Jerry York creates hockey power at Boston College (cont.)
What makes a coach successful? Is it the wins? The Christmas cards from former players? The statues built on campus? "I learned early: Good players make good coaches," says York. "My power play was a lot better with Dave Taylor."
For Taylor, out of Levack, Ontario and his first must-have recruit, York made a commitment to Taylor's father, a worker in the coal mines, that he would see Dave through college. Two hundred fifty-one career points later, Taylor was an all-time Clarkson legend and York was on his way, too. Pumping a pipeline to Canadian ponds, York drained enough talent to win games, then moved on to Bowling Green. There, he replaced Mason and fused his New England connections to a Midwest work ethic. Each time the BC coaching position opened up, though, he applied but was overlooked until 1994 when former NHL player and coach Mike Milbury decided he couldn't work with the scholarship-strapped program and resigned 62 days after taking the position. (Milbury never signed his $1 million contract.). Finally, York got the call. "He had to get it eventually," Bobbie says.
Since returning, York has uplifted the program from the depths of an early '90s tailspin. In the last 11 years, his teams have reached eight Frozen Fours and played in six Finals. "The run is John Wooden-like now," says Jim Logue, volunteer goalies coach who roomed with York during the Olympic trials. From 1998 to 2000, behind linchpin recruits like Marty Reasoner from Rochester, N.Y., York reached the national semis each season -- and lost. With BC in danger of becoming the Buffalo Bills of college hockey, the breakthrough came in Albany, N.Y. on a snowy night in 2001, when the Eagles beat North Dakota 3-2 in overtime to give the school its first title since 1949.
The good cheer dissipated in June 2005 when Dr. Stephen Ranere, York's physician, spotted an abnormality in a blood test and detected prostate cancer. Bobbie peeled through books and long-time assistant Mike Cavanaugh researched the disease as well. For the eternally ebullient coach, there were dark days, including when his prostate was removed at Mass General Hospital. "It's a small hockey coaches fraternity and we all wished him the best recovery," said Mason, who retired as a coach in 2002.
Cancer didn't alter York's consistency. He is not his players' best friend, but neither is he aloof. He welcomes them into his home and introduces them to his family. But discipline comes first. Under his direction, all buses leave on time as McPhee and others have learned. Facial hair is forbidden, and in lieu of cursing, York prefers to shout "cripes!" "Especially when his golf ball's in the water," says New Jersey Devils defenseman Mike Mottau, the 2000 Hobey Baker Award winner.
All the while, York has kept a clean house. During his early years at BC, he sat nine players for a winnable game against Providence because they violated a rule against entering Mary Ann's -- the school's popular watering hole. "Rules are rules," says Devils forward and former BC captain Brian Gionta. "You never have to wonder where you stand."
Last season's top defenseman, Brett Motherwell, and forward Brian O'Hanley -- two key cogs in the fast-moving machine -- were suspended for breaking a team rule after the opener. Soon, they were dismissed. "We never even knew what rule they broke," says Nathan Gerbe, the team's star forward.
And York doesn't mince words, as evidenced one day last January when he informed the Eagles in no uncertain terms what he thought of them. Following a lackluster weekend in Orono, Maine, against the Black Bears, the Eagles retreated to their hotel for the postgame meal. York, turning red as a lobster, vented. "That was as angry as I've seen him," said Father Tony Penna, the team's chaplain, who has been around the program for 13 years.
In closing, York, who had suffered title-game losses the two previous seasons (one defeat ending when a BC shot hit the post against Wisconsin), said, "I have to go to the Final Four as a coach. My wife and I already have plane tickets, but I don't like going without a team."
The Eagles got the message. They did not clinch home ice in the Hockey East playoffs until their final regular season win over Northeastern, but from that point on, they did not lose, as Gerbe lit up the scoreboards and freshman goaltender John Muse stood on his red head. "We accompanied him to Denver as requested," Gerbe says.
The morning after BC's 4-1 victory over Notre Dame in the championship game, with the sun rising over the Rockies and the team's bus en route to the airport, senior captain Mike Brennan said, "It's a shame that it has to end."
"When you're a national champ," York said, "it never ends."
The priest thought it was an apparition.
It was during the Frozen Four last April, and several former patients of York's father, relocated to Kingston, Jamaica, to carry out their Jesuit missions, were watching a satellite telecast of the BC-Notre Dame final. Noting a camera shot of the Eagles' coach, one exclaimed, "That's Dr. York! A miracle!"
Truly his father's son, York is home again, living less than a mile from his childhood residence. Driving around his old skating grounds in his black Navigator two days after Christmas, he points to the stanchions on the tennis courts that he had to maneuver around as a youth. "I think that Gore fella was right about global warming," says York, noting that there seem to be fewer "hockey weather" days. "Maybe there'll be some glacial event and we can get back to [outdoor] hockey."
Three weeks ago, York brought his team to the Larz Anderson outdoor rink in Brookline, which provides a vista of the city's skyline. It was a mild, overcast day, beautiful for hockey, and there he was, his breath billowing into the chilly New England air. "It's a frozen Field of Dreams," he said.
Next Monday, he again will lead his team, indoors at the TD Banknorth Garden for the Beanpot consolation game. Both for its parochial nature (it involves BC, BU, Harvard and Northeastern) and perennial scheduling on the first two Mondays of February, York likes to instill in his squad the meaning of the event. On Tuesday, as he does every year, he had his seven seniors each read three-to-four pages of Spencer Johnson's The Precious Present, a tale about a child finding the joy of life in a fast-paced world, out loud to teammates. The players and coaches, hair trimmed and faces clean, gathered in the coaches' lounge area off York's office and discussed the value of staying in the present. "Guys will think ahead to Beanpots and playoff games," York says. "This focuses them. There's an order to winning.
"You can never stop coaching."