There is always something special when family members compete against each other in sports. In hockey, there have been many instances when siblings and cousins have faced-off against each other. The Staals, the Sutters, the Tkachuks, the Millers, it is always interesting, and entertaining, to see relatives take to the ice and battle one another.
However, it is a rarity to see family members coach against each other. Occasionally you will see an assistant coach go up against a head coach that is related, but two related head coaches? Not so much. However, one family has had a long and storied history of coaches, and last weekend the college hockey world saw an uncle and a nephew’s respective teams faceoff on the ice.
Riley vs. Riley
The Army-West Point Black Knights took on the first-year program, Long Island Sharks. Both teams earned a win, giving the Black Knights and Sharks each three wins on their young seasons.
The two games were exciting. On Friday, the Black Knights pulled out a 5-2 win, thanks to Mason Krueger’s natural hat trick. Saturday night saw an even tighter battle, with Long Island winning in overtime thanks to Jordan Di Cicco’s game-winner.
However, the focus was on the two men behind the benches.
On the Army bench, you had Brian Riley, who is in his 17th season as head coach of the Black Knights. On the other, head coach of LIU, Brett Riley, Brian’s nephew.
“When I looked down and saw [Brett] on Friday night, it was pretty neat,” Brian told me in an interview. “I know proud his mom and dad are, and I knew how proud his grandparents would be.”
Brian gave a quick glance over to the opposing bench before the game on Friday to see how Brett was doing. After the puck dropped on Friday, though, he claimed he did not look over at Brett. However:
“I did hear him yelling a couple of times,” Brian chuckled. “He probably heard me yelling, too.”
This is not the first time Brian has gone up against relatives. He played against his brothers Rob, Jay, Mark in college. He even played against his dad, Jack, while he was coaching at West Point. Also, Brian had to coach against his own sons, Jack and Brendan, as both played at Mercyhurst.
For Brett, it was more about returning to Tate Rink where his dad, Rob Riley, brought him to countless times as a kid.
“It was a lot of really cool feelings of nostalgia,” Brett confirmed to me when we chatted on Tuesday. “I don’t think it fully hit until I got on the bench, and looked across and saw my Uncle Brian.”
Brett also admitted it was a little weird coaching against the Black Knights, having been a supporter of Army and cheering them on for so many years, and that it was strange being on the visitors’ bench at Tate Rink.
“I told my team after the [game on Saturday], that the last time I was in the that locker room, I was tying skates for a summer hockey camp when I was 13 or 14-year-old.”
The Riley Coaching Legacy
While it was exciting to see Brian and Brett go head-to-head, the event seemed inevitable looking back on the Riley’s family heritage.
Brian’s father, and Brett’s grandfather, Jack coached at West Point from 1950 to 1986, winning the Spencer Penrose Award as the NCAA Coach of the Year in 1957 and 1960. He was most well known for being the head coach of the 1960 U.S. Olympic Hockey team that won gold at the Squaw Valley Games.
Following the 1985-86 season, Jack hung up his whistle. That was when his son Rob, Brett’s father, took the reigns at West Point. Rob went on to coach for 18 seasons, winning over 300 games behind the Black Knights’ bench. After he retired from coaching collegiately, his brother Brian, who had spent time coaching with Rob at West Point, took the job, continuing the Riley family tradition of coaching at Army.
Now, over 70 years after Grandfather Jack began coaching at West Point, the next generation of D1 coaches kicked off when Brett took the job as head coach of the upstart Long Island hockey program.
Brian always knew Brett would be a great coach at the D1 level if given the chance.
“I knew when he was given the opportunity [at LIU] that he would be the one guy to get the program up and running. He has a lot of the family traits…it’s in his blood.”
Brett confirms that his love for the game, and passion for coaching, was instilled at a very young age.
“I think it comes from sitting at the dinner table, and talking hockey 24/7. We really didn’t have much of a choice but I don’t think we’d have it any other way.”
The two Rileys will go up against each other two more times this season, as the Sharks will travel up to West Point to take on Army on Feb. 26-27.
Monday, Jan. 18
Boston def. No. 8 Massachusett, 4-3 in overtime
After picking up a win against UMass on Sunday, the Boston Terriers had to work in order to complete the sweep on Monday. Trailing 3-1 in the third, goals from Domenick Fensore and Wilmer Skoog brought the game even, and overtime was needed. A couple of minutes in, David Farrance’s third goal of the season gave the Terriers the win.
Farrance, Fensore and Nick Zabaneh each registered two points for Boston.
No. 11 Omaha def. Colorado College, 3-2
In their first game of 2021, the Omaha Mavericks relied on a three-goal second period to pick up the win over the Colorado College Tigers. Kevin Conley, Nate Knoepke and Kirby Proctor were the goal scorers for the Mavs. Isaiah Saville earned his fourth win of the season, making 31 stops on the night.
No. 3 North Dakota def. No. 19 Denver, 5-1
After suffering a loss the night before, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks answered back in a big way to get a split with the Denver Pioneers. They started off strong, as Matt Kiersted scored just 18 seconds into the contest. Kiersted went on to add an assist later in the game, with Grant Mismash and Jordan Kawaguchi also scoring a goal and an assist. Mark Senden had an impressive, picking up four assists for the Fighting Hawks.
Tuesday, Jan. 19
Mercyhurst def. No. 17 Robert Morris, 3-2 in overtime
For the second time this season, the Mercyhurst Lakers have knocked off a ranked opponent. This time, it was the Robert Morris Colonials. The Lakers led 2-1 into the third, but Nick Lalonde tied the game for RMU. Then, in the final minute of overtime, Guerogui Feduolov scored his fourth goal of the season to give Mercyhurst its fifth win of the year.
Hank Johnson was outstanding in goal for the Lakers, as he made 40 saves in the winning effort.
No. 11 Omaha def. Colorado College, 3-2 in overtime
Another 3-2 OT win on Tuesday night! The Mavericks were able to pull out another close one against the Tigers, despite Logan Will sending the game into extra time with a goal in the third for Colorado College. In the dying seconds of overtime, Tyler Weiss potted his second of the game to give Omaha the sweep over the Tigers.
Austin Roden earned his second win of the win of the season, stopping 34 of the 36 shots he faced.
Thursday, Jan. 21
Army-West Point def. Holy Cross, 3-2
Speaking of Army, the Black Knights picked up a win in the opening game of their weekend set with the Holy Cross Crusaders. They had to come back from an early hole, as the Crusaders went up 2-0 early in the first. Then, goals from Tucker DeYoung, Colin Bilek and Thomas Farrell scored for Army to give them their fourth win of the season.
No. 8 Michigan def. No. 16 Notre Dame, 5-1
After a scoreless first period, the Michigan Wolverines exploded for four goals in the second stanza. Kent Johnson added his second of the game in the third to send Michigan to their ninth win of the season. Matty Beniers and Owen Power were big helpers, with Beniers registering a pair of assists and Power picking up three apples in the win. Erik Portillo earned his second win of the season in goal for the Wolverines, making 29 saves and even picking up an assist himself.
No. 12 Wisconsin def. Penn State, 4-1
The Wisconsin Badgers went into Hockey Valley and snagged a win from the Nittany Lions in convincing fashion. Cole Caufield scored a goal and an assist, with Dylan Holloway and Ty Emberson picking up two assists each in the win. Cameron Rowe did not have an easy night, as the Badger netminder was tasked with making 45 saves in the game.
Colgate def. St. Lawrence, 4-3 in overtime
Another win in dramatic fashion for the Colgate Raiders, as it is their third victory past regulation. The game was exciting to start, as the Raiders and St. Lawrence Saints combined for five goals in the opening frame, three coming from Colgate. After the Saints tied the game in the second period, there was no scoring until overtime. That was when Griffin Lunn scored his second of the season to give the Raiders the win.
Trevor Cosgrove also had a great game for Colgate, scoring a pair of goals.
Bemidji State def. No. 5 Bowling Green, 2-1
The Bemidji State Beavers win another tight battle against the Bowling Green Falcons. Ethan Somoza’s fifth goal of the season late in the third was enough to improve Bemidji State’s record to 4-4-2. Lukas Sillinger scored the other goal for the Beavers, with Zach Driscoll earning the win in net, stopping 25 of the 26 shots he faced.
No. 4 Minnesota def. Arizona State, 10-0
After suffering a sweep at the hands of the Fighting Irish, the Minnesota Golden Gophers returned to Minneapolis with a vengeance, and the victims of the Gophers’ wrath was Arizona State. Seven Gophers had multi-point games. Brandon McManus and Sammy Walker each scored a hat trick, with McManus, Scott Reedy and Blake McLaughlin each registering four points in the win.
I’m a broadcast journalist from West Michigan, with an incredible passion for the game of hockey. After playing in goal for 16 years, I realized that my time on the ice was up, and chose a slightly different path working in the media. It is just as demanding, just a little less physical.