I never saw Jack Kelley coach an ice hockey game. He had been off the bench for decades by the time I began covering Colby College sports 20 years ago. You didn’t need to watch Kelley coach up a team or interact with his players to know how much he loved hockey. You saw it when the game cross paths with the first great love of Kelley’s life, his family.

Jack Kelley died this week. He was 93.

In 2017, the Stanley Cup came to Waterville. Andy Saucier, Kelley’s grandson, earned a day with the Cup as the video coach of the then-champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Cup was on display in the back yard of Saucier’s mother’s Waterville home, where party goers studied it, looking for the engraved names of favorite players who had hoisted it in victory.

The real star of the party was Kelley, who sat and held court, greeting friends old and new, quietly showing love and pride in his grandson’s achievements. This was the second year in a row the Stanley Cup came to Waterville. The Penguins were celebrating back-to-back wins. In 2016, Saucier’s day with the Cup included a public viewing at Colby’s Alfond Rink.

The arena carried the name of Alfond, but really, it was Kelley’s hockey house. Kelley coached the Mules in the first game played at the rink, against rival Bowdoin. Kelley made a lot of great memories on the Alfond Rink ice. Now, with the ice out and the Cup center stage, he made another.

“It’s amazing to see everybody’s individual reactions to it,” Kelley said that afternoon, sitting approximately 10 yards to the right of the Cup and long line of people waiting for their chance to see it, touch it, and pose for photos with it. “Look at the little kids kiss it.”

Three times in the five years before Saucier and the Penguins won the Cup, the Chicago Blackhawks did. Kelley’s son, Mark, was Chicago’s vice-president for amateur scouting for those wins. That day at Alfond Rink, Kelley spoke of celebrating those wins with Mark.

“When it got out of the car with Mark, I welled up. I’m not ashamed to say that I got a little emotional,” Kelley said.

Kelley won plenty in his life in hockey. Any University of Maine hockey fan who feels that ingrained bitterness towards BU —who think of the 1993 Hockey East final with nostalgic fondness and the 1995 national championship game with malaise — should know that began with Kelley. He made the Terriers the team everyone in college hockey wanted to defeat, and that continued with Jack Parker.

Kelley was NCAA Coach of the Year in 1962 at Colby, leading the Mules to the ECAC semifinals. Under Kelley, BU won national championships in 1971 and 1972. Kelley won a World Hockey Association title as the first coach and general manager of the New England Whalers (which later became the Hartford Whalers when the team joined the NHL). In 1993, Kelley was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame.

Kelley was president of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1993 until he retired in 2001. The Penguins played in the conference finals twice while Kelley worked in the front office. Seeing his son and grandson hoist hockey’s grail was enough. The joy he derived from that success was evident when watching Kelley observe their celebrations.

Early in my time covering sports here in central Maine, I had the opportunity to watch a Colby-Bowdoin hockey game with Kelley. I learned more about the game in those couple hours than in all my years watching hockey previous. It was like getting a guitar lesson from Jimi Hendrix.

Over the years, in my infrequent chats with Kelley, his love for his family and the game were always evident. Rest easy, Jack. You’ll be missed.


Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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