AMHERST – Bill Riley is looking forward to a hockey reunion on Saturday.
The former hockey player and coach is coming home to be honoured by the Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers during a reception and pre-game ceremony at the Amherst Stadium that will feature some of those he played and coached with and against during his extensive playing career.
“It’s the greatest honour. When I got the phone call it was pretty exciting,” Riley said Thursday. “It’s going to be first class.”
The ceremony prior to the game against the RBC Cup host Summerside Western Capitals will see Riley’s Number 8 jersey officially retired by the club.
The ceremony is expected to see appearances by present Ramblers coach and longtime Amherst nemesis Jim Bottomley, Jamie and Forbie Kennedy, Danny Berry, Stan Hennigar, John Brophy, former referee Bob Best and players Troy Kane (who’s coming to the event from the far north), Joe Borden, Ron LeBlanc, Mark MacFarlane, Chuck Ross, Pat Flynn and many others who wore the jersey as members of the first Ramblers team in 1967 and when Riley was coach and general manager.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone again. It’s the ultimate honour that those guys are going to be there for me,” Riley said. “The league was great in those days. It was the favourite four with myself, and Danny, Jimbo and Forbie. All four rinks were full. We did our thing when the game was being played, but we were all friends and always a class act to each other after every game. We’ve been friends for years.”
It was a late start for someone who would become an Amherst hockey icon. Riley said he didn’t start playing organized hockey until peewee, but it didn’t take long for his toughness and talent to be recognized.
After playing for the first ever Ramblers team, Riley went to work in British Columbia and began playing senior hockey there. Tom McVie, who would go on to coach in the NHL, saw him play and signed him to play for his team Dayton, Ohio. When McVie went to the Washington Capitals of the NHL he took Riley with him.
To him, the fact he made it to the best hockey league in the world shows any kid from small town Canada can achieve the pinnacle of hockey.
“There’s such a fine line between making it and not making it. It’s about being persistent. The big advantage to me was when I took the word can’t out of my vocabulary. I believed there was nothing I couldn’t do.”
After parts four seasons with Capitals, and another season with the Winnipeg Jets, he went on to play in the American Hockey League with the New Brunswick Hawks, Moncton Alpines and Nova Scotia Voyageurs. In 139 NHL games, Riley had 31 goals and 30 assists as well as 320 penalty minutes. He also played three seasons of senior hockey in Newfoundland before retiring and turning his attention to coaching.
Some Riley’s coaching career highlights include winning the Callaghan Cup (forerunner to the Kent Cup) in 1990 and advancing to the Centennial Cup
“I think that series against Charlottetown was one of the best series I was ever involved in as a coach or a player,” he said. “The first two games were double overtime and the next two were overtime. It was some of the most exciting hockey I was ever involved in and to see the gleam and sparkle in the boys eyes when they came to the rink was pretty special.”
Another highlight was coaching his son, Billy Jr., who passed away in 2011 after a traffic accident in Moncton
When Billy Jr. graduated midget his father wasn’t sure if coming to Amherst was the best option because of some of the pressures he would face. He credits former team owner Jim Bent for changing his mind.
“I had seen him play at the midget level, but I never knew how tough he was. I had him pegged to go Charlottetown and Halifax. When Jim Bent came into the picture, he convinced me that he belonged in Amherst. It was a proud, proud moment when he led the team in scoring and was rookie of the year in his first season,” Riley said. “I never expected that.”
Looking at the present Ramblers club, Riley said the team can go nowhere but up and believes his friend, Jim Bottomley is just the person to take it to great heights.
“The team is in great hands with Jimbo,” he said. “He’s the winningest coach in Atlantic Canada and deserves a spot in the hall of fame.”
Game time is 7 p.m. and an added bonus from the evening will be a guaranteed 50/50 jackpot of $5,000 with the winner taking half.