Boston University hockey Head Coach Jack Parker announced last week that he would be retiring at the conclusion of the postseason after 40 years behind the Terriers bench. The legendary coach’s résumé includes 21 Beanpot Tournament championships, 11 Hockey East Conference titles, and three times crowned as the NCAA National Champions. Despite recent blemishes, Parker will leave behind a storied legacy.
Jack Parker first entered Boston University as a freshman in 1963. The Somerville, MA native skated at center for a Terrier squad that combined to go 72-22-4 during his junior and senior years. His senior year, Parker was awarded the team captaincy.
The year following his graduation, Parker began coaching at Medford (MA) High School. After one season, he returned to Comm. Ave. to begin his apprenticeship as an assistant under Jack Kelley. After serving for three years under his mentor, Parker was handed the reins of Boston University’s B-team in the fall of 1972.
On December 21, 1973, Parker replaced Leon Abbott six games into the season as the new varsity head coach, the 10th in school history. Just six days later, he would record a 3-1 victory over Dartmouth College in his very first game. Parker’s immediate success would carry him throughout the season, as that 1973 Terrier squad would win the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) crown, their first of four consecutive titles.
Hockey East wouldn’t even be founded for another decade. Since its genesis in 1984, Parker’s 423 league wins are a Hockey East record. In this span, the Terriers have won the Hockey East Conference Championship eleven times.
Perhaps the best example of Terrier hockey dominance under Coach Parker was in the fabled Beanpot Tournament. A Boston collegiate hockey tournament consisting of Boston University, Boston College, Harvard University, and Northeastern University, the Beanpot is an annual in-season showdown for city-wide bragging rights.
It may appear to be a four-team tournament, but Somerville Jack’s Terriers have won more than half of their tournament appearances with 21 titles in 40 years. Over some stretches, including six-straight titles from 1995-2000, the Beanpot was commonly referred to as “the BU-pot,” a suitable label in light of its yearly recipients. From 1990-2007, Boston U took home fourteen Beanpots in eighteen years.
With 24 NCAA Tournament appearances under Parker’s guidance, Boston University won National Championships in 1978, 1995, and 2009. Parker won three Spencer Penrose Awards as the national coach of the year, was a seven-time New England Coach of the Year, and a five-time Hockey East Coach of the Year. He’s been inducted into the Boston University Athletics Hall of Fame, The Sports Museum’s Tradition, and received the NHL’s Lester Patrick Award for “outstanding service to hockey in the United States.”
As Parker guides the ship through his final postseason tournaments, his career record of 896-471-115 amounts to the third-most wins in NCAA history, yet the most wins with a single institution, his alma mater. He was presented with an Honorary Doctors of Letters degree by BU and previously held their title of Executive Athletic Director.
A Father Figure
“Boston University hockey and Jack Parker are synonymous,” said BU Director of Athletics and Senior Vice President Mike Lynch. But even more so than being the face of the school’s most prominent athletic program, Parker was a mentor to his players.
“Hockey’s a very close, close community, and BU hockey’s even closer. I think that’s because of Jack. He said… that we were all his sons, and he’s right. During the course of my four years here, he was my coach, he was my father, at times, and he was my friend,” said former Terrier Mike Eruzione.
Eruzione’s story is one of the better tales in Parker’s legacy. In a Boston-area summer league game in the early-70s, then-Assistant Coach Parker was refereeing a game and found himself intrigued by a young winger from Winthrop, MA. Falling into recruitment mode, Parker skated over to the youngster and asked him if he’d like to play for BU. Eruzione had been taking classes at Merrimack College, then a Division II hockey program, but accepted the offer.
Mike Eruzione, of course, captained the 1980 United States Olympic Hockey Team to a Gold Medal in Lake Placid, scoring arguably the biggest goal in American hockey history to defeats the Soviet Union in the semifinals.
Eruzione was joined by fellow Terriers Dave Silk, Jack O’Callahan, and starting goaltender Jim Craig at the 1980 Games. In all, 23 of Parker’s former players have suited up in the Olympics.
“I always talk about BU being a family. I’ve got two daughters and about 226 sons, and the team that I have right now are my youngest sons,” stated Parker, “and I’m not going to have any more children.”
Through Thick & Thin
However, Parker’s tenure was twice marred with tragedy. Former player Mark Bavis, brother of current assistant coach Mike Bavis, perished on one of the flights involved in the terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001.
Perhaps the defining tribulation in the Parker years was the 1995 Travis Roy incident. Roy, a promising freshman playing in his first college hockey game, suffered a neck injury just eleven seconds into his first career shift. The injury paralyzed Roy and has left him wheelchair-bound ever since.
“I always tell people that the worst thing that ever happened to me as hockey coach at BU 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,” said Parker.
Parker was certainly not a silent bystander in the way that the community rallied around the incident. Parker and the Terriers made it clear they intended to keep their wounded soldier around for the entire season, and his number 24 remains the school’s only retired number.
National Hockey League Comes Courting
Along with the numerous Olympians he coached, 66 of Parker’s former players went on to play in the NHL, including Tony Amonte, Adrian Aucoin, Rick DiPietro, Chris Drury, Matt Gilroy, Mike Grier, Jay Pandolfo, Tom Poti, Kevin Shattenkirk, Keith Tkachuk, Ryan Whitney, Colin Wilson, and Brandon Yip. Former Parker BU players like Joe Sacco and Mike Sullivan have even gone on to be head coaches in the NHL. This begged the question, how would Parker fare in the greatest hockey league in the world?
Parker was not without NHL coaching opportunities. Although he often downplays how in-demand he may have been throughout various times in his coaching career, Parker admits to being heavily recruited in 1979 by former mentor Kelley, then-GM of the Hartford Whalers. However, Somerville Jack refers to the 1991 courting by then-GM Mike Milbury and especially the 1998 offer from then-GM Harry Sinden as the closest he ever came to accepting a professional coaching position, each time with his hometown Boston Bruins.
Parker was able to add blue to his red and white color palette in 1996, when he served as head coach of the USA squad at the IIHF World Junior Championship. Though we’ll always wonder how Parker would have fared in the bright lights of the National Hockey League, Somerville Jack has remained content in his decision to retain his T-pass and commute to work locally year in, year out.
After a two-game sweep of Merrimack College last weekend, Parker’s Terriers have advanced to the Hockey East semifinals for a Friday night matchup with their archrivals, the Boston College Eagles. Though BC’s own renowned coach, Jerry York (most NCAA wins all-time), will not be at the helm due to health issues, it still seems fitting that Parker should have to battle his team’s nemesis to continue his career. A loss at the hands of Boston College would represent Parker’s last career game in the TD Garden. It would also end his coaching career, as #17 Boston University has not been guaranteed an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament and must advance to the Hockey East Finals to even be considered on Selection Sunday.
Announcing his pending retirement just prior to his team’s postseason run worked wonders for the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Lewis. In order for the legendary Jack Parker’s illustrious coaching career to continue, he hopes to provide his team with the same rallying point for one more run at Hockey East and NCAA glory. However, as former BU Terrier and 1980 Olympian Dave Silk stated last week, “Jack Parker doesn’t need hockey; hockey needs Jack Parker.”