skip navigation

US Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 1981

Robert "Bob" Cleary
William "Bill" Jennings
Thomas "Tommy" Williams

1981 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Enshrinee

Bob Cleary was one of the great hockey players to come out of the East in the post-World War II era.  Playing three varsity seasons at Belmont Hill prep school, he led his team to three consecutive Massachusetts private school titles.  AT the same time he played on the National AHAUS Junior Champion Cusick team from 1952-1954.  From there it was on to Harvard and three memorable seasons under Coach Ralph “Cooney” Weiland.  Over the course of his career at Harvard Cleary scored 202 points on 100 goals and 102 assists.  In both 1957 and 1958, his point totals were enough to lead the nation in scoring.  The team captain was named to the prestigious All-American team at center as well in 1958.

In both the previously cited seasons Cleary’s ability and leadership brought the Crimson to the NCAA tournament where they played fourth both years. During his college career, Cleary was also named All-East in 1957 and 1958, as well as receiving the prestigious Walter Brown Trophy in both season. That award, named after an enshrinee of the Hall of Fame, is given to the outstanding American player at an Eastern college.

Cleary was also a key member of the 1959 United States National Team which finished fourth in the World Tournament at Prague.  A late addition to the 1960 Olympic Team, Cleary teamed with his brother Bill and former Harvard line mate Bob McVey to form one of the upstart Americans most effective lines.  Cleary finished third in scoring during the Olympic tournament with five goals and three assists.  His brother, Bill, was also inducted into the Hall of Fame, just five years earlier.

1981 United States Hockey Hall of Fame Enshrinee

As one of the most influential and active governors in the National Hockey League at the time, Bill Jennings emerged as the architect of the league’s dramatic expansion from six teams in 1967 to the 21 teams back in 1981. He served as chairman of the league’s Board of Governors from 1968-1970, in addition to serving on or chairing virtually every other league committee in the last 20 years.

In 1966, Jennings originated the NHL’s Lester Patrick Award Dinner, which annually honors persons for “outstanding service to hockey in the United States.”  He won the Lester Patrick Award himself in 1971.  He was also instrumental in the establishment of the New York office of the NHL in 1964 and in the establishment of the Metropolitan Junior Hockey Association, as well as in the continued development of amateur hockey in the Metropolitan New York area.

Besides his distinguished hockey career, Jennings was active for over 25 years in the conduct of professional golf tournaments for the benefit of Westchester County hospitals.  In 1967, he founded the Westchester Golf Classic and served as its general chairman, raising nearly $4,000,000 for the participating hospitals.  He was also a member of the National Advisory Committee of the Professional Golfers Association of America.

In addition to his sporting interests, the Princeton graduate was a senior partner of the New York City law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, and a director of various major corporations.  He was also honorary chairman of United Hospital in Port Chester, N.Y.

His contemporaries said it best of Bill Jennings: “He is one of professional hockey’s most dynamic and successful executives for more than two decades, and has proven a most influential force in the dramatic and successful operation and expansion of professional hockey, in general, and the NHL in particular.” The National Hockey League once recognized Jennings’ contribution by naming him to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in 1976.

1981 United States Hockey Hall of Fame Enshrinee

When Tommy Williams broke into the Boston Bruins lineup during the 1962 season, he became the first American to play regularly in the NHL since his fellow enshrinee, Frank Brimsek, retired from the Chicago Blackhawks in April, of 1950.  When his NHL career ended with the Washington Capitals in 1976, he stood at the top of the list of NHL American developed players in goals and points scored, with 115 goals and 253 points, respectively.  The Duluth native was developed as a player by his father, Warren “Rip” Williams, who literally made the old cliché “I taught him everything he knew,” a living reality.

While starring in high school hockey at Duluth Central, the highly talented skater soon was playing in senior competition with men who were years older than Tommy.  He was a natural selection for the 1960 United States Olympic Team, when, as an 18-year old, played on a line with the fabled Christian brothers (also both enshrinees) of Warroad, MN.  Williams assisted on Bill Christian’s goal which defeated the Russians, 3-2, as the U.S. went on to win its first gold medal.

Originally intending to play college hockey at the University of Minnesota, the young Olympian was persuaded to try pro hockey.  After a year and a half at Kingston, Ontario, of the old Eastern Pro League, he was called up to the parent Bruins.

“I can recall my first game with the Bruins,” Williams was quoted saying, “We beat Chicago, 5-4, in Boston, and I scored two goals.  I didn’t sleep all night. Another highlight for me was once in the playoffs against Montreal when I was named the first star.”

There were many more outstanding games for the versatile forward, who played all three up front positions, in his 16-year professional career. Williams saw service with Boston, Minnesota, California, and Washington in the NHL.

“I played before expansion,” he said on his retirement.  “I played hockey because I was good at it, and I was fortunate to do something for a long number of years that I enjoyed.  How many guys can say they enjoyed a job for 16 years?”  At that time, Williams remained as one of Minnesota’s greatest all-time players.  Unfortunately, Williams died on February 8, 1992 in Massachusetts.