It was fitting that circumstance should have brought him back to where the championships began for Jack Parker nearly half a century ago. He was a sophomore out of Somerville when he first put his fingerprints on the Beanpot in the winter of 1966. His first coaching trophy came at the Garden as well, when his 1974 varsity ran the table in the old ECAC tournament and collected the first of a record two dozen NCAA tickets.
So it was cosmic convergence that Parker’s final season at Boston University would have him back on this block of Causeway Street playing for another trophy and that his varsity would have to go through its ancient archrivals to get there.
“He’s such a great coach, we weren’t going to let him lose to Boston College in the Garden,” freshman center Danny O’Regan said after he’d scored a couple of goals to help the Terriers end BC’s three-year reign as Hockey East champions with a startling 6-3 smackdown that set up a showdown with UMass-Lowell for the championship Saturday night. “We were going to do whatever it took.”
It took a resurrection from two goals down but the Terriers made it happen, scoring the next five, three of them in less than six minutes in the second period. “We came back from the dead, I think,” said Parker, after his club had beaten the Eagles by their biggest margin on Garden ice in 13 years.
Had BU gone down, Parker’s coaching career would have ended after 40 years, three national championships, seven Hockey East crowns, four ECAC titles, 21 Beanpots and 896 victories, the most by any coach at the same college. Now, he gets another game and possibly more. “Now we have a chance not only to win the tournament,” said Parker, “but we have a chance to go to another tournament, which is what we want.”
If the Terriers shoot down the soaring River Hawks in the finale they’ll claim an automatic NCAA berth. Either way Parker will coach his final game in the town where he made his name. After all these decades it is difficult to imagine him anywhere but behind his alma mater’s bench, arms crossed, barking instructions.
Parker was present not only at the creation of the program’s glory days but also for their restoration. When he arrived on Commonwealth Avenue as a player the city still belonged to BC. The Terriers hadn’t won the Beanpot in eight years, had never claimed the Eastern championship and hadn’t been to the NCAAs in half a dozen years. By the end of the ’70s, they had enough hardware to stock a high-end pawnshop in the Back Bay.
Parker has been ensconced so long that most folks don’t quite recall how he got the job. It wasn’t passed down from Jack Kelley after his mentor departed for the World Hockey Association after consecutive national titles. It was abruptly handed to him after Leon Abbott, Kelley’s successor, was dismissed in the wake of a controversy involving a couple of former Junior A players whose names (Buckton and Marzo) will win you bar bets at The Dugout.
Six games into the 1973-74 season Parker, who was the B-team coach, was thrown the reins to a moving scarlet sleigh a few days before Christmas and was bade godspeed. He won his first game (against Dartmouth) and kept winning. Along the way, Parker established both a style and a standard that endures. His teams were delightful to watch and demoralizing to play against, especially if a trophy was on the line. He liked guys who were quick, who could stickhandle and who could “see things”.
Mike Eruzione was one of those guys and it was no accident that Herb Brooks chose him and three fellow Terriers for the Boys of Winter bunch who mined unlikely gold from the Adirondacks in 1980. Parker’s players have gone to Olympus every quadrennium and have guzzled from the Stanley Cup. If you pull on the canine sweater, you’re expected to perform at an elevated level. “The guy who wore your uniform a few years ago is watching you,” Parker once told his team before they played BC.
What all of them had in common was Parker standing behind them. During the first decade or so, when he was going through a pack-plus of Marlboros a day, he would fret and pace behind the dasher, speaking in staccato sentences, jacked up to the rafters. “Worrying about BC will kill me before smoking does,” he once observed.
The Eagles always seemed to be flapping around BU’s kennel, no matter what was at stake. When Parker won his first national title in 1978 in Providence, BC was the final barrier. In recent seasons, as BC has become a frequent Frozen Four visitor, the Terriers have found the encounters decidedly more challenging.
So it was again on Friday when BC came in aiming for its seventh tournament title in nine years. The Eagles already have wrapped up an NCAA bid. The Terriers had to win or exchange their sticks for putters, which was an unacceptable outcome. So they got it done with a bit of old-school BU magic. “Much appreciated,” Parker said.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.