Long Island University went for pedigree when naming its first men’s ice hockey coach.
In selecting Brett Riley, Sharks athletic director Bill Martinov has tapped into the latest in a long line of accomplished hockey coaches. The most famous of the Rileys was Brett’s late grandfather Jack Riley, who took the United States Olympic team to the gold medal in the Squaw Valley Games in 1960.
That Olympic victory — by a bunch of players from Massachusetts and Minnesota included wins over the four favorites: Canada, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Sweden.
The 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team’s gold medal finish was celebrated in the 1981 film “Miracle on Ice;” the 2010 documentary about Riley’s team capturing the gold at Squaw Valley was titled “Forgotten Miracle.”
“He occasionally would tell us funny and interesting stories about winning the gold medal, but the strange thing about him was he kept the medal in his sock drawer,” Brett Riley said in a telephone interview. “When we’d ask him about it he would tell us that the real gold medal was his wife [the former Maureen Hines].”
Riley’s grandfather, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, also was the head coach at Army for over 35 years and was replaced by Riley’s father, Rob, who coached the Knights through 2004. His uncle Brian has been the Army coach ever since.
“Let’s just say I haven’t been afraid to tap into my family connections if I am unsure when evaluating talent,” Brett Riley said.
Unsurprisingly, Riley has been plugged into the hockey world his whole life. After graduating from Hobart in 2014, he has coached at every level. Last season he was an assistant coach at Colgate, but it may be the valuable experience he had in a previous experience that made him the object of LIU’s desire.
Riley was hired at Division III Wilkes when it started a men’s hockey program. With a team ofoverachieving recruits, he was named Middle Atlantic Conference Coach of the Year.
He had experiences that we liked and he was positive, passionate and energetic,” Martinov said.
“There was a lot to learn and there are things I might do differently this time around,” Riley said. “I know the value now of maximizing every day, that scheduling and striving with your schedule are essential and — maybe more important — that you want to recruit the right people if you’re going to build something.
“I don’t want to lose at all, but I think it would be better to lose with high-character people initially than to win with the wrong kinds of people,” he added.
To that end, the Sharks are extending their reach to put together this first team. Riley said that he “doesn’t want to miss the top players in the area,” but that it should be expected LIU will field a team that includes players from British Columbia and Europe.” The school is expected to soon announce seven players who have Signed National Letters of Intent, he said.
Riley said he first caught the coaching bug from watching his father’s impact on the players he worked with and it grew when he was working through an injury in college. He added “every person in our family has the competitive gene, but watching [my father] showed me that the relationship building in coaching is what’s most important.”
Most teams only can envy the Wilkes' 16-8-2 inaugural season that Riley piloted. The Sharks are going to be a work in progress as they spread the word and top elite hockey programs in the area grow more familiar with them.
“One thing they’ll know is we challenged ourselves,” Riley said. “We’re going to be road warriors this first year.”