Originally Published on March 8, 2018
Bill Riley, the City of Moncton and the American Hockey League will be forever connected.
When it was revealed that the Moncton Wildcats were going to honour the City’s rich American Hockey League history on March 3rd, the person at the top of their list was none other than the pride of Amherst Nova Scotia, Bill Riley.
“I still get chills when I walk in this building,” Riley said.
Riley’s return to the Moncton Coliseum was extra special because he shared that moment with two former Calder Cup Champion teammates and friends, Steve Ludzik and Mike Kaszycki.
1982 was the last time they were all together in Moncton they hoisted the Calder Cup.
Bill Riley embodied every aspect of that era of the game. Talent, character, veteran leadership and grit, Riley had it all.
Riley’s impact on the game of hockey in the Hub City is far reaching from his professional playing days to front office work with AHL, to coaching in the junior ranks Riley has done it all.
The veteran of 139 NHL games was thankful for the opportunity to return to a place, which holds a special place in his heart. “It’s a tremendous honor and a class act by Robert Irving and his group to remember us.”
“You get older and time goes by, but it’s great when you get a group of guys back together to reflect on all the memories and the good times we had,” Riley added.
“Kudos to the Moncton Wildcats for giving us this opportunity to meet all the old teammates and see one and another again,” said a reflective Riley.
“The most positive thing I remember about the American Hockey League in the Maritimes was that every organization had their players out in the community. We knew a lot of people in the community, we were out playing ball hockey with the kids, fishing and hunting with guys,” explained Riley.
Riley believes the American Hockey League and the Maritimes mirrored each other in more ways than one during that era. “The fans were blue collar back then, it was easy to mix with them and become involved with them,” remembered Riley.
“Moncton was a big part of life, I love the City, my kids grew up here and I just have tremendous memories, my heart has always been in Moncton,” Riley said.
Riley’s fingerprints were all over the AHL during its 24 year run in the Hub. Riley also tried his hand in the QMJHL ranks in 1996-97. “It was an honour to be the first Coach and General Manager of the Moncton Wildcats,” added Riley.
Riley’s run with the QMJHL was short lived, but his impact on the local Maritime Junior “A” circuit still resonates in this region today. Riley’s journey to hockey’s highest level from small town Nova Scotia captures his character, drive and passion for the game. “Obviously playing in National Hockey League I got to live my boyhood dream,” he said. “Every Saturday night my mother knew where I would be for sure, that I would in front of that TV from start to finish.”
“Growing up I was out on the ponds or on the road, I was Bobby Hull or Johnny Bower, Frank Mahovlich and Jean Beliveau or little Davey Keon, all those great players,” confessed Riley.
“So to have the opportunity to skate on the same ice has Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull, so for a kid from Amherst to have that happen, I was like a deer in headlights for the first five or ten games,” said Riley of his debut in NHL.
The sheer mention of Bill Riley’s name around this region is synonymous with leadership. Riley believes his ability put out fires and trouble shoot with other players or just make things work made him great captain material. “I was very fortunate to be the Captain of the Nova Scotia Voyageurs and the NB Hawks, that doesn’t happen to many people, let alone a young black player from Amherst, Nova Scotia,” confessed Riley.
“I played for some great coaches over that time, Orval Tessier and John Brophy. Brophy was my favourite guy in the American Hockey League,” said Riley.
“His bark was way bigger than his bite, a lot of guys were afraid of him. Brophy liked it when you stood up to him and he liked me,” Riley added. “God bless his soul, Brophy and I had a special special bond for a special reason,”
There is no doubt Riley has fond memories of the City of Moncton, the American Hockey League and the impact the minor league circuit had on the Maritimes.
“l just loved the American Hockey League,” Riley exclaimed.
“Oh my goodness, the economic spin off of the AHL was tremendous, the airlines, the restaurants, hotels, it was booming and there were some great teams back then as well,” Riley said.
“People got to see some great up and coming young hockey players. Some great talent came through here, and it was a great shot in the arm for the economy in Atlantic Canada.”
Riley never could have imagined the impact on the game of hockey he has had on this region. “No, I never dreamt of having an impact, being a kid from a small town, I was always in awe of everybody else, we always thought they were better than us,” Riley admitted.
“I reflect back on that, I tried to carry myself back then like I was just another guy, but when I think about it now, it’s like you got to play in the best league in the world.”
Riley will always remember a private conversation he had with his center in Washington. “I’ll never forget Gerry Meehan coming up to me when I was struggling a little bit and in scoring slump. He said ‘Billy you are one of the best 200 players in the world,’ Riley remembered.
A sentiment that Riley took to heart. “I had a lot of good things happen,” Riley said of his career. “I feel blessed about that.”
Throughout the annals of hockey history in Moncton, there are only three numbers that are retired and hung in the rafters at the Moncton Coliseum, a honour that Riley doesn’t take lightly.
“They say when they put them up there, they are up there forever,” Riley said. “I don’t know what’s going on if they are going to take them to the new building or not. There’s a lot of hockey history here.”
“Oscar(Gaudet) and Phil (Dorion) were two of the best athletes to ever come out of Moncton,” explained Riley. “If Oscar hadn’t played behind some great centers in Chicago, he would have not only been playing in the NHL he would have been a big points guy.”
“I played with those guys after I retired and couldn’t get over have good they were,” said Riley of Dorion and Gaudet.
Riley’s connection with the City of Moncton and its beloved Coliseum will live on. “I feel blessed, the people of Moncton were always so good to me. I was always so well received in this City,” Riley said.
“On the night they retired my number, I’ll never forget all the gifts that I received by the City of Moncton and by various companies, it’s something that I will never ever forget,” Riley said.