Colby mourns the loss of celebrated hockey coach John “Jack” Kelley, who passed away Sept. 16, 2020, in Oakland, Maine, at 93. In the 1950s Kelley transformed Colby men’s hockey into an indomitable force in New England and made a profound impact on the lives of hundreds of players.
“The term ‘legendary’ is used too often and frequently with hyperbole,” said President David A. Greene. “But it is no exaggeration to say that Jack Kelley was a legendary coach, teacher, and friend. He was a brilliant hockey coach, but his lessons went well beyond the ice. He had a rare combination of toughness and caring that brought out the best in everyone. Many of my favorite moments at Colby have been in the Alfond Rink, watching the game with Coach Kelley and learning more about a game I love in one period than I knew in my lifetime. Just being in his presence was a special gift—it was an opportunity to see into his sparkling soul. I left every encounter with him buoyed and eager to take on a new challenge.
Jack’s strength came from many places, but the most consistent source was his amazing wife of 67 years, Ginny, who passed away in April. Their partnership and their love for their family were legendary, too. My heart goes out to their children, Paul ’79, David, D.F.A. ’19, Nancy, and Mark ’80, and their extended families.”
The 1959 Colby men's hockey team with Coach Jack Kelley in the back row, far right.
From 1955 to 1962, Kelley coached Colby’s men’s hockey team, which posted a record of 89-51-5. With a 16-1 record, the Mules dominated the Colby-Bowdoin rivalry during that time. Colby earned the lead in ECAC standings in 1962 with a 17-1 record. After the 1961-62 season, Kelley left for his alma mater, Boston University, then returned to Colby to coach for the 1976-77 season. That year, Colby’s young team went on to beat Division I Northeastern for Kelley’s 300th career victory.
In 2015 scores of alumni, parents, and friends of the College banded together to create the Jack Kelley Head Coach for Colby Men’s Hockey position in his honor. Colby’s current coach, Blaise MacDonald, is the inaugural coach to hold this title.
“It has been my honor to be the Jack Kelley Head Coach for Colby Men’s Hockey,” said MacDonald. “Kelley’s character and love of the game inspires me to continue the tradition of helping Colby student athletes be outstanding young men, both on and off the ice.
Meeting Jack Kelley my first year at Colby was meeting one of the giants in the game, both in college and professionally. Having coached at BU for six years, I learned of his legend. His wisdom is the greatest gift I have ever received in my life. To be able to have lunch with him and talk with him weekly and at games was a treasure I am so grateful to have experienced. His love for everything Colby was extraordinary and created a desire for our team and program to be our very best.”
Kelley’s 1955 arrival at Colby coincided with the College’s start of what became a long history of intercollegiate hockey with the opening of the Alfond Rink—the result of a generous gift by the late Harold Alfond. The rink also allowed Colby to host the first-ever women’s intercollegiate match, against Pembroke (Brown University).
At BU Kelley won national titles in 1971 and 1972. He formed the New England Whalers in the new World Hockey Association, and the team became the first winner of the league’s Avco World Trophy. Kelley went on to work in the Detroit Red Wings organization, and he became president of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1993, the same year he was inducted to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Kelley was a standout player as a high schooler in Belmont, Mass., and was named the top Boston schoolboy performer. His coaching career began at Weston High School, where he was involved in football, baseball, and hockey. His career college coaching record was 303-147-13 and his pro record was 77-55-6.
In 2015 Jack O’Neil ’77, a captain on the 1976-77 team, said that Jack Kelley was much more than a coach. “He drove us to elevate our game, both personally and as athletes.”