Fred Creighton, former NHL coach, dies at 78

Fred Creighton

Fred Creighton, a former National Hockey League coach whose hockey career spanned more than 30 years and earned him a place in the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, died Sept. 28 at the age of 78. A celebration of his life takes place 5 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Rancho Murieta Country Club.

"We had a good life together, and it was exciting," said his wife, Elayne, of their 52-year marriage. "The hockey was exciting. … Every night for 80 nights of the year you're on pins and needles, looking forward to playing the game and looking forward to winning."

In his Hall of Fame biography, Mr. Creighton is credited with coaching 1,311 games for 713 wins over a 19-year professional career.

He had winning records with the two NHL teams he coached, the Atlanta Flames and the Boston Bruins, from 1973 to 1980. In the minors, he was four-time coach of the year.  The Charlotte Checkers, the Eastern Hockey League team he coached for 10 years, won back-to-back Walker Cup Titles in the 1970-71 and 1971-72 seasons.

Before coaching, he was a player in the minor leagues for 11 years, the last few as a playing coach with the Charlotte Checkers. He retired as a player in 1966 and continued as the Checkers' coach until 1972.

He won the Central Hockey League championship in 1972-73 as coach of the Omaha Knights, and repeated the win as coach of the Indianapolis Checkers in 1981-82 and 1982-83.

Elayne and Fred Creighton

Elayne and Fred Creighton were married for 52 years.

Fred B. Creighton was born July 14, 1933 in a town in Manitoba, Canada, where he grew up playing hockey and his father played in a professional hockey league.

He met his future wife at the wedding of a mutual friend.

The couple has two sons, Jim and Bill, and Mr. Creighton's career coaching and managing hockey teams moved the family around the country while they were growing up. "It seemed every move was kind of an advancement," Elayne Creighton recalled. "The children didn't mind. They turned out pretty darned good for all the moves." Both learned to play hockey and continue to play as adults, and a grandson is now learning the sport, she said.

Mr. Creighton was running the New York Islanders farm team in Springfield, Mass., when he retired from hockey in 1986, his wife said. A year later, the couple moved to Sacramento and opened their first two Little Caesars franchises.  They now have 12 franchises.  "It was quite an experience those first few years … going from his being in hockey, being in total control of everything as far as putting a team together … It was quite a life-style difference," Elayne Creighton said.

The couple made another lifestyle change after they came to Rancho Murieta to watch the Senior Gold Rush golf tournament.  As Elayne remembers it, they were seated in the clubhouse, looking out at the first hole on the North Course when they looked at each other "and said this is where we want to be." They moved here in 1995.

In 1997, Mr. Creighton returned to Charlotte, N.C., where his coaching career started, to run a hockey team and help a friend. "He just wasn't happy. He wanted to be back here," Elayne said. "He loved being around his grandkids,  enjoyed them and the things they were doing. And his boys of course. That's why we moved back here, because he missed the boys so much." They returned in 1999, built a home, played golf and took trips in their motor home until Mr. Creighton fell prey to Alzheimer's, the disease that would eventually claim his life.

With the help of family and friends, he was able to attend the 2009 Hall of Fame induction in Winnipeg. He and his family were candid about his health problems. An interview that appeared in the Westman Journal a few weeks before the induction was headlined, "Fred Creighton's fight to remember his storied past."   The story quotes Mr. Creighton as saying, "I’m doing alright. I could be better, but you just have to deal with what you’ve got.”

A week after the ceremony, Mr. Creighton suffered strokes that exacerbated his condition.  

In addition to his wife, Elayne, Mr. Creighton is survived by their son, Jim, and his wife, Esperanza; their son, Bill, and his partner, Ashley, and grandchildren Marissa, Malachi, Quinlan, Sloane and Chloe.

In memory of Mr. Creighton, contributions can be made to the Alzheimer’s Aid Society.