Jack Riley, who coached the hockey team at the U.S. Military Academy for 36 years but was best known for leading a group of amateur players to a series of upset victories at the 1960 Winter Olympics, capped by a come-from-behind win in the gold-medal game, died Feb. 3 at an assisted-living center in Sandwich, Mass. He was 95.
His death was announced by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., where he coached from 1950 to 1986. The cause was not disclosed.
Mr. Riley’s undefeated Olympic squad won seven games without a loss or tie, including wins over heavily favored teams from Canada and the Soviet Union. It marked the first time a U.S. team captured a gold medal in hockey.
There was a flurry of jubilation at the time, but Mr. Riley’s team was soon overlooked, especially after the 1980 men’s hockey team defeated the powerful Soviets in what became known as the “Miracle on Ice.” A 2009 documentary about the 1960 team was called “Forgotten Miracle.”
The United States had won the silver medal in hockey at the 1952 and 1956 Winter Olympics, but expectations were low for the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, Calif.
The 17 players on Mr. Riley’s squad were college students, carpenters and insurance salesmen. The goaltender, Jack McCartan, was on leave from the Air Force. The captain, 31-year-old Jack Kirrane, a teammate of Mr. Riley’s on the 1948 Olympic squad, was taking time off from his job as a firefighter.
All of them played without helmets or face masks, for a total compensation of $7 a week to cover expenses for laundry.
After their first exhausting workout, the players retired to the locker room and began to take off their equipment. Mr. Riley told them to lace up their skates and get back on the ice because they still had one more hour of practice.
When the University of Minnesota tied his Olympians in an exhibition game, Mr. Riley exploded: “If we can’t beat a college team, we’re really in trouble.”
Risking a rebellion, he brought in three new players and cut three others from the roster. (One player dropped from the squad was Herb Brooks, who went on to coach the 1980 Olympic team.)
Despite festering resentments, Mr. Riley united his fractious players when it counted most, and they won their first four games in the Olympics with relative ease. On Feb. 25, 1960, they faced the Canadians, who were overwhelming favorites. McCartan turned away 39 shots as the Americans emerged with a 2-1 win.
Two days later, the United States faced the Soviet Union on CBS, in one of the first hockey games broadcast nationwide on network television. The Soviets led 2-1 after the first period, but 145-pound Billy Christian scored goals in the second and third periods to give the U.S. team a stunning 3-2 victory.
The crowd in Squaw Valley erupted in cheers, and the players threw their sticks in the air. Afterward, the Soviet coach came to the locker room and kissed Mr. Riley on the cheek.
But the Americans still had one more game to play, against Czechoslovakia — and that game was scheduled for 8 o’clock the next morning.
After two periods, the exhausted U.S. players trailed, 4-3. The captain of the Soviet team entered the locker room and, via mime, suggested that the Americans inhale oxygen before returning to the ice.
Thus renewed, the U.S. team scored six unanswered goals to defeat the Czechs, 9-4, for the gold medal.
The next day, Mr. Riley was back on campus at West Point, where cannons were fired in his honor.
John Patrick Riley Jr. was born June 15, 1920, in Boston and grew up in nearby Medford, Mass. His parents ran a clothing store.
Mr. Riley studied at Dartmouth College before serving as a Navy pilot during World War II. After the war, he was captain of a championship hockey team at Dartmouth before graduating in 1947.
After playing on the 1948 Olympic team, Mr. Riley became the Army hockey coach in 1950 and was twice named coach of the year. He had a pep talk that connected with every generation of players at West Point: “Fellas, make believe you’re playing the officers.”
When he retired in 1986, his 542 wins were the second most in college hockey history. He was succeeded at West Point by his son Rob for 18 years. Another son, Brian Riley, has been Army’s head hockey coach since 2004.
Mr. Riley’s wife of 40 years, the former Maureen Hines, died in 1989. Survivors include five children; a brother; and nine grandchildren.
Mr. Riley was named to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, along with his entire 1960 Olympic team. He and his players felt overshadowed by the euphoria surrounding the 1980 Miracle on Ice team, which won the only other U.S. gold medal in men’s hockey.
“We were the first team to beat the Russians,” Mr. Riley said, “and the Russians were just as good then as they were in 1980.”