AMHERST – An Amherst hockey icon came home Saturday night to a hero’s welcome.
Former Amherst Ramblers player and coach Bill Riley was honoured prior to Saturday’s game against the Summerside Western Capitals when the Number 8 jersey he wore before going on to play in the NHL with the Washington Capitals was officially retired by his old team.
“I was really, really impressed and really moved. It was first class,” Riley said following the pre-game ceremony that saw a giant banner of Riley in action lifted the rafters of the Amherst Stadium. “I’ve been at some pro ceremonies and this was right up there with it. They made it a great night for my family and I.”
Riley and his family were taken into the stadium in a stretch limousine and his former teammates from the first Ramblers team and players from the 1989-90 Atlantic championship team were on hand for the celebration.
Some of his former coaching rivals were also there including present Rambler coach Jim Bottomley, former Antigonish Bulldogs coach Danny Berry, Charlottetown Abbies coach Forbie Kennedy and Jamie Kennedy, who Riley coached the Moncton Midland Hawks with in the 1980s.
“It’s an honour to be here for Bill and to be in the company of some of the people Bill has coached with coached against,” Berry said. “It’s a great night. It’s great for Bill and his family and he deserves every bit of it.”
Forbie Kennedy still has memories of the 1990 championship series that saw four of the first five games go into overtime.
“7-6, 7-6, 7-6 and 7-6, you can’t get any better than that,” he said. “Bill had a lot of good friends. When he was on the bench and the game was going on we were enemies, but when the game was over we were best of friends. We would walk out the door talking to each other. You know when you played Bill’s team you were going to play a rough, tough hockey game.”
Former referee Bob Best said he gave up a ski trip to be there for Riley.
“Bill Riley was a straight shooter. He had his views and I had my views, but at the end of the night we were still friends,” Best said.
Chuck Ross, who was captain of the Atlantic championship team and also coached the Ramblers, said Riley was one of the best coaches he ever played for and he continues to have a lot of respect for him.
“I know I can speak for all the boys that played for him, that was the best year we ever had playing hockey,” Ross said. “Bill understood how every player in the dressing room ticked and he was a great motivator.”
Another member of that team came the furthest. Troy Kane lives north of Yellowknife, N.W.T. and said he had to come to Amherst for his friend.
“I have a great deal of respect for Bill. He was the best coach I ever had, but he was more than that he’s a friend and a mentor,” Kane said. “He got the most out of all his players. I have tons of respect for him and I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
Matt Ripley said playing for Riley was one of the highlights of his playing career.
“It was a great opportunity for all of us,” Ripley said said. “I still remember that season like it was yesterday. We started slow but we slowly built and come playoff time he had us geared up and ready to go.”