Hockey has blossomed into one of the island’s top sports programs across all grade levels for Nantucket students. From the time the rink first opened its doors in 2002 to now, the boys' hockey program has grown into one of the state’s best at the Div. 4 level after the Whalers reached the state semifinals last winter, a girl's program is preparing to enter its fifth season, and the rink has been booked with several hockey camps this summer featuring former NHL hockey players, Olympic gold medalists, and NCAA Div. 1 All-Americans as a result of the demand and interest in the sport.
But before all of this, one camp was here laying the foundation that this island’s hockey community would eventually build itself upon: The Riley Hockey Clinic, brought to the island by USA Hockey Legend Jack Riley in 2002.
“It is a great camp that is run by great people who helped attract all of us locals to the ice and helped us build chemistry over the years in all different ways on and off the ice,” senior defenseman Braden Knapp said. “It helped us develop into who we are as people and players today.”
“The Riley Camp was always a fun time whether it was on ice or the off-ice games we would play with the counselors,” Ryan Davis, who will be a senior assistant captain for the Nantucket hockey team this winter, said. “It was a time when everyone would be together having fun and just playing hockey. I feel like it helped grow your love for the sport because of how much you grew as a player and as a person. You were with your friends from here and your friends from out of state that you had just met.”
The Riley Hockey Clinic has been assisting young island hockey players sharpen and develop their skills from the very beginning. USA Hockey legend Jack Riley, who coached at West Point for more than 35 years and led the United States as its head coach to a gold medal in the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics, founded the camp in the rink’s inaugural year through his connection with the rink’s first manager, Dave Kinfoil.
Riley, who is also a member of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, passed away at the age of 95 in 2016. But his legacy on the island carries on through his family. Today the clinic is run by Riley’s son Mark, a former captain of Boston College’s hockey team who has directed camps across the region for three decades.
“I saw the potential in this camp that first year,” Riley said.” We built up quite a few relationships with locals but also seasonal residents here. The camp has grown from I believe 16 kids in our first week to 35 kids in each age group for 70 total at our peak. We had over 50 this year and try to limit it to 60. Over the years we have had quite a few island hockey players. I would say more than 80-90 percent of them came through Riley Hockey at some point or another.”
The camp is split into two age groups. Group A is for hockey players ages 5-9 while Group B is for hockey players ages 10-14.
Griffin Starr will be entering his senior season this winter as the varsity team’s third-year starting goalie. He will also be the team’s lone captain. He said he was a member of this camp until he aged out of it and while he only had one or two years playing goalie at the camp, he remembers it always being a good time.
“It was always packed with kids from club teams and locals and friends,” Starr said. “They would always have someone in the lobby selling merchandise and every now and then sticks. They are very good at advertising their camp. It was always a good time, and the counselors were always awesome people to be around.”
Davis added that he still sees some of the guys he played with over the years in this camp.
“We always talk about it and how it’s like a childhood memory that isn’t forgotten,” Davis said. “I see Mr. Riley around all the time when he is here. I always catch up with him whether it’s at the Anglers Club or just around town. The Riley Camp just brings great opportunities to kids coming up. It is a mix of getting better and having fun. It shows the kids a great way to play the sport.”
The Riley family has been a major supporter of the rink throughout its time on the island. They played a vital role in the startup of the Nantucket Youth Hockey Program, which ultimately led to the boys' and girls' high school programs.
“We come out every year and partake in the youth hockey golf tournament out at Miacomet,” Riley said. “We have signage inside of the rink. We are great friends of this rink. Over the years I've seen a lot of these kids. They were peewees and now I've seen them graduate from high school and grow into great young adults. We have seen their hockey skills improve as they get older. Some of the kids you just get a kick out of. You like them all but let’s admit it – you do have your favorites every once in a while. The kids and the relationships I have built through this camp are what I love most."
“It's just great to see the way hockey's grown out here,” Riley added. “There has been such a growth in the talent level. I remember when they started off saying ‘Boy they’ve got quite a challenge’ but look at where they are now. They can take on any team any given night during the hockey season. They can beat a Martha's Vineyard now. It’s amazing. We look forward to these two weeks every summer.”
The camp held two sessions this summer. They focus on all different sorts of skill work to help players develop a strong skillset early on in their hockey careers. Their first session was July 10-14, and the second session was July 31-August 4. NYH players receive $100 discounts if they sign up, and the coaching staff is packed with experienced and talented hockey minds, particularly from West Point – where the Riley family has an extensive history.
A member of the Riley family has been the head coach of Army’s hockey team since 1950. Jack Riley coached the team from 1950-1986 before turning it over to his son Rob Riley in 1986. Rob eventually handed the keys over to his younger brother Brian in 2004. Brian will begin his 20th season as the Black Knights’ head coach this winter. Both Rob and Brian also assist with the island hockey camp as well.
Another notable coach is Albie Giandomenico, a former Harvard hockey player who is also a close friend of Mark Riley. Albie has been assisting Riley with the camp for over 15 years.
“We have a great staff,” Mark Riley said. “we really cater to those younger kids. We get so many of the same kids year after year. It is fun to not only teach them but see them gradually develop year after year. We really cherish coming out here. It is a great experience.
Riley said he has already spoken with facilities director Bryan Larivee and program/hockey director Will Datilio about his camp for 2024. He said the weeks are booked and is excited for its 22nd season.
“We watch these kids grow up and we look forward to seeing them succeed,” Riley said. “Hopefully this camp has helped some of our past players do that as they grow older and hopefully we can continue to be a part of that path for the younger kids we are working with now.”