Hall of Fame hockey columnist Jim Kelley died Tuesday after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 61.
Kelley began covering the NHL in 1981 for The Buffalo News and went on to cover the Stanley Cup Finals for 23 straight years. In 2004, Kelley received the prestigious Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for honour in journalism and hockey. Later the same year he would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Kelley was a broadcaster on all-sports radio station The Fan 590 and had been a columnist for sportsnet.ca for several years. On Tuesday he filed a column evaluating the two-year reign of general manager Brian Burke in Toronto called ‘All part of the process’.
Mark Spector, a friend, colleague and fellow columnist with sportsnet.ca, remembers Kelley as an old school veteran with an impeccable work ethic.
“To any writer of my generation, Jim was old school. A column, sidebar and notes were considered a regular day on the beat for Jimmy at the Buffalo News — 1,700 words boss? No trouble, just get it all in. There, Jim became to Sabres fans what Frank Orr was in Toronto and Jim Matheson still is in Edmonton: a workhorse, who gave you a laugh every day while keeping you up on your team,” said Spector.
“He was that veteran scribe who could sniff out a misdirection play from some coach or organization faster than you could say ‘Hull’s foot was in the crease.’ He would break the story the team didn’t want broken, and had a legendary dust-up with Dominik Hasek because of it. In his last year, when he realized his days were few, he shared much with me whenever I’d call or email. So eloquent, so oozing perspective.
“He filed his final column at 1:30 am on the day he passed. This, dear readers, was a sports writer’s sports writer,” said Spector.
“Jim displayed every attribute you would want not only in a journalist, but a person as well,” said Sportsnet’s Managing Editor of Hockey Patrick Grier. “He operated with a character and integrity that was to be admired, and it led him to stories lesser writers wouldn’t get. He was a true pro, and I know he would take a special pride in having filed a column on the day he died,” said Grier.
Kelley was known and respected for having a voice and taking a stand, even if it was the unpopular one.
In his own words, Kelley said of his writing: “I don’t ask you to agree with what I write, but I would hope you read it with an open mind, think about what’s being said and, hopefully, realize that there is always more than one way to see the game.”
Kelley is survived by his wife Susan, daughters Erin and Megan, and three grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were pending.