It is all overwhelming to Matt Grzelcyk that the coach from his freshman season at Boston University touched so many other players, including some of his coworkers.
Bruins assistant coaches Joe Sacco and Jay Pandolfo are graduates of Jack Parker’s pucks program. Fellow assistant Kevin Dean played against Parker at the University of New Hampshire. Ditto for general manager Don Sweeney (Harvard), executive director of player personnel John Ferguson Jr. (Providence College), and goaltender development coach Mike Dunham (Maine).
So considering the span of generations that Parker coached, Grzelcyk is quite grateful that he could enjoy his company in his 40th and final season on Commonwealth Avenue.
“It’s insane. It’s crazy,” said Grzelcyk of being part of the last layer of Parker’s sedimentary history. “It’s an honor to have spent one year out of his 40 under him. I think his influence has spread throughout the BU program. It’ll be felt for a while. Everyone’s really lucky to have him.”
Last Wednesday, USA Hockey honored the depth and breadth of Parker’s work by inducting him into the US Hockey Hall of Fame alongside Kevin Collins, Ben Smith, Ron Wilson, and Scott Young. Smith served as Parker’s assistant. Wilson, an ex-Friar, played against BU when Parker was an assistant. Young played for Parker for two seasons, an abbreviated college career for which his former coach still gives him good-natured grief. Had Collins, an ex-NHL linesman, blown whistles on college rinks, he would undoubtedly have earned an earful from Parker.
Smith, who’s become fast friends with Parker, hailed his former boss for his technical mastery. According to Smith, Parker was especially sharp at making on-the-fly adjustments to maximize his teams’ chances.
But coaches must be more than that. In an emotional game such as hockey, coaches can amplify their players’ assets through manipulation and motivation.
“I believed he willed his teams to victory at times,” Smith said. “Just the competitive nature, his ability to radiate that positive energy — it was palpable.”
Urging players to skate through walls did not change from the time Parker took over the BU wheel from Leon Abbott to when he tossed the keys to David Quinn. Whether it’s via a pat on the back or a bark in the ear, pushing players beyond their expected thresholds will remain the calling card of any successful coach.
Just about everything else regarding the sport turned upside down during Parker’s stewardship. Upon graduating from Catholic Memorial, Parker’s goal was to play college hockey. The first players he coached felt the same way.
By the end, Parker had to deal with short-timers such as Charlie Coyle. The East Weymouth native left BU midway through his sophomore season, finishing out 2011-12 with Saint John of the QMJHL prior to joining the Minnesota Wild organization. Four-year collegians such as Grzelcyk would be the exception.
Early departures such as Coyle’s indicate the strength of college hockey. Parker believes it’s a good thing that NCAA programs prepare their charges for the pros.
But Parker also sees a landscape where players are already considering their exits as soon as they’ve put down their bags for their first college lectures. There are multiple voices: GMs, player development directors, scouts, family advisers, friends, and parents. Some of these parties are more eager for collegians to join the workforce than graduate.
“When I first started, mostly everybody wanted to play college hockey. That was their end-all,” Parker said. “Ricky Meagher was a three-time All-American. He was dying to play college hockey. He didn’t think he was going to play pro. It wasn’t a steppingstone to the pros. Nowadays, the big change is that this is a stopover on the way to the NHL. It has become that, which is nice. I also think there’s a lot more pressure on these kids because of that. They listen to many more voices than the guys I used to coach. They have agents — family advisers, excuse me. They have teams that drafted them, scouts that talk to them, general managers that talk to them. They’re online all the time to see where they’re rated before the draft.”
In some cases, the salary cap encourages NHL teams to accelerate departures. It helps the Bruins, for example, that Anders Bjork is earning $925,000 to be their No. 2 right wing to help offset David Pastrnak’s $6,666,667 average annual value. Had Bjork returned to Notre Dame for his senior season, the Bruins would have run the risk of seeing him reach unrestricted status next August and walk for nothing.
At the other end, the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement also helps convince players eligible for major junior to select the NCAA route. Consider that Jordan Greenway, Minnesota’s second-round pick in 2015, would be signed, playing pro hockey, and perhaps burning the first year of his entry-level contract in the minors this season had he played in the OHL. Instead, Greenway is a junior at BU, developing off the clock for the Wild, who will most likely turn the power forward pro after this year.
Whatever their reasoning, would-be NHLers believe college hockey is just as viable a launchpad as major junior. In 2016, 10 of the 30 first-round picks were already enrolled in school or committed to an NCAA program, including four Terriers: Clayton Keller, Charlie McAvoy, Dante Fabbro, and Kieffer Bellows. Keller signed with Arizona after his freshman season. McAvoy needed two years on Comm. Ave. before joining the Bruins. Bellows left BU and is playing this year for Portland of the WHL. Fabbro is a BU sophomore.
Had they played in earlier generations, Keller, McAvoy, and Bellows might have stayed in school because of a higher calling than that of the NHL. Before the NHL released its players for participation in the 1998 Winter Games, would-be pros stayed in school to retain their Olympic eligibility. They looked to former Terriers as inspiration, the most famous being Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione, Jack O’Callahan, and Dave Silk.
“In ’80, we had a lousy year,” Parker said. “We didn’t have Silk, we didn’t have Craig, and we didn’t play very well that year. People would come up to me at the end of the year and say, ‘Geez, you had a tough year.’ Tough year? We won the Olympics, didn’t we? So it got me off the hook a little bit. But it meant a lot to the program. It meant a lot to American players, not just the BU guys. But that team in 1980 won the Olympics, and all of a sudden the NHL was looking at college kids. All of a sudden the Mark Johnsons of the world were standouts in the NHL.”
As much change as Parker experienced, one thing has remained the same. The best part of Parker’s job was the relationships he built with his former players. The sight of ex-charges stopping by his office pushing strollers delighted Parker more than when they pumped pucks in nets.
Parker regularly says he has two daughters and 243 sons. It is the definition of a legacy.
IN A BAD SPOT
Senators’ flaws starting to show
Stars, goaltending, and coaching can make things look better than they seem.
Last year, Erik Karlsson, Craig Anderson, and Guy Boucher pulled the Senators one win short of qualifying for the Stanley Cup Final. Even on bad wheels, Karlsson (2-16—18 in 19 games, 28:07 of ice time per appearance) was superhuman. Anderson (11-8, 2.34 goals-against average, .922 save percentage) stayed hot for most of the run. Boucher, in his first year behind the Ottawa bench, coached up the plucky Senators by emphasizing early leads, shutting games down, and squeezing the life out of his opponents’ offensive interests.
This year, their respective shortcomings are showing in the standings. Offseason surgery has sapped Karlsson (1-18-19 through 25 games, 25:43 workload per outing) of some of his electricity. Anderson (8-10-3, 3.05 GAA, .897 save percentage), re-upped on Sept. 29 to a two-year, $9.5 million extension, is not playing like he will fulfill the term of his new deal. Boucher has not been able to squeeze as much performance from his players as he did last year.
That’s not even the bad part.
Karlsson is one of the bargains of the league, signed through 2019 for $6.5 million annually. As is his right, the 27-year-old will not accept a discount. But Karlsson did not do himself any favors with his employers when he discussed his next deal.
“When I go to market, I’m going to get what I’m worth, and it’s going to be no less, no matter where I’m going,” Karlsson said on Nov. 30, according to the Ottawa Sun. “That’s the business part of it. That’s the way every player has been treated ever since this league has started, and I think the players have been a little bit on the other side of things when it comes to negotiations. I think it’s time to realize that when we go to the table, it’s business on both parts, not just [owners].”
As the captain of a team fighting to stay out of the basement, Karlsson should have known better than to discuss his next contract. He tried to make things right in an interview with Sportsnet.
“I don’t really know why I spoke out about it,” Karlsson said. “It’s not something that’s been on my mind. I love it here in Ottawa. It’s never, ever crossed my mind that I ever want to leave here or go somewhere else. That’s not something I’ve ever considered. That they spun it that way, that’s the way it is. I’m happy where I am. It’s not something I try and focus on. I try and do my job right now. When that time comes, that’s something that we’re going to deal with. And, again, it’s a business, it’s a two-way street. I’m happy where I am and I hope that they’re happy where I’m at.”
For a standard organization, re-upping Karlsson would require a snap of the fingers come July 1, 2018, the first day he’ll be eligible for an extension. But the Senators have to deal with less-than-ideal circumstances.
They are a small-market team. Canadian Tire Centre does not fill up in large part because of its suburban location. GM Pierre Dorion is already dealing with big-ticket prices for Bobby Ryan ($7.25 million annually through 2022) and Dion Phaneuf ($7 million through 2021). Mark Stone, their leading scorer, is restricted after this year. Ottawa is without first- and second-round picks in 2018, part of the prices previously paid for Matt Duchene and Mika Zibanejad.
So extending Karlsson to a $10 million-plus deal at max term is not a given. For one, it would leave Dorion with fewer dollars to allocate elsewhere. As good as Karlsson is, he cannot drive the bus alone. Also, the Senators would be paying partly for past performance. The two-time Norris Trophy winner requires top-end legs to do his thing. Some of those fast-twitch muscles will not fire as rapidly for the entire term of his deal.
All of this puts the Senators in a bind. As much as trading Karlsson would help them reload, it would also signal a white flag for a franchise that needs every seat filled. Dorion is flying directly into turbulence.
Collins wants fighting to end
As a 28-year NHL linesman, Springfield’s Kevin Collins had the near-impossible task of getting high-speed offside calls right. Collins retired in 2005, 11 years before the introduction of the noxious offside challenge.
“It puts on a lot of pressure and makes it tough,” said Collins, inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame last Wednesday. “I didn’t have to live through that. Maybe if I did, I wouldn’t be standing here right now.”
In his day, a big part of Collins’s job was the unpleasant task of busting up fights upon their conclusion. That duty has changed for his former colleagues. Fighting is down. Today’s linesmen are instructed to douse fighting fires before they reach full roar. For Collins, the decline in fighting could go even further.
“The game is so much better now,” Collins said. “It’s faster. It’s more skilled. The competition. The players are in better shape. We don’t need fighting. No one listens to me, but I recommended to the rules committee that maybe we should follow what hockey is everywhere. If you fight, you get disqualified. Everybody wears a face shield. It’s not necessary.”
Blues shorthanded on defense
It did not help the Blues that the explosive Lightning were their opponents last Tuesday. Tampa Bay is a handful for any team. But St. Louis was decidedly shorthanded without Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo, their No. 1 defensive pairing, in a 3-0 loss to Tampa. The Blues are in good shape. They continue to lead the Western Conference. Neither Pietrangelo nor Bouwmeester is expected to be out long term. The Blues are deep enough up front to keep rolling without Jaden Schwartz, who may not return until February because of an ankle injury. So the matchup against the Lightning was a good opportunity for the organization to assess the play of Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko, usually their second blue-line duo. During five-on-five play, Edmundson and Parayko were on the ice for more shot attempts taken than allowed. Parayko logged a season-high 27:44 of ice time. Edmundson clocked a 22:54 workload. Heavy reps against top attackers will serve the young defenders well in the playoffs.
Goalie loans become complicated
An injury to Carter Hutton, St. Louis’s backup goalie, illustrates how organizational depth in the crease can lead to complications. The Bruins were compromised after losing Malcolm Subban on waivers to the Vegas Golden Knights before the start of the season. It left them without a capable AHL partner for Zane McIntyre. The Blues, on the other hand, were positioned well enough between the pipes to loan Jordan Binnington, their 2011 third-round pick, to the Bruins to deploy in Providence. But with Hutton unavailable to back up Jake Allen, the Blues called upon Binnington last Wednesday to serve as their short-term backup. In turn, the Bruins had to promote Dan Vladar from Atlanta, their ECHL affiliate, to Providence. The Bruins faced this scenario in 2015-16. Because they wanted Subban and McIntyre to get reps, they loaned Jeremy Smith, their third goalie, to Iowa, Minnesota’s AHL affiliate.
Haniyah Broadway (Roxbury), Bailey Chan (West Roxbury), Isaiah Gullage (Dorchester), Dallas Jackson (Roxbury), Robert Kubinec (East Boston), Gisselle Martinez (East Boston), William Phie (East Boston), and Josselin Pineda (East Boston) attended the Friendship Four Tournament in Belfast. The annual tournament featured Clarkson, RPI, Providence College, and Maine. The students participated in the first Boston to Belfast Youth Empowerment Program, playing hockey alongside Belfast counterparts and participating in cross-cultural leadership development . . . Ben Lovejoy has pledged to donate his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Lovejoy, a 2007 Dartmouth graduate, has Ivy League company. Ex-Harvard players Ted Drury, Craig Adams, and Noah Welch are among former NHLers who have pledged to donate their brains . . . According to a study in Psychology of Sport and Exercise, smiling occasionally during vigorous exercise may improve economy of movement. So let’s see those teeth during three-on-three overtime, players.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.