From The Indiana Gazette
By Bry McDermott
“And remember, my sentimental friend, a heart is not judged by how much you love; but how much you are loved by others.”
Marianne Kelly delivered the famed “Wizard of Oz” quote in front of a teary-eyed full house at S&T Bank Arena as part of a memorial event honoring the life and legacy of her late husband, Sam Kelly, and his 2021 induction into the American Collegiate Hockey Association Hall of Fame prior to IUP’s 4-3 overtime win against John Carroll University on Saturday.
Sam Kelly passed away in March 2020 as the result of an aggressive cancer, but his legacy is rooted in the very foundation of Indiana’s now-lustrous hockey programs.
Kelly’s extensive list of on-ice accolades and accomplishments is nothing short of extraordinary as he served the game at all levels throughout the Indiana area: twenty years with the Keystone Games, 18 seasons with IUP, six seasons with Indiana high school, and a lifetime of dedication that has brought the game of hockey into the hearts of young people across the region.
“When you think of Sam Kelly, you think of a lot of things. The most common theme, when you talk to people, is the impact he made on everybody — through high school hockey, Keystone Games and certainly in the ACHA,” said ACHA executive director Craig Barnett. “It’s all about the impact he’s made on young people, on hockey players.”
While Sam Kelly’s 406-227-51 record at IUP, six straight league playoff appearances leading Indiana High and a gold medal in the Keystone State Games with the Great Lakes/Nittany Region team are all important details in telling the story of how he turned Indiana into a hockey hotspot; it was his impact on the community that the Kelly family stressed as they stood on the ice in the building Sam poured so much love into.
“Sam was an accomplished coach, he had an impressive win record, he fabricated teams out of thin air, he even managed to win when most of his team was on academic probation,” Marianne Kelly said as she addressed the crowd. “But, knowing Sam as I do, I want you to understand that his true legacy is all of you — the people who cared about him and loved him and reached out to him and stayed in touch with him all through the years.
“I don’t know how many times throughout the years that I’ve heard how much Sam meant to all of you, but it shows just how much you all think enough of Sam Kelly to make the time to be here today.”
Marianne was joined by her sons, Nick and Sam Kelly Jr., who were stunned by the outpouring of love and support shown to their father by the community where they were raised.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Nick Kelly said. “I haven’t been here in over a decade, so it’s really nice to come back and see everyone remembering my dad and what he did for his community and to experience that with everyone here. I didn’t realize it before because I was just a kid, but it’s really special.”
“Dad loved the game, but dad really loved the players, the people,” Sam Kelly Jr. added. “Dad’s whole thing was getting players to be good people on the ice and off the ice. … He always said two things to us: The most important thing is family and friends, and the second most important thing is to always do the right thing.”
These life lessons are what the Kelly boys hope the next generation of hockey players, coaches and the community in general continue to carry forward to honor the work their father put into building the game in Indiana.
“You can lead a team to greatness whether you win or not, it’s just about making a positive impact on the community,” Nick said. “Treat everyone with amazing integrity and kindness and make sure everyone in your life feels important.”
The Kelly family didn’t need a plaque or a title to solidify Sam Kelly’s legacy in the hockey community.
His impact was evident Saturday in the amount of hugs they received from old friends, in the handshakes from well-wishers, in the packed parking lot and crowded arena, in the stick taps and cheers as ACHA president Paul Herbert passed the plaque to Marianne, and in the hushed silence as she spoke so lovingly of her husband of 35 years.
Barnett estimated that more than 150,000 players and coaches have made their way through the ACHA in its 31 years of operation, but only 27 have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. While Sam Kelly’s induction doesn’t define his legacy, it’s another amazing accomplishment to add to the long list of ways to remember the impact he had as the father of ice hockey in Indiana.
“Everything needs a capstone,” Marianne said. “Sam knew he was appreciated in the hockey community, not because people would interact with him and say, ‘Man, you had a great record,’ or, ‘Boy, your team was really good.’ It was because numerous people throughout his career and his life would say, ‘You really helped me at a time I needed it the most ’ ‘You were like a father to me’ or; ‘You taught me how to be a real champion, a real player, a real friend.’ That’s what meant something to Sam.”
(Originally published at https://www.indianagazette.com/sports/kelly-legacy-honored-with-induction-into-acha-hall-of-fame/article_f2bdba84-83be-5c1c-8bfe-33d2cb03d961.html)