Players celebrate life of hockey coach
Family, friends, former players, and teammates of Jack Canniff will remember the former Gloucester High and University of Massachusetts at Amherst hockey coach today at 2 p.m. with a celebration of his life at the Gloucester Elks-Bass Rocks. Canniff died of cancer Aug. 29 at Kaplan House in Danvers at age 77. He had homes in Rockport and Granby.
Among the speakers will be Ben Smith, who played for Canniff at Gloucester from 1960 to ’64 and went on to coach Northeastern and the US women’s national team. He currently is an adviser to USA Hockey national teams.
“Jack was really the first guy who planted the seed in regards to me being around hockey,’’ said Smith. “He was the true teacher and coach. He taught me algebra in the ninth grade and he brought the same enthusiasm to the classroom as he did to the rink. I’m on a pretty crowded bus of guys who hold a special place in their lives for Jack. The one thing players always respect is fairness, and that’s what we had playing for Jack.’’
Also reminiscing will be Don Lowe, who played for Canniff at both Gloucester and UMass and now coaches the hockey team at Gloucester.
“You knew that he was intense and that he had a lot of passion,’’ Lowe said. “Jack expected you to give everything you had every second you were on the ice. The goal was to out work the other team. Jack followed up with the families of all those who played for him and retained long-term friendships with his players.’’
Canniff didn’t make the hockey team at Arlington until his senior year, but went on to have a stellar career at Boston College, where he played from 1951 to ’54, scoring 23 goals with 26 assists. After a stint with the Army, his coach at BC, John “Snooks’’ Kelley, recommended him for the coaching position at Gloucester. From 1956 to ’67, his teams won 117 games and played in 10 state tournaments.
At UMass, Canniff reached the pinnacle of his coaching career when the Minutemen won the Division 2 national title in 1972. He coached at UMass 12 years until the program was dismantled in 1979. It was reborn in 1993 as a Division 1 program and the same year the Jack Canniff Unsung Hero Award was established in his honor.
Others scheduled to celebrate Cannniff’s life include former Arlington coach Ed Burns, UMass hockey coach Don Cahoon, former BC linemate Billy Maguire, and a host of players he coached both at Gloucester and UMass. His two daughters, Kelly and Erin, his granddaughters Hannah and Riley, and his sister, Janice, will also speak.
“Jack kept in touch with so many of his former players and it’s a tribute to him that so many of them will join in the celebration of his life,’’ said Canniff’s wife, Sandra. “Even after he stopped coaching, not by choice, mind you, he remained a fan.’’
Canniff’s ashes will be scattered at sea next spring off a boat captained by Lowe.
Ideas or information may be sent to JohnPvel@aol.com.