BOSTON – It was a night to remember in a year to forget.
BU’s first season under new coach David Quinn (Cranston, R.I.) has been a struggle. Its 10-20-4 record includes the program’s lowest win total since 1979-80, when the team only had 11 wins while some of its stars were playing with the U.S. Olympic team. In fact, the Terriers needed to sweep Northeastern last weekend just to avoid being the first BU team with less than 10 wins in a season since 1962-63.
The Hockey East postseason starts this weekend, and while BU has a chance merely by dint of the new playoff structure that gives every team at least one playoff game, the Terriers would need to come up with a tough win at Notre Dame Saturday just to advance to a quarterfinal series against one of the league’s upper-echelon teams. The odds are stacked against the Terriers, for sure.
But for at least one night, the old magic that surrounded the program for most of the last four decades was back, as BU retired former coach Jack Parker’s No. 6 jersey on Friday, Feb. 28. Parker, who retired last spring after 40 years at the helm of the Terriers, was a decent player for BU, and before that Catholic Memorial. But the retirement of his number wasn’t about recognizing his on-ice exploits, and he knew that.
In fact, the mere idea of retiring a number was never something Parker liked to do. His is only the second number ever to be retired by the program. The first was 24, worn by Travis Roy for just 11 seconds before the paralyzing injury ended his career all too soon.
“It was my rule that no number would be retired,” Parker said to the 5,577 who came to Friday night’s game. “The only other number retired, obviously, is Travis’ number, for special reasons.”
But there are some special reasons to honor Parker, too. Not only is the Somerville, Mass., native still the face of BU hockey, he’s been instrumental in the development not just of the Terrier program, but of college hockey throughout the country. He’s also got the three national championships and seven Hockey East titles (plus three league titles from the ECAC days) to his credit.
Parker always preferred to keep numbers active, however, not as a suggestion that no player should be recognized, but that those digits should carry a tradition unto themselves.
“I never thought it was a good idea, I always wanted someone to wear the same number as somebody else,” Parker told reporters after the first-intermission ceremony raising his white-and-scarlet banner to the rafters. “In the locker room, we have it printed up on the wall who wore your number before you.”
The number on the back of a player’s jersey, in other words, is an active, living recognition of the names that previously sat above it. Some of those names were in attendance, too – Parker noticed former players Roy, Mike Grier (Holliston, Mass.), Jay Pandolfo (Burlington, Mass.), Dan Ronan (Woburn, Mass.), Matt Gilroy, Marc Hetnik (Meriden, Conn.), Jack O’Callahan (Charlestown, Mass.) and Ed Walsh (Somerville, Mass.) among the alumni in a box overlooking the ice at Agganis Arena on Friday night.
“That’s a tribute to Jack,” Quinn said. “The one thing that is special about BU hockey is how the former players feel about the program. It’s just amazing how many guys want to come back, how much they care. I’m not surprised how many guys showed up. It really represents what BU hockey is all about.”
The long roster of distinguished players is a part of the Parker legacy, but the old coach says it’s a reciprocal relationship.
“The reason why I was the coach here for 40 years was that I had so many great players,” Parker said. “It’s as simple as that.”
So there’s a bit of whiplash this year on Commonwealth Ave. While it was expected that BU would take a step back in the first year without its iconic leader, the Terriers’ struggles are still a bit of a surprise. Quinn may be a “new” coach, but he’s hardly an unfamiliar face, having been Parker’s assistant for five years, including the 2009 national title-winning season. So the growing pains he’s experiencing are a little worse than anticipated.
Still, Parker’s optimistic about the future of what is still largely “his” program.
“I’m really happy that the program’s in good hands with David,” he said. “I’m happy that we’ll have a good recruiting class the next two years, and the program will jump back from this year very quickly.”
It’s possible that Jack Parker Night was the first sign of that very thing. The Terriers beat Northeastern Friday night, on a game-winner scored by Needham, Mass., native Danny O’Regan – wearing the No. 10 previously worn by such luminaries as Hetnik, Vic Stanfield, Dave Silk, Ed Ronan and Chris Higgins.
It was a unique night for a few reasons. Beyond the Parker number retirement ceremony – originally scheduled for Feb. 15 but postponed due to a snowstorm – it was also the last home game for the team’s five seniors. But BU also played with a limited lineup, as four players were benched due to disciplinary issues. Though three of the players dressed due to the team’s already short roster, they didn’t see any ice time.
Yet between O’Regan’s game-winner, as well as goals from two promising freshmen in Kevin Duane (New Canaan, Conn.) and Robbie Baillargeon (Enfield, Conn.), the Terriers found a way, getting a late empty-netter from Ahti Oksanen to seal the 4-1 victory. They continued to thrive the next night, sweeping the Huskies with a 4-2 win.
Though Duane and Baillargeon never played for Parker, they were recruited by him before his departure. They, just like the many players that came before them during Parker’s 40 years behind the bench, know that the deepest tradition of BU hockey isn’t the national titles, the jerseys, or the Olympians. It’s Parker himself.
“I know what Coach Parker means to all those players,” Quinn said. “There’ll be a connection with Jack for every player that comes through this program. He’s so symbolic of this program.”
Player of the Week
Jon Gillies, so., Providence
Gillies (South Portland, Maine) has not been as good this year as he was in his stellar debut season, but he was the key to Providence’s surprising sweep of Maine at Alfond Arena. His combined 63 saves over the two nights led the Friars to 4-2 and 3-2 victories, making them only the second visiting team to take even one win from Maine all year.
Hockey East Playoffs (First Round)
After nearly two decades, the league’s playoff structure has been changed to give all 11 teams a berth. The postseason starts this weekend with the sixth-through-11th place teams squaring off in a single-elimination round at the higher seed’s rink.
Friday, March 7
UMass at Vermont, 7:05 p.m. (NESN)
Saturday, March 8
Boston University at Notre Dame, 7 p.m.
Merrimack at Maine, 7:07 p.m.
Hockey East power rankings