Comley deserving of Berry Events ice rink honor

Well done, Northern Michigan University.

NMU’s Board of Trustees this week named the university’s ice surface at the Berry Events Center the Rick Comley Rink, an honor that’s extremely well deserved.

Comley is not only the founding coach of the NMU Wildcats hockey program, he is the most successful coach in the program’s history.

A Marquette resident, Comley coached the team for its first 26 years. Of course, the biggest moment of his time behind that bench was when the Wildcats won the NCAA Division 1 national championship in April 1991 in St. Paul, Minnesota, in an epic 8-7 triple-overtime victory.

Some regard that as one of the most exciting college hockey games ever played.

The naming will become visible soon when crews place mesh cutouts of the university and rink names around the center-ice circle featuring the Wildcat logo.

Comley fans will have a chance to join in a salute to him when the formal dedication and ceremony for Rick Comley Rink takes place at the first regular-season home game on Saturday, Oct. 7.

Most appropriately, NMU’s opponent in that home opener will be Lake Superior State University, where Comley not only excelled as a player but started his coaching career.

And what a successful career it was. Comley also won an NAIA national title with the LSSU Lakers in 1974, plus earned another D-1 national title with Michigan State University in 2007. With his championship at MSU, Comley is one of only two coaches to win NCAA titles at two universities.

The late Larry Heiskanen, a 1970 NMU graduate, was director of development for athletics and a hockey equipment manager and Tom Peters, who received a bachelor’s degree in 1995 and master’s in 1960 from Northern, supervised athletics as an assistant to the NMU president, were proponents of the naming.

“Larry and I thought it was appropriate to put Rick’s name on the rink for what he meant to the program,” Peters said for a story that appeared in Thursday’s Mining Journal. “His win-loss record is obvious, but he brought stability to the program with a great deal of class, representing NMU very well over many years.

“Rick also served double duty as the university’s athletic director from 1987 to 2000. He was instrumental in securing the gift from John and Shirley Berry to build the events arena. He also was very active in promoting the Blue Line Club, which started during his tenure. This is a positive step for NMU that recognizes Rick’s significant contributions to Wildcat hockey.”

Comley compiled a 538-429-68 record at NMU, with regular-season titles in both the CCHA in 1980 and 1981 and the WCHA in 1991. His Wildcats won the 1989, 1991 and 1992 WCHA tournaments and the 1980 and 1981 CCHA tournaments. They also qualified for seven NCAA national tournaments.

In a career spanning 38 seasons with LSSU, NMU and MSU, Comley compiled a record of 783-615-110, ranking him among the top five coaches all-time in collegiate victories.

His honors included the Spencer Penrose Memorial Award as national coach of the year in 1980 and 1991, CCHA Coach of the Year in 1980 and 1981, and WCHA Coach of the Year in 1989 and 1991.

And earlier this year, Comley also received the John MacInnes Award that recognizes coaches who have high winning percentages and graduating percentages among their former players.

The Stratford, Ontario, Canada, native earned a master’s degree in education from NMU in 1973 after completing his bachelor’s in political science from LSSU. He was inducted into the NMU Sports Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.

Congrats go to Comley for earning the honor and to NMU for making the honor a reality.