The ice surface in the Berry Events Center at Northern Michigan University is being named “Rick Comley Rink” in honor of the longtime head coach. Comley spent 26 years behind the Wildcat bench and guided NMU to the 1991 NCAA Division I Championship.
As the ice goes in 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.
Two NMU alumni with professional ties to the hockey program during Comley’s tenure were key advocates for naming the rink. The late Larry "Fungo" Heiskanen (BS 1970) was director of development for Athletics and equipment manager for Wildcat hockey. After his sudden death in October, Heiskanen’s name was added to the Comley Hockey Scholarship awarded annually to an NMU player. Tom Peters (BS 1955, MA 1960) supervised Athletics as assistant to the NMU president. He and former athletic director Gildo Canale (BS 1956) hired Comley to be the university’s first hockey coach when the program 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 1987-2000. 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 (1979-80, 1980-81) and the WCHA (1990-91). His Wildcats won the 1989, 1991 and 1992 WCHA Tournaments and the 1980 and 1981 CCHA Tournaments. They also qualified for seven NCAA Tournaments.
The 1991 National Championship is still hailed as one of the most dramatic title games in NCAA hockey history. The Wildcats scored an 8-7 come-from-behind victory over Boston University in triple overtime. NMU finished the season with a school-record 26-game unbeaten streak. Comley later guided Michigan State to the 2007 National Championship. Only one other coach has won NCAA titles at two different universities.
‘Rick is an iconic coach and was also an exceptional administrator at NMU,” said Forrest Karr, director of athletics. “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 Michigan State, Comley compiled a 783-615-110. He ranks among the top five coaches all-time in collegiate victories. His honors included the Spencer Penrose Memorial Award as national coach of the year (1980 and 1991), CCHA Coach of the Year (1980 and 1981) and WCHA Coach of the Year (1989 and 1991). Comley also received the John MacInnes Award recognizing coaches who have high winning percentages and graduating percentages among their former players.
The Stratford, Ont., 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 NMU’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.