Carolina Hurricanes: The impact of Jack Kelley on the Whalers

The Carolina Hurricanes began way back with Jack Kelley in Hartford.

The first coach and general manager of the New England Whalers passed away on the night of September 15th, but what legacy does he leave behind with the Carolina Hurricanes?

To many of you reading this, you might read the name Jack Kelley and have absolutely no idea who that is. So to explain the impact of the Medford, Oregon native, we have to go back a long time in the history of the franchise. Back to before the team was even playing in Hartford, Connecticut. We need to dive back to the 1970s when the New England Whalers were born.

In 1972, the NHL saw it’s first rival-league with the birth of the World Hockey Association or WHA. In that league, there was a team that was based in Boston called the New England Whalers. Sharing their home rink with the Boston Bruins (yes, they played at Boston Garden), the Whalers would win the inaugural Avco cup as winners of the WHA.

It would be their only trophy in New England.

Why is it important that they won the first-ever Avco cup? Well, the revenue they got in terms of new fans to the league and in extra game gate receipts allowed the team to float when the WHA went bankrupt. This championship is one of the main factors the Whalers were one of the four teams to be allowed to merge coming out of the World Hockey Association.

Kelley was the man who put that team together. From 1972 to 1975, Kelley was the GM and coach of the Whalers. and he would build a champion. Drawing in former NHL players like Ted Green and Rick Ley.

However, the big name Kelley landed was Tom Webster, the man who would lead the Whalers in points during the run to win the Avco Cup. Kelley had built a champion out of NHL scraps.

After Kelley left the newly relocated Hartford Whalers in 1975, there would be just two years without him as the GM as he would return to the general manager role of the Hartford Whalers in 1977. He would see the team merge into the NHL in 1979 and would remain in the post of GM until 1981.

Kelley would remain in hockey after leaving the Whalers, briefly being president of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and of the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings as well as with a few college teams. Never would he reach the same success he did with the New England Whalers. He would never capture another championship.

In 1993, Kelley would be elected into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame for his work at various levels of the game. Spending 7 years with the Whalers, 5 with the Penguins, 11 with the Adirondack Red Wings, and countless others in the College hockey world would justify his place in Eveleth, Minnesota (where the US Hockey Hall of Fame is located for those wondering).

I’m aware that I have spoken mainly on the Hartford Whalers today, but this is something I wanted to address, as it really put the New England Whalers in a position to have the financial capabilities to successfully merge into the National Hockey League at the end of the decade. It is an accomplishment we still feel the effects of to this point.

If they hadn’t have had such a good first season, we may never see the Whalers in the NHL.

I hope that you can join me and everyone here at Cardiac Cane in keeping the Kelley family in your thoughts and wishing nothing but the best for those that survive him. Not a household name among the fans of the franchise, Kelley still played an integral role and maybe the reason our Carolina Hurricanes are still on the ice, over 30 years after he parted ways with the franchise.

Question for CC Readers: What do you remember of Jack Kelley?