The Pittsburgh Penguins will celebrate the franchise’s 50th anniversary without their first GM, Jack Riley, who passed away earlier this week at 97. Riley served as GM for five years and spent much of his career as an executive in minor-league hockey.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will celebrate the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup in 2016-17, but there will be some heavy hearts as the original architect of Penguins hockey won’t be around to enjoy it.
Jack Riley, who was the Penguins’ first GM and spent a total of five years in the post over two runs as GM, passed away Wednesday at 97. Riley was a member of the Penguins Hall of Fame, alumni association and, in a release, the Penguins said Riley continued to attend home games on a regular basis until only a few years ago.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Jack Riley,” the Penguins said in a statement. “Jack served as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first general manager in 1967 and played an important trailblazing role in the club’s history. He occupied a regular seat in the press box until just a few years ago, was a proud and beloved member of the Penguins alumni association and is fondly remembered by former players, coaches, scouts, office staff, arena workers and fans.”
The Penguins added that the organization was “built on the shoulders of hard-working people like Jack,” and the loss hits home as the team’s 50th anniversary is set to be celebrated during the upcoming campaign.
Beyond acting as the team’s GM, Riley also held posts as a scout, interim president and executive director for the Penguins, but he also more than made his mark outside of Pittsburgh.
At 19, Riley, a Toronto native, headed to the Eastern League and joined the Baltimore Orioles, where he would remain for three seasons. What followed was stops in the AHL, EHL and USHL, playing for teams such as the Washington Lions, Baltimore Clippers and the famed Hershey Bears. His best season in the minor leagues came in 1945-46, when he scored 31 goals and 58 points in 48 games for the EHLs Baltimore Clippers. It was that same season that Riley took on additional duties and showed his off-ice promise as a player-coach.
He retired in 1950 and would go on to coach for several years before heading into the front office for the Rochester Americans in late 1950s. He would remain the Amerks’ GM until 1964, and work one half-season as the bench boss, before leaving the team in 1966 to join the expansion Penguins.
Following his time in Pittsburgh, Riley took on roles as commissioner of the Southern League and served for four years as the president of the IHL, which would later become part of the AHL.
“Jack is not in the (Hockey) Hall of Fame,” the Penguins’ Tom McMillan told the Pittsburgh Tribune’s Bob Cohn. “But the sport was built on the shoulders of guys like him.”