Riley Hern: St. Marys’ original hockey hero

Nelson Goad shares fascinating stories of grandfather he never met

By Stewart Grant

Wayne Gretzky introduced the name Riley Hern to a new generation of hockey fans this past Christmas when he discussed the goaltending legend in the prologue of his new book, “99: Stories of the Game”.

Gretzky’s new book is a joy to read for any hockey fan. As the name implies, the book is divided up into 99 short chapters, each telling an interesting tale about our great game.

There are many interesting stories about St. Marys’ own Riley Hern, and recently I had the pleasure of learning some of these tales from Hern’s grandson Nelson Goad when we visited at his home here in town.

I thought for this article, I’d follow the Great One’s lead and divide it into a few short stories relating to Mr. Hern:

Riley Hern card“A career worthy of the Hockey Hall of Fame”

Even before the formation of the National Hockey League, Riley Hern was the first professional goaltender to hoist the Stanley Cup (prior to Hern, only amateur goaltenders had done so), and he won the Cup on four occasions with the Montreal Wanderers: in 1906, 1907, 1908 and 1910. Prior to joining Montreal, Hern began his professional career as a 21-year-old with the Pittsburgh Keystones, leading the Western Pennsylvania Hockey League in victories. Two years later he would play for the Portage Lakes Hockey Club in Houghton, Michigan for three seasons before getting signed by the Wanderers for their 1906 title run. Hern would receive much credit for his part in the success of the Wanderers’ dynasty of the early 1900’s. He retired from professional hockey in 1911 to focus on his thriving haberdashery business, but would continue to contribute to the game as both an NHL referee and goal judge.

“A coincidental move to the Stonetown”

Despite his growing up in St. Marys, the fact that Riley Hern has strong family ties here today is purely coincidental. After Hern joined the Montreal Wanderers in 1906, he lived in Montreal for the remainder of his life, which ended too short in 1929 at the age of 48. Riley had five daughters and one son. Nelson Goad was the son of Riley’s daughter Jean. Nelson grew up in Montreal, but as a young adult his work took him to Toronto where he began dating his future wife, Heather Williams. Meanwhile, Heather’s sister Jessie was getting to know Greg Thompson, a young man from St. Marys whose father was building a promising company called Richardson Foods. Greg and Nelson hit it off, and Greg suggested to Nelson that he move to St. Marys and join him at Richardson’s. Of all the places in the world to randomly move to, Nelson had somehow ended up in the hometown of his grandfather Riley Hern.

“This Drink’s on Me – Forever in the Stanley Cup”

When Tampa Bay captain and Stratford native Tim Taylor brought the Stanley Cup to the St. Marys Golf & Country Club in the summer of 2004, Nelson was part of a small group in attendance and had a chance to see the Cup up close. After unsuccessfully scanning the Cup from all sides in hopes of seeing his grandfather’s name, Nelson noted to the Cup’s caretaker, Philip Pritchard, that Riley Hern’s name must have been on one of the Cup’s rings that has since been removed. Pritchard smiled, and led Goad to the top of the Cup where he whispered, “Look down”. There, inside the bowl of the Cup itself, were the names of the 1907 Stanley Cup Champion Montreal Wanderers, including their star goaltender Riley Hern. This 1907 squad is the one and only team who has literally shared in each Stanley Cup celebratory drink for the past 110 years.

“Montreal owed us one”

Riley Hern made his name as a hockey goaltender, but he was one of those rare individuals who was gifted at every sport he tried. In his early days playing hockey in St. Marys and area, he was not only known as a goalie but also a skilled forward. He was nearly as good at lacrosse as he was at hockey. Then later in Montreal, he became club champion at the Rosemere golf club. St. Marys lost this incredible, versatile athlete to the big city of Montreal, but decades later we got even with them when Montreal-born Rick Fifield joined the St. Marys Lincolns Hockey Club. Fifield settled here in St. Marys and whether he was playing hockey, golf, curling or whatever else, his natural sporting proficiency had to remind locals somewhat of a modern-day Riley Hern.

“More family ties”

Riley Hern’s name linked the town of St. Marys with the Hockey Hall of Fame when he was inducted in 1963. That same year, two other “Hearn’s” (Barry and Kelly) helped bring hockey glory to their hometown when their St. Marys Lincolns won the Sutherland Cup for the first time. Though the spelling of the last name changed at some point in history, the Hern and Hearn families originally come from the same family tree (Nelson’s great grandfather and Barry’s great grandfather were brothers) and each have brought pride to St. Marys for their achievements and contributions.

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