John Patrick “Jack” Riley (born June 15, 1920) is an American former ice hockey player and coach. The hockey coach at West Point for more than 35 years, Riley coached the United States to the gold medal at the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics. He played for the U.S. Olympic team at the 1948 St. Moritz Olympics.
A native of Medford, Massachusetts, Riley played prep-school hockey at Tabor Academy and was graduated in 1939. He played college hockey at Dartmouth College (1940-1942 and 1946-47) as well as for the U.S. Naval Air Corps (1942-1946). In 1948 he was part of an American team that was disqualified as two rival teams arrived for the Americans at the St. Moritz Olympics. (See Ice hockey at the 1948 Winter Olympics). He was then player-coach of the national team at the 1949 IIHF World Championship.
Riley began his Army coaching career in 1950, remaining the Cadets’ head coach through 1986. During his tenure, he twice won the Spencer Penrose Award for NCAA Coach of the Year. He was replaced by one of his sons, Rob Riley in 1986. Another son, Brian Riley, took over the job from Rob in 2004.
Riley’s Americans surprised the hockey world going undefeated in winning the country’s first Olympic gold medal and second ever.
Riley was inducted in the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979, and the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame in 1998. He is a two-time winner of the Lester Patrick Trophy, in 1986 (as a coach) and 2002 (as a member of the Olympic gold medal-winning United States hockey team of 1960).
In the 1960s, Riley ran the Eastern Hockey Clinic (a hockey camp for high school age players) in Worcester, Massachusetts. The camp had many NHL players as coaches, including, among others, John Ferguson, Tommy Williams (the only American NHL player at the time), Jean Ratelle, and Charlie Hodge.
US Hockey Hall of Fame – Inducted 1979
Jack Riley was an outstanding college player at Dartmouth whose career was interrupted by WW II while he was playing as a sophomore in 1941. He returned to college in 1946, however, to captain the team that tied the University of Toronto for the North American title.
From 1942-46, he served as a U.S. Naval Aviator in the Pacific Theatre, and in 1948 Riley went on to play for the U.S. Olympic Team, which finished fourth at St. Moritz Switzerland. From there, he went on to serve as the player-coach of the 1949 National Team, which gained a third place finish at the World Tournament at Stockholm, Sweden. Incidentally, the U.S. was the only team to defeat the world champions from Czechoslovakia, 2-0, thanks to Riley’s two goals.
From there, Riley went on to join the staff of the U.S. Military Academy in 1950, where he became head coach in 1951 and remained until 1986, when he passed the reigns to his son, Rob. Over that span at Army, he was twice named as the NCAA Coach of the Year. Incredibly, he posted just six losing seasons in his 36 years at West Point, and at the time of his retirement, his 541 career wins were second only to Michigan Tech’s John McInnes in the history of NCAA hockey.
Perhaps the highlight of his storied career, however, came at Squaw Valley in 1960, when he led an underdog American team past the likes of several of the world’s great ice powers – Canada, Russia, Czechoslovakia, and Sweden, to capture the country’s first gold medal in Olympic competition. Riley’s squad swept undefeated through the preliminary and championship rounds to the gold medal victory. The pivotal game in the series was the clash against Russia. With 10,000 fans jamming Blyth Arena and a national television audience on hand, the game proved to be a classic. Coach Riley best describes the final minutes:
‘The 5’10”, 145 lb. Billy Christian foiled goalie Puchkov again at 14:59 of the last period. Getting the puck on a play set up by his brother Roger and by Williams (Tom), Billy outsmarted Puchkov again when the goalie came out to cut down the angle of the shot. The puck went in, and our players and the jubilant crowd jumped for joy. That was it, as McCartan and the stalwart defensemen fought off the Russians the rest of the way. Then, a come from behind 9-4 victory over the Czechs that next day proved to be the clincher.
Riley received the coveted Lester Patrick Award in both 1986 and 2002.