Boston College coach York on the verge of history

Friday, 11.30.2012 / 9:15 AM By Tal Pinchevsky

Two years after becoming head coach at Boston College, Jerry York attended a university function at Fenway Park's 400 Club.

More than a decade past winning the 1984 NCAA title with Bowling Green, he was rebuilding a program in the midst of six straight losing seasons that had gone almost half a century since its last national championship. Rival Boston University, on the other hand, had recently won a historic fourth national title.

So when the Boston Bruins were considering giving their vacant head coaching job to BU boss Jack Parker, a BC alum asked York if he was eager to see Parker leave college hockey.
"Jerry, in a very respectful way said, ‘No, I want him to stay. I want to see if we can measure up to BU,'" said Mike Cavanaugh, York's assistant coach at BC since 1995. "At the time, they were the program to emulate. And they happened to be our rival."

So it seems all-too appropriate that, roughly 15 years since that Fenway function, York has a chance to make hockey history against Parker and Boston University. With four national championships and nine Hockey East tournaments since 1999, York enters this weekend's home-and-home matchup against the Terriers just one win shy of the legendary Ron Mason's all-time collegiate mark of 924 victories. And in typical York style, he's only thinking about his team.

"We haven't discussed it [the record] all week. We're focused on our archrival at BU," York told "It's a great rivalry."

While the two programs have combined for five titles since 2001, the rivalry was decidedly one-sided when York started at BC in 1994. His first BC team won just 11 games and it would take time for his first recruiting class to flourish. Through it all, York showed blind faith in his program.

"When he first got to school, I remember him saying, ‘We're going to create a beachhead at the Frozen Four every year. We're going to be there every year.' We were freshmen and I remember thinking we weren't very good. And here he is saying we're going to be a national power, not just every few years, but every year," said Chris Masters, a center who was part of York's first few seasons. "Some of us left the meeting thinking, ‘What the hell is a beachhead?' But we understood what he meant."

Sure to York's word, those first recruiting classes overcame their initial growing pains and in York's fourth season at BC, the Bulldogs won the Hockey East title before losing to Red Berenson's Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA tournament final.
York hasn't looked back, winning six of the last nine Hockey East tourneys and three of the last five national titles. As his name has climbed the all-time wins list, York's been happy to ignore personal accomplishments in favor of team glory.

"He won his 800th game in the NCAA tournament against Minnesota and nobody really made a big deal of that. 850 was the national championship game when we beat Wisconsin, so nobody made a big deal about 850. When he wins 924, I just know he's going to say, ‘Let's go get 925.' That's how he's always been," Cavanaugh said.

"If you look at all the success BC has had in the last 15 years, we've only had one Hobey Baker winner. The only way you can be effective in preaching team goals is if you really believe it yourself. The team wouldn't buy into it if they thought he was after all the accolades. He's clearly not, and they know that."

That team ethic doesn't end when players leave BC, whether it's to continue their hockey careers or join the real world.

When Wayne Wilson, a member of York's national championship squad at Bowling Green, wanted to give coaching a try, York hired him as an assistant, launching a career that would see Wilson become the all-time wins leader at R.I.T. When Wilson's son Stu, a freshman forward at Yale, recently scored a big goal against Denver, York sent a congratulatory text.

"He literally cared about everyone and was very inclusive of everyone. He wouldn't just talk to the bus driver, he would want to know about him. ‘How is your family? How are your kids?' That was with everyone," Wilson said. "He's very accessible. We would be talking in the office, and fans would just drop by the office and he would make time for them."

York's balance between order and tenderness has been a trademark for more than 40 years. He asks that his players refrain from wearing jewelry and growing their hair long -- not to enforce his will, but to maintain focus on the team. And on the verge of hockey history, potentially against another all-time great, he's happy to admit that his players have occasionally taught him something, too.

"Nathan Gerbe taught me how to email. You have to stay current," York said. "The players haven't changed much over the decades. They want to play on winning teams. We talk at BC about when you leave, you want to have a diploma in one hand and a ring in the other."

The 67-year-old York even joined the Twitterverse last week. Just don't expect any celebratory tweets when he breaks college hockey's all-time wins mark.

"We're just looking forward to a good game," he said.