A Much Deserved Recognition for PHPA Attorney Bob Riley

Author: Darryl Dionne, PHPA Director of Communications and Business Development
Date: Feb 9, 2018

When attorney Bob Riley was originally retained by the Professional Hockey Players’ Association (PHPA) in 2001 to serve as union counsel, he never imagined he would one day be recognized by the Association with its highest honor.  This June, Riley will be presented with the PHPA Curt Leichner Distinguished Member Award, as selected by the PHPA Executive Committee, for the significant contributions he has made towards the advancement of professional minor league hockey throughout his accomplished career.

Riley graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Albion College in 1976 before graduating from the University of Detroit School of Law in 1979.  He began his legal career as a law clerk at Dice, Sweeney, Sullivan & Feikens in Detroit, Michigan where he advanced through the firm to full shareholder status and was a member of its Board of Directors.

Riley remained with the firm until 1994, when he founded his own law firm, Riley & Hurley, P.C. It was around this same time when his former classmate, Bob Goodenow, who was hired as Executive Director with the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) in 1992, retained Riley to serve as outside legal counsel to the NHLPA.

“Bob and I went to law school together and we were good friends.  He brought me on as an attorney where I was subsequently involved with well over 200 cases,” said Riley.  “I consulted in collective bargaining negotiations and prepared and argued grievances.  I also represented players and their agents in salary arbitration hearings, drafted the original NHLPA regulations governing agent certification, and argued some major cases, specifically the NHLPA vs NHL to keep guaranteed contracts, and one involving the calculation of league average salary in 1995.”

Given the amount of player movement between the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL) whose players are represented by the PHPA, it was only natural for the NHLPA and PHPA to work together on a variety of issues.  PHPA Executive Director Larry Landon became familiar with Riley’s body of work, and in 2001 retained Riley to serve as Legal Counsel to the PHPA to assist with grievance arbitration and labor disputes occurring with the International Hockey League (IHL) and ECHL at the time.

Since then, Riley has remained with the PHPA, helping negotiate twelve (12) collective bargaining agreements.  He was the legal strategist in the successful organizing drive which led to player-union representation in the Central Hockey League (CHL) in 2008, and helped negotiate provisions which led to the consolidation of the CHL and ECHL in 2014, among other roles and responsibilities such as resolving disputes and grievances.  Throughout his tenure, Riley has maintained a keen sense of enjoyment in representing players and their families.

“Professional athletes are like employees anywhere.  Once you get past the perceived status, they have real and genuine problems to solve.  Addressing and solving those problems is satisfying, especially those that require legal services.  The work is challenging and difficult at times, which makes it even more rewarding when addressing complicated legal issues.”

Those who have worked close with Riley note his calming presence, his well thought out and articulated arguments, and often refer to him as a voice of reason who keeps an even keel and temperament regardless of the circumstances.

“I certainly wasn’t always like that, especially early in my career.  As you evolve as a lawyer it becomes apparent that solving a problem does not occur when people are overwrought with what’s occurring.  You can’t get frustrated or show your emotion or else you risk being exploited by the other party.  Having calm discussions and keeping emotions in check is an acquired skill.  It took time to learn those lessons.”

For all that Riley has accomplished for PHPA Members behind the scenes over the past seventeen years and counting, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he would one day be recognized for his contributions.  However, when he was informed by Landon that he had been voted as the recipient of the Curt Leichner Distinguished Member Award, he was speechless.

“I was shocked when Larry called to inform me.  I can tell you there are far more deserving candidates.  I never had envisioned my work would receive this type of recognition, however, at the same time it is extraordinarily rewarding to be recognized.  I am absolutely indebted to the PHPA for the work which it has shared with me and many thanks to the Executive Committee and Membership for selecting me as this year’s recipient.  It is very much appreciated.”

Riley will be presented with the Award at the 2018 PHPA Annual Meeting of Player Representatives this June as the PHPA concludes its 50th Anniversary celebrations.  The timing of his recognition is only fitting given the impact Riley has had on the PHPA throughout its past, present, and future.

“The significance of the PHPA is not fully appreciated or understood.  It is absolutely vital to the players it represents.  I would have to say the legacy of the PHPA is the credible way it has represented its Members and the key role it has played in balancing their Members’ interests and balancing their rights.”

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