Legendary University of Michigan and U.S. National Team coach Vic Heyliger passed away this morning at his home in Colorado Springs, Colo. Heyliger was 87 and is survived by his four grown children.
“Vic did so many great things for so many people,” said John Matchefts, who played for Heyliger on three national championship teams at Michigan. “He was a great human being, an outstanding coach and was instrumental in developing the WCHA and college hockey in general.”
“Vic was an American hero and legend who gave much of himself to his players and friends,” said Lou Vairo, former U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey coach and current director of special projects at USA Hockey. “He was a true gentleman who always did good for everyone.”
Before his coaching career, Heyliger played high school hockey in his hometown of Concord, Mass., and prep school hockey at the Lawrence Academy in Groton, Conn. He then entered the University of Michigan in 1934. There he was an All-American from 1935-37 and once held the school record with a career total of 116 goals. After graduating, he played briefly for the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League during the 1937-38 and 1943-44 seasons.
Between his stints in the NHL, Heyliger began his coaching career at the University of Illinois. He later returned to his alma mater as head coach and led Michigan to the first NCAA Division I Ice Hockey Championship in 1948. He then guided the Wolverines to the title five more times, in 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956.
After retiring from the University of Michigan, he returned to coaching by overseeing the startup hockey program at the United States Air Force Academy. Heyliger came to the Academy in 1966 to coach the Falcons’ club team. In 1968-69, he became the Falcons’ first varsity head coach. In his six seasons at the helm, Heyliger led the Falcons to an 85-77-3 record, including a 25-6 record in 1971-72, the fourth season of varsity hockey. Heyliger officially retired from coaching following the 1973-74 season.
After current Air Force head coach Frank Serratore took over the program in 1997, he began the Vic Heyliger Award. The award, voted on by the team, is given to the player whose dedication, character, leadership and work ethic exemplifies Falcon hockey.
Heyliger helped revolutionize college hockey as the first coach to actively recruit players. He was also instrumental in organizing the first NCAA Championship and the formation of a conference that served as the forerunner to today’s WCHA.
At the international level, Heyliger played a major role in helping to organize the only U.S.-hosted International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship in 1962 in Colorado Springs, Colo. He also served as head coach of the 1966 U.S. National Team.
Heyliger was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1974 in recognition of his lifetime achievement in the sport of hockey.
Funeral arrangements are expected to be finalized by the end of the week.