A nice ’rink’ to it: ‘Rick Comley Rink’ new name for ice surface at Northern Michigan University’s Berry Events Center

Former Northern Michigan University hockey coach Rick Comley, left, and Chicago Blackhawks director of player recruitment Ron Anderson stand with the Stanley Cup after the Blackhawks won the NHL championship in the summer of 2013. Comley joined the Chicago team as a part-time scout in 2011, just a few months after retiring as a collegiate hockey coach at Michigan State University. (Photo courtesy Rick Comley)

“Larry and I thought it was appropriate to put Rick’s name on the rink for what he meant to the program.” — Tom Peters, NMU alumnus, about discussions he and the late Larry Heiskanen, both former NMU hockey staffers, had about how to honor Rick Comley

————————

MARQUETTE — The founding and most successful hockey coach at Northern Michigan University will now have a part of the facility named after him.

The ice surface of the Berry Events Center will now be called the Rick Comley Rink in honor of the Marquette resident who coached the team for its first 26 years in existence.

The highlight has to be 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.

With the ice being replaced this week, crews will place mesh cutouts of the university and rink names around the center-ice circle featuring the Wildcat logo. A formal dedication and ceremony will be held at the first regular-season home game on Saturday, Oct. 7. NMU’s opponent will be Lake Superior State University, where Comley excelled as a player and began his coaching career.

He also won an NAIA national title with the Lakers in 1974, along with another D-1 national title with Michigan State University in 2007.

Two NMU alumni with professional ties to the hockey program during Comley’s tenure, which lasted from 1976 to 2002, were key advocates for naming the rink.

The late Larry Heiskanen, a 1970 NMU graduate, was director of development for athletics and a hockey equipment manager. After his death in October, Heiskanen’s name was added to the Comley Hockey Scholarship awarded annually to an NMU player.

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. He and former athletic director Gildo Canale hired Comley to be the university’s first hockey coach when the program was launched in 1976.

“Larry and I thought it was appropriate to put Rick’s name on the rink for what he meant to the program,” Peters said. “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 the 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.

The 1991 national championship is still hailed as one of the most dramatic title games in NCAA hockey history. The Wildcats came from behind to forge OT against Boston University before prevailing in the third extra period. NMU finished that season with a school-record 26-game unbeaten streak.

With his championship at MSU, Comley is one of only two coaches to win NCAA titles at two universities.

“Rick is an iconic coach and was also an exceptional administrator at NMU,” Director of Athletics Forrest Karr said. “‘Fungo’ and Tom thought it would be appropriate to honor him and proposed several ideas. We talked it through and decided that naming the rink would be the perfect way to recognize Rick’s many accomplishments.”

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.

An 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.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.