After winning the franchise’s sixth Stanley Cup in June, Chicago Blackhawks players were feted before 2 million people at a downtown parade in Chicago and then stepped into a well-deserved summer break.
Not Mark Kelley ’80. As the Blackhawks senior director of amateur scouting, Kelley enjoyed three days of family time and then flew to Fort Lauderdale to draft players to keep the momentum going. “The one common denominator in our players is character,” he said. “We want people who can play with our core players and learn and really get molded by them. These are guys who challenge themselves; we don’t even have to do it. We put the opportunity in front of them and they just seize it.”
Seizing his own opportunities through hockey is nothing new for Kelley. He put on his first skates at age 3 and went on to play for the Mules. His Colby experience taught him that academics were not just important to balance with athletics—they made him a better player. “We were challenged [at Colby] academically … ,” he said. “Colby encouraged you to think and explore.”
That curiosity to explore the unknown served Kelley well when he turned professional after graduation, playing in a minor league in Austria before he entered scouting, first with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, where he stayed for 13 years, and later with the Quebec Nordiques, where he worked for five years. He also briefly lived in Moscow, Russia, where he served as assistant general manager of CSKA Red Army, the country’s reigning championship team at the time.
For Kelley, ice hockey and Colby are inseparable. His father, Jack Kelley, was Colby’s hockey coach from 1955 through 1962, a tenure that turned the program into New England powerhouse, winning 89 games, losing 51, and tying just five over seven seasons.
The elder Kelley left for head coaching stints at Boston University, where he led the Terriers to two NCAA championships, and the New England Whalers in Hartford, Conn., one of the first teams of the short-lived World Hockey Association in the 1970s. When Mark was a high school senior, Jack Kelley returned to Colby to coach and recruited his son in an effort to rebuild a team that would capture the winning tradition of its glory years. “We were [ECAC] Division Two, but we took it as seriously and trained and practiced as hard as anybody,” Kelley said.
Kelley’s father still lives in the Waterville area and the three Kelley brothers—including New York racehorse trainer Paul Kelley and television producer and writer David E. Kelley—return regularly to Maine with their families.
When Mark Kelley isn’t at the United Center in Chicago, he lives in the Ann Arbor, Mich., area with his wife and two sons, aged 11 and 12, both of whom are playing hockey. They dream of being part of a Stanley Cup championship like their father, he said, but he tells them it takes long hours and years of commitment.
“You appreciate how hard it is just to get to the finals and compete for it. When you win it, you realize how fortunate you are that so many things came into play,” he said. “You just need the perfect season, and it has to come together at one time.”