Rick Comley Rink to be dedicated at Northern Michigan University’s Berry Events Center

Northern Michigan University hockey coach Rick Comley watches the end of the first period against Bowling Green during a game played at Lakeview Arena in Marquette in January 1998. NMU won 6-5 in the last 10 seconds of overtime, giving Comley his 500th career win as a coach. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — It’s been said that one of the greatest honors in sports is if your school or team names a facility after you.

On Saturday night, legendary former Northern Michigan University head hockey coach Rick Comley will receive that honor as his name will be spread across center ice at the Berry Events Center.

“Rick consistently set high standards, handled criticism with class, and made everyone around him better at each stage of his career,” NMU athletic director Forrest Karr said. “The many accomplishments of the teams Rick coached, and the coaches he hired, speak for themselves.”

The idea for the Rick Comley Rink was started by former Wildcat hockey team equipment manager Larry “Fungo” Heiskanen, who was good friends with Comley and passed away on Oct. 13, 2016, and former athletics supervisor and assistant to the NMU president Tom Peters.

Peters and former Northern athletic director Gildo Canale hired Comley to be the school’s first coach in 1976.

“Fungo and Tom wanted to do something to honor Rick,” Karr said. “We met a few times and talked about options. Several college hockey rinks are named after significant contributors and we thought it would be appropriate to propose something similar.

“We then met with (university) President (Fritz) Erickson to go over the idea. President Erickson discussed it with the Executive Council, received support from John Berry (who the arena is named for), and then brought the recommendation to a Board of Trustees meeting in June where final approval passed unanimously.”

Karr also said that when Comley was informed of the award by Erickson that he seemed “very pleased and honored.”

When the announcement was made in June, an NMU press release quoted Peters as saying “His (Comley’s) 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.”

Comley was the Wildcats head coach until 2002 with a record of 538-429-68 and also served as NMU’s athletic director from 1987 to 2000.

During his time as coach, he led the Wildcats to the Frozen Four three times and a national title in 1991. He was named CCHA Coach of the Year, WCHA Coach of the Year and earned the Spencer Penrose National Coach of the Year twice. He also won another national championship at Michigan State in 2007 and is one of only three coaches to win an NCAA title at two schools.

When asked about the rink-naming ceremony at a press conference Tuesday, current NMU head hockey coach Grant Potulny praised Comley for his stellar career.

“We’ve got one of the all-time greats in the building and we want to make sure that the team has a good showing for him,” Potulny said. “I think with the longevity of his career and to have success at three different programs with national championships at two of them, when you get a rink named after you, that’s one of the greatest honors that you can ever have as a coach.”

A video honoring Comley will be shown after the national anthem before Saturday’s 7 p.m. game against Lake Superior State and he will receive an award from Erickson. Comley will also address the crowd and participate in a ceremonial puck drop.

The school advises fans to reach their seats early for the ceremony due to road construction near the arena.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.