John Kay dies at age 65; was in hockey 'for the right reasons'
The sudden death of Belle Tire Hockey Director John Kay has shocked and saddened the Detroit-area hockey community.
Kay, 65, died of a massive heart attack during the night of Nov. 16-17, according to Evaline Vigiletti, director of operations at Fraser Hockeyland, one of Belle Tire's home rinks.
"He was a good one, that's for sure," said Rob Smith, Belle Tire assistant hockey director. "... A huge loss for the hockey community, for MAHA (Michigan Amateur Hockey Association). He was so involved in (state) tournaments. He was Belle Tire. We're going to miss him. I already do."
Kay was also a board member of the AAA Tier 1 Elite Hockey League and a former president of the organization and its forerunners, the Michigan National Hockey League and Midwest Elite Hockey League. He also annually ran all of the Tier I MAHA State Tournaments, which are held at the Taylor Sportsplex.
"He was a great person, and he was in it for the right reasons," said Bill Smith, manager of the Victory Honda Hockey Club. "He did so much for kids. He will be missed."
Kay is survived by wife Charlene and sons John, Joe, Jeff, Joshua, Jeremy, Jacob and Jesse. Kay lived in Dearborn with Charlene.
"Terrible loss," wrote MAHA President George Atkinson in an e-mail. "John Kay will sorely be missed by the Michigan hockey community. John was a leader in the Tier 1 hockey community nationwide, … was well liked and respected by all who he knew. John did a lot for both Michigan Amateur Hockey and the Belle Tire Organization. I will miss his leadership and friendship.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and all the people associated with the Belle Tire organization."
Visitation is 3-8 p.m. Sunday and 2-8 p.m. Monday at the Wasik Funeral Home 49150 Schoenherr Rd., Shelby Twp. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the funeral home.
Vigiletti said Kay, who was diabetic, wasn't feeling well on Thursday and went to his doctor, who checked Kay's blood pressure, sugar levels and cholesterol and found they were all fine.
Said Bill Smith: "John's never been in the best of health. But it's still a shock. This is real bad."
Long before he got involved in hockey, Kay made a significant impact in another sport. In fact, he never intended to be involved with hockey.
“I used to like watching it all the time,” he said of the ice game in a July 2014 Hockey Weekly feature story. “I used to go see the Philadelphia Flyers play (when they came to Detroit). I was a Flyers’ fan.” Philadelphia won the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975.
At that time, Kay was four or five years into a slow pitch softball-playing career that lasted from 1970 to 1991. Kay played third base and first base and managed with amateur teams Astro Air, Berk’s, Worth and Stroh’s. His teams won three national championships and five state championships.
Kay even played professional softball in the American Professional Slow Pitch League, which lasted from 1977 to 1980. He played with the Milwaukee Schlitz in the league, which also included the Detroit Caesars.
In the early 90’s, Kay put together a local team that beat the legendary Steele’s team, breaking its 161-game winning streak. He was elected to the United States Specialty Sports Association Hall of Fame in 1995.
Kay was born John Koslakiewicz in Detroit and grew up on the east side in the Dequindre-Ryan-8 Mile area. He went to high school at Madison Heights Bishop Foley for three years before transferring to Detroit Pershing and graduating from there.
He first got involved in hockey when he was asked to manage one of his younger sons' team in the early 90's.
At first he said no, but the coach didn’t give up. Kay eventually became the team’s manager. He did so well at the job that he was asked to get the organization involved in AAA hockey. And he did.
In 1992, he got a call from Gale Cronk of the Michigan National Hockey League, asking him to be on the MNHL Board of Directors.
He accepted and ultimately became president of the MNHL in the late 90’s. The league eventually disbanded and a short time later was reborn as the Midwest Elite Hockey League. Kay served as the president of that circuit for five years.
He was also with Little Caesars for eight seasons during much of that time, before leaving for Belle Tire in 2001.
Kay would return for one more stint as the president of Michigan’s top AAA circuit – after it had become Tier I Elite Hockey League – in 2007, when he served in the position for a year.
"He was good at organizing people and putting people together and making decisions that were sometimes tough," said Chris Coury, Tier 1 14U Belle Tire coach and previously longtime Belle Tire and Little Caesars Midget Major coach.
In the 2014 Hockey Weekly story, Kay said his biggest thrill in hockey was the 2014 NHL Draft when seven former Belle Tire players were selected, including Dylan Larkin, who was taken by the Red Wings with the 15th overall pick.
"He was a hockey giant here in Michigan and throughout the country," Coury said. "A hockey giant."