An all-East defenseman who played on BU's first two NCAA tournament teams ('50, '51), Kelley was name BU head coach in 1962 and quickly restored the program to national prominence. His ten years (206-80-8, .720 winning %) concluded with back-to-back NCAA titles in 1971 and 1972 and the opening of Walter Brown Arena. His 1972 team was first team to win the Beanpot, ECAC title and national title in one season. The following year, he led the New England Whalers to the first WHA AVCO Cup Championship, for a hattrick of three consecutive titles.
The Terrier Hockey Fan Blog recently caught up with and interviewed Coach Kelley, who now divides his time betwen homes in Maine and Florida.
Q. Let’s start by updating fans on your career after you left BU in 1972 to be coach and general manager of the New England Whalers. How long were you with the Whalers and what did you do in hockey since then?
A. I spent 10 years with the Whalers, same as BU. After that I joined the Detroit Redwings AHL franchise in Adirondick. In 1992, Howard Baldwin, who was the Whalers first owner, convinced me to rejoin him in Pittsburgh where I was team president through 1998. All together, nearly 30 years in professional hockey.
Q. What are the biggest changes you see in the college game since your days coaching at BU?
A. The facemask has really changed the style of the game. In fact, it’s hard for me to relate to the game I coached. Today, everyone is a potential pro player, but back then, the pros rarely looked at college players; there was a mindset was against it. My first year with Whalers, we had five or six players from college who excelled. That showed these guys could compete at the professional level.
Q. After assuming the Terrier helm in 1962, it took you two seasons of rebuilding for BU to again be a winning program. Was there a single turning point in that process or several?
A. In the second year, we were losing games just by a goal or two. A very hard 1-0 win against BC at McHugh gave us lots of confidence moving forward. That second year, my first full recruiting class produced an undefeated freshman team. That group made a big impact and really helped the program to progress. Pete McLachlan, Jim Quinn, Mike Sobeski, Wayne Ryan, Fred Bassi—all leaders of team that eventually played for the NCAA title in 1967—won their first ten games as varsity players in 1964-67.
Q. During your first five or six years at BU, you relied heavily on recruits from Canada. How difficult was it to recruit local players against BC and Harvard?
A. During that entire period, BU awarded financial aid was on a need basis only. BC offered full scholarships as did many other Eastern teams. So, it was very hard to recruit local kids, especially those whose parents had some financial success. Even still, we recruited some outstanding local kids like Dennis O’Connell, Tom Ross, Steve Dolloff, Paul Giandomenico, Toot Cahoon, and Tim Regan. Eventually, the scholarship situation has changed.
Q. Can you single out two or three most memorable games as the Terriers' coach?
A. In those first years, besides the 1-0 win at BC, we knocked of Harvard 3-2 in double overtime in the first round of the Beanpot. That began a long streak of reaching the Beanpot finals (1964-1979) Of course, our first national title in 1971 stands out, along with the repeat in 1972, beating Wisconsin and Cornell. I’m still trying to forget the 4-1 loss to Cornell in the 1967 title game. Our goalie, Wayne Ryan had injured a knee ligament, but he was a tough competitor who didn’t want to come out of the game.
Q. Many people don’t realize that during 1970-71, BU was supposed to be playing in its new arena, but delays meant one more season at Boston Arena. How much of an added challenge did that present to a team that eventually went 28-2-1 and won the NCAA title?
A. That was a disappointment our team went through. We had severed our relationship with Boston Arena (BU’s home since 1917). A construction strike that lasted five or six months prevented Walter Brown from being ready for the 70-71 season. I talked with Bill Cleary at Harvard and they really came through for us. Harvard produced ice for us to practice every night from 6:30 to 8 PM.
Perhaps that experience (having to shuttle to Harvard to practice) made us tougher, but that team was going to be very good no matter where we practiced or played. Ironically, it was Harvard that upset BU in the ECAC semifinals that season. They played a perfect game against us and didn’t draw a penalty so we couldn't use our powerful (40%) powerplay. But thanks to the committee that looked at our entire season and not just that one loss, we went to the NCAAs and, once there, justified their confidence in us.
Q. We won’t ask about a favorite team, but was that 1970-71 team the most dominant, if not the best, of your BU teams?
A. Every team was my favorite. Every team was special and unique and part of our tradition. I always felt the 1971-72 team would win any game they put their minds to. They were so talented that it almost became impossible to keep them focused, But whenever they put their minds to it, they were able to win, as they showed in the post-season [winning five straight by a combined 23-5 margin].
Q. The standout players of your tenure, the Wakabayashis, Hyndmans, Gilmours, Ferrerias, Stirlings and Danbys, are well known to longtime BU fans. Which players greatly exceeded expectations as Matt Gilroy has done for the current Terriers?
A. One would be Larry Davenport who became an outstanding scorer and a truly great player, but was overlooked because of Herb Wakabayashi and Mike Hyndman. Another was Paul Giandomenico, a walk-on who I learned about through a friend. Bob Murray was part of our very talented 1968-69 freshman class. He was a forward, but with so much talent at that position, Bob Crocker and I moved him to defense where he became the very solid and steady defensive-minded defenseman we needed. He was overlooked due to [higher-scoring] defensemen Bob Brown and Ric Jordan, but Bob had great hockey sense and was very smart. He came on like gangbusters for us.
Q. Earlier this year, BU played Cornell at Madison Square Garden for the sold out Red Hot Hockey event. What are your recollections of the 1966 Holiday Festival at MSG when BU put some big numbers up against some top-ranked teams?
A. That was the senior year of my first full recruiting class. We also had added Jack Parker, John Cooke, and Billy Riley and our dynamic sophomore line of Herb Wakabayashi, Serge Boily and Mickey Gray was making a big impact, too. Everyone began to realize we were a team to be reckoned with. Just before the three games at MSG, our Sports Information Director Art Dunphy called well-known New York sportswriter Red Smith to tell him about an amazing trio of first-year players who handled the puck remarkably well and were having a great season. He convinced Smith to attend the tournament and, after seeing Herb, Serge and Mickey in action, he came up with the name “Pinball Line” because of the way they threw the puck around. And the name stuck.
Q. Recently, Al Arbour came out of retirement to coach the Islanders (and won!), making it an even 1500 games behind the bench. Would you like to coach a college or pro team just one more time?
A. I think I’d be more comfortable coaching a pro team now. It’s not too far away from what the college game was when I coached. I’m glad I coached when I did, but the college game is still a great and exciting game, just different.
Q. Can you tell us about any offbeat occurrences that took place during your Terrier coaching days?
A. Once between periods in a game at Brown, I was very disturbed with the team’s efforts and was letting them know about it. I kicked a box of oranges to show my displeasure and my foot got stuck in the box. Every player in the room was fighting back the urge to laugh.
This isn’t really offbeat, but in the 1971 ECAC consolation game against Cornell, goalie Dan Brady suffered an eye injury with 14 seconds to go in the second period. I didn’t want to take Brady out and suggested tacking the extra time onto the third period, so Dan could rest for a while. Dick Bertrand, the Cornell coach said no, so our team warmed up Tim Regan for a few minutes and we finished the second period. Tim shut down Cornell in the final period and we won 6-5. That win helped us receive the bid for the NCAA tournament. Making Regan play those 14 seconds after the warm-up period backfired on Cornell. It enabled us to hold on for what would prove to be an important win. The next year, of course, Tim was on the U.S. Olympics team and then came back to help us win a second NCAA championship with the first ever shut out in a title game. Those back-to-back titles sum up how powerful and deep those two teams were.