 10 holes-in-one and was as fierce a competitor on the links as on the ice.

In addition to his five children and his brother James, Mr. Riley leaves nine grandchildren. Funeral plans will be announced.

“Dad wanted each of his children to follow their own paths,” Rob said, “but we were so entrenched and involved in his world that it was easy to want to emulate him, although we never felt pressure to do so.”

Marvin Pave can be reached atmarvin.pave@rcn.com.
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