As another one of hockey’s high honors arrived at the desk of Boston College hockey coach Jerry York, he was a little anxious.
“Really trying times for all of us,” he said Tuesday. “There’s no book on how to survive COVID, but also how to coach in a COVID season. We’re all wearing masks, we’re trying to stay safe. But it’s so unusual.”
In his words, they’re trying to wade through it.
Hockey East hopes it can start as early as Nov. 6 and keep a relatively tight bubble, aided by rink-to-rink bus travel. On ice at The Heights, York leads practices with players in groups of 12. Others wait for their turn.
“They want to play and we want to play,” York said. “But it’s such a different environment for all of us. We’re doing the best we can. Each day brings new sets of problems. We keep our fingers crossed that everything goes smooth.”
The 75-year-old York is the oldest NCAA hockey coach by six years, and one of the oldest college coaches in any sport. He has reason to be concerned about the virus, but he doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about his own problems.
That’s one reason the proud son of Watertown stocked the trophy case in Chestnut Hill with national titles (2001, 2008, 2010, 2012), nine Hockey East titles, 11 regular-season crowns, and a dozen trips to the Frozen Four. No coach has more NCAA Tournament wins (41).
For this and more, York accepted a future plaque in the US Hockey Hall of Fame on Tuesday. The other 2020 inductees, who spoke on a Zoom call with York, are Tony Granato, Dean Blais, and Jenny Potter.
When York went into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto last November, he was looking at his recruiting board with assistant coach Brendan Buckley, and thought it was a spam call. This time, he was at his favorite golf course, Oakley Country Club, and happy to hear the ring.
“I was coming off a double bogey,” York said. “I was in a lousy, grumpy mood. And Pat [Kelleher, USA Hockey executive director] called. I said, ‘I’ll take this call.’ ”
His predecessors at BC, John “Snooks” Kelley (1974) and Len Ceglarski (1992), got similar calls. York, who cheered Brian Gionta at last year’s ceremony, is the 10th Eagle to make it into the US Hall.
Last November, York was the first HHOF honoree in Toronto to be exclusively an NCAA coach. He is also in the Bowling Green Hall of Fame (2003) and BC Hall of Fame (1982). He earned the Lester Patrick Trophy (NHL-given award for service to US hockey) in 2010 and Spencer Penrose Award (top college coach) in 1977 while at Clarkson.
York didn’t speak of his victories Tuesday, even though, entering his 49th season as a Division 1 coach, he has 1,067, far more than any coach in NCAA history. He remembered recruiting Dave Taylor at Clarkson, Rob Blake at Bowling Green, and Marty Reasoner at BC (“the first legitimate player we recruited,” York said, noting the down cycle the Eagles had hit. “He could have gone anywhere.”) Soon after, Gionta followed, as did four national titles.
Granato recalled a visit from York, then with Bowling Green, ending with his parents saying their son would be in good hands there. They didn’t realize that Wisconsin’s campus was a lot closer to their home in the Chicago suburbs.
“Jerry was so respectful,” recalled Granato, now coaching his alma mater. “He’s a class act. When I did tell him I wasn’t going there, it was like, ‘Tony, congratulations, and good luck.’ I remember a really positive response. ‘I understand. I wish you well. And we’ll see you down the road.’ ”
Asked to name a choice memory from his own hockey life, York flashed back to a day in June 1994, when athletics director Chet Gladchuk named him the Eagles' head coach. He had coveted the head job at his alma mater, so much so that he applied for it three times: as a too-young 26-year-old in 1972; after Ceglarski retired in 1992; and earlier that year.
Gladchuk had landed Bruins assistant general manager Mike Milbury, who soon decided it wasn’t for him. York didn’t want to be anywhere else. At the introductory news conference, he looked out and saw almost all of his nine brothers and sisters beaming.
“I was ecstatic,” York recalled, 26 years and four national titles later. “That day stands out clearly to me.”
He still keeps the same daily routine. He stops at his favorite Dunkin' Donuts, in Watertown Square. He makes the 3-mile trek to Boston College’s campus. He laces his skates, buckles the strap on a maroon helmet, and grabs a wood stick, a Sher-Wood PMP 5030, with white tape on the knob and black on the blade.
York, whose contract at BC runs through 2022, appreciates the uncertainty that comes with a new season. What will bring this unique team together over the months ahead? How will yesterday’s freshmen and sophomores develop into prominent upperclassmen, and later, working professionals? What memories will he return to when he thinks of this year?
This has not been an easy year, but York still wants to find out.