By Andy Merritt
BOSTON – It might be the most important summer league game that ever happened.
It was an early-’70s offseason game, and Jack Parker, then an assistant coach at Boston University who happened to be refereeing the game, sidled up to one of the players and asked him if he’d like to come and be a Terrier. The player was taking classes at Merrimack, then a Division II program, and had Parker not noticed him, well, a lot of things would have turned out a lot differently.
But Jack Parker did notice Mike Eruzione, and the Winthrop, Mass., native said ‘yes’ to Parker’s offer to come to BU. The rest – and the cliché is highly applicable here – is history.
Eruzione, of course, went on to play four great years at BU before scoring arguably the most important goal in the history of American hockey to push the 1980 U.S. Olympic team past the USSR and into the gold medal game, where it won Olympic gold for the first time since 1960. He was joined on that team by fellow former Parker players Dave Silk (Scituate, Mass.), Jim Craig (Easton, Mass.) and Jack O’Callahan (Charlestown, Mass.).
“I wasn’t going anywhere. Nobody recruited me,” Eruzione said. “He saw me playing, he said, ‘would you like a scholarship?’ I said ‘yes,’ I took it, and I came to BU, and I would never be where I am today if I didn’t.”
Sitting in front of hundreds of well-wishers, former players, media and family at Boston University’s Agganis Arena on Monday, Parker (Somerville, Mass.) announced the end of his coaching career, one of the most important and historic in all of college hockey. His legacy includes a host of titles and trophies, a large coaching tree, and a multitude of alumni who have helped shape the game at every level.
“It’s been a great run, and I’ve had a great time doing it,” said Parker, who will continue to coach the Terriers until the end of this season. BU hosts Merrimack in a best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series beginning Friday.
The announcement came 40 years after Parker’s hiring, which followed a successful playing career and four years as assistant coach. It also came 68 years to the day Parker was born in Somerville, and the normally stoic birthday boy was a little more emotional than usual as he spoke about his time at BU.
“I’ve been coaching the team for 40 years, I’ve been a coach here for 44 years, and I was a player here for four years before that, so for 48 of the last 49 years, I’ve been reporting for duty for BU hockey, and that’s enough,” Parker said.
“I’ve had a wonderful ride here, it’s been a great time for me. I’ll remember it all, and it probably won’t hit me, because we’ve got games to play. I don’t feel like I’m no longer the coach, and it won’t hit me probably until next October.”
A legendary career
During Parker’s tenure as head coach, the Terriers have won three national championships (1978, 1995, 2009), 21 Beanpot titles, four Eastern College Athletic Conference titles, and seven Hockey East championships. BU has appeared in 24 NCAA tournaments, the most of any coach in history, and his 894 wins (and counting) are the most by any coach with one program. He’s also third all-time in wins overall, behind Boston College’s Jerry York (Watertown, Mass.) and former Michigan State, Bowling Green and Lake Superior State coach Ron Mason.
The Parker Era has been full of highlights, but it hasn’t been without trial. Parker’s legacy has grown more complicated over the last few years, following a string of disciplinary issues. Several players have been dismissed over the last four years since the 2009 NCAA championship, including Corey Trivino and Max Nicastro, who both faced legal trouble in addition to the team-related actions. Trivino and Nicastro were both charged with sexual assault after separate incidents last season, and while Nicastro’s charges were dropped, the sudden black eye on the program sent it reeling, to the point that a task force was created to examine the culture surrounding the team.
The result was a report that said BU’s players have had a problematic level of “entitlement” in recent years, particularly when it comes to sex and drinking. The report also cited a raunchy party at Agganis Arena following the 2009 NCAA title win, with reports of players having sex at the facility, including in the penalty box.
A black cloud fell over the program following the task force’s findings, and Parker was stripped of the executive director of athletics title he had held since 2002.
“I think it was a trying time for us and our program,” Parker said. “People have asked, will this tarnish my legacy here, will this be a bad thing for the university in the long run. The only way I can put it for you is that people will have their opinions of what went on, and they’re welcome to their opinions. The people that I’m most concerned with are the ones who know what BU hockey’s all about, and some of them are here today.
“I think in some ways it was one of our best coaching jobs the last couple of years, I tip my cap to my staff and to my captains. I think it was tough, but it was good to get through it, I’m glad we got through it, we incorporated the stuff the task force asked us to do. I’m proud of the way my team handled it.”
Parker’s teams have also seen tragedy. Alumnus Mark Bavis (Roslindale, Mass.), the brother of current assistant coach Mike Bavis, was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. And in the first game of the 1995-96 season, promising freshman Travis Roy (Yarmouth, Maine) was paralyzed when he slammed awkwardly into the boards, just 11 seconds into his college career.
“I always tell people, the worst thing that ever happened to me was Travis Roy’s injury, and the best thing that ever happened to me at BU was the way Boston University and the hockey community responded to Travis Roy,” Parker said. “The hockey community is a great thing to be a part of.”
A life of teaching
That Parker has stayed at BU for four decades is impressive alone, but it’s also meaningful given the fact that he’s been approached at least three times about coaching other teams – including the Bruins. He was offered the Bruins' coaching job in 1991, and again in 1997. Parker said he “really considered it” the second time the Bruins opportunity came about, two years after one of BU’s greatest all-time teams won the NCAA title.
Instead, he stayed to guide the program for another 16 years to recruit, refine, and teach.
“He’s taught me a lot,” said Wade Megan, a senior and the captain of this year’s team. “He’s taught me probably as much about life as he has about hockey. From the moment I set foot on campus, he made me realize that it wasn’t going to be easy, that I had to work for everything I got, so that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
Many of Parker’s former students were in the packed function room just a few dozen yards from the Agganis Arena bowl – a facility whose rink is named for the coach. The assemblage was a who’s who of BU hockey, with Eruzione just one of the many former Terrier stars in attendance. Mike Grier, who won the NCAA title as a BU junior in 1995, said Parker’s tutelage helped him become a better teammate, which in turn extended his 15-year NHL career.
“I learned a lot about hockey, offensively and defensively, got to play with some great guys, but at the same time, my last year Travis got hurt, and that kind of put everything into perspective, that everything doesn’t just revolve around hockey,” said Grier, who grew up in Holliston, Mass., and attended St. Sebastian’s School. “You could see how much it impacted [Parker], how much he cared, and it showed you that you do the best you can, but at the end of the day it’s the relationships you build and the people that support you.”
Parker’s legacy also includes many current and former coaches, including current Colorado Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco and assistant David Quinn, as well as former UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon (Lynn, Mass.), who started his coaching career as an assistant with Parker from 1974-79 after a great career as a BU player, and came back for two more stints on the Terrier bench.
“From a coaching standpoint, we learned on the job,” Cahoon said. “Jack got this job never having been a coach at this level, and he hired me as an assistant, never having coached at this level. So I learned not to panic, and to just get down to brass tacks, go to work and solve problems. I think I learned from him how important the day-to-day communication with the people you work with is, so the communication part of it really grew for me as a result of working for him.”
Mike Bavis, who along with Sacco and Quinn is among the names being bandied about as possible replacements behind the BU bench, has seen the impact Parker has had on his players during Bavis’ 14 years as his lieutenant.
“So many times I’ve heard [from Parker], ‘the only way he’s going to learn the lesson is if he learns the lesson,’” Bavis said. “And sometimes it’s putting his arm around one of his players and saying, ‘hey, we know it’s going tough, and we’re here for you.’ He’s been able to treat players differently but always be fair. When I step back as a coach, that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned.”
What comes next?
While Athletic Director Mike Lynch – the fifth man to run the athletic department during Parker’s career – wouldn’t get into specifics, he said the search for Parker’s replacement will be wide, and includes “a lot of great candidates.”
“This is a marquee job,” Lynch said. “I’d like to say it’s the best job in college hockey, primarily because of [Parker], and it hasn’t been open in a long time. It’s an enormously important position, and it’ll be handled at the highest level of the university.”
In the meantime, Parker has at least a couple more games to coach. He begins the series against Merrimack just six wins short of 900, and to get to that threshold, the Terriers will have to reach the Frozen Four. As evidenced by three national titles, dozens of alumni in the NHL, a trophy case full of awards and a chance encounter at a summer league game four decades ago, when Jack Parker’s involved, anything is possible.