Jerry York creates hockey power at Boston College (cont.)
As a boy, he was quiet. If he had a voice, friends say, they didn't know it. Born the seventh of 10 children, Jerry vied for attention in Watertown, Mass. -- a factory area with a multiethnic mix along the Charles River , only a long slap shot from Chestnut Hill. "If mom put down nine potatoes, she could watch the five boys and five girls battle," says Billy, the youngest child.
The family was always on call. Jerry's father, Robert, was a general practitioner; his mother, Mary, a nurse. The first floor of their yellow, three-story house doubled as an emergency room where patients were treated. Late one night when he was 12, Jerry opened the front door to find a patient with bloodied hands outside. There had been a factory accident. "We never knew who'd need help," he says.
Every Wednesday, York's father, trained by Jesuit priests for his undergraduate and medical degrees at Georgetown University, would drive his Cadillac to the Jesuits' seminary in nearby Weston. Once on the property, he would drop sons Jerry, Billy and John by the wooded path. From there, the father continued to the infirmary and treated ailments pro bono; the three brothers, each in middle school, walked to the pond. Wood panels, reinforced by snow banks, lined the ice. There were no painted lines, no boards; two sneakers served as goal posts. "Hockey and hot chocolate," Billy says. "It was paradise."
When winter arrived, firemen flooded the tennis courts at Victory and East Junior High Fields. Nifty with the puck, Jerry was smart, not fast. At BC High he developed but was no star. One evening after the first period of a Boston College freshman game at McHugh Forum in 1962, York met with inimitable coach John (Snooks) Kelley. Taking a shine to the reticent teen, Kelley invited him to walk-on. "I was happy to be wanted," York says.
By 1963, he was a playmaking center on the freshman team. That November, though, his world stood still. It was a Wednesday and York was in class when Father George Lawlor, a school administrator, summoned him. Worried about his grades, York steeled himself for a chiding. Once in the priest's office, he found out his father had died from a heart attack at age 68 while serving on a jury. Two days later, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. "You're 18," York says. "Your world's kinda shattered."
Every teammate attended his father's wake, and York quickly returned to school. A late bloomer, he earned a scholarship after his sophomore season, and helped steer the team to a Beanpot win as a junior. Later that semester, he made his first Frozen Four appearance at Brown University's on-campus rink, with the Eagles beating BU in the semifinal, but losing the title game to Michigan Tech. "Those were simpler times," says York, an All- America as a senior. "There was an intimacy to the crowd and the venues."
After starring locally, he took his game international with Team USA. During the fall of 1967, he toured Europe before the 1968 Olympic Games in Grenoble, France. Staring down the Red Army at an outdoor rink in Dusseldorf, Germany, York eyed Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov, and listened to the crowds' whistling. "I was in awe," says York. He was cut from the team in the last month.
Shifting duties, York, a member of the Army reserve, reported to basic training in Fort Polk, La., then trained to be a medic at Fort Sam Houston. Once finished with his active duty, he was accepted to law school, but instead worked two years as Kelley's graduate assistant, earning a guidance counselor degree while coaching the freshmen. Clarkson coach Len Ceglarski, a BC alumnus, called one day, inquiring whether Kelley had any candidates to be his assistant. Kelley recommended York. Recently engaged, York had to pitch his first recruit, Bobbie O'Brien from West Roxbury, on the virtues of Potsdam, N.Y. "It was a tough sell," York says of his wife of 39 years and the mother of their two grown children, "but she committed."