As Jerry York was building Boston College into a national title contender in the late 1990s, outside opportunity came calling.
Two of his former players had become NHL general managers, Dave Taylor in Los Angeles and George McPhee in Washington. Both felt his warm, firm leadership style might help them chase the Stanley Cup.
Why leave? York already was living in God’s country.
For him, that’s Watertown. He still lives 3 miles from work and a quarter-mile from his childhood home. His church (St. Patrick’s and Sacred Heart), golf course (Oakley Country Club), and favorite restaurant (Porcini’s) are close by. He met his wife, Bobbie, when they were students at BC. He was an Eagle in high school (class of ’63), an All-American player in college (’67), and their coach since 1994.
“I didn’t want that life,” York said of the NHL. “I never aspired to it.”
He continued to make that daily trek to The Heights, stopping at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Watertown Square for a coffee. He kept recruiting, kept believing. He stayed faithful.
The national championships came (in 2001, BC’s first title since 1949, 2008, 2010, and 2012). The wins piled up (1,067, more than any Division 1 coach). On Monday, the 74-year-old will be in Toronto to accept the highest honor in his beloved sport. He is a Hall of Famer, in the builder’s category, class of 2019.
“What took them so long?” said Garry Galley, star defenseman on York’s 1984 national title team at Bowling Green. “The guy should be in on number of wins alone. But the other stuff is what puts him over the top. He’s done so much for so many.”
York has won more national championships (five) than all but one coach (Michigan’s Vic Heyliger, who had six). He has coached dozens of NHL players, coaches, executives, and scouts at all levels. He revels in the successes of former players such as Brian Gionta, Johnny Gaudreau, and Cam Atkinson, such as Brian Boyle, Chris Kreider, and Brooks Orpik, such as Rob Blake (Bowling Green). York takes just as much joy in hearing about the accomplishments of doctors, lawyers, and teachers, fathers and grandfathers.
He connected with them when he was the youngest coach in college hockey — 26 — at Clarkson in 1972. He is now familiar with emojis, Imagine Dragons, and Post Malone. “The players never change,” York said. “Their haircuts, their playlists, their attire does, but they want to be disciplined and pushed hard and play for a winning team. No one’s going to leave here thinking, ‘If he’d only pushed me harder, I’d be a better player.’ That’s not going to happen here.”
Part of York’s message: team before individual, always. York is living that this weekend. Rather than join fellow inductees Guy Carbonneau, Vaclav Nedomansky, Jim Rutherford, Hayley Wickenheiser, and Sergei Zubov for the Hall’s ring-and-jacket ceremonies and pre-induction festivities, York traveled for BC’s Friday-Saturday games at Vermont. He planned to bus back, and fly to Toronto on Sunday. It will be his first time seeing the exhibits on Yonge Street.
Others may have expected this, but he didn’t. On June 25, York was in his office with assistant Brendan Buckley. They were looking at the Eagles’ recruiting boards.
“I thought it was a spam call,” York said. “Two or three times it rang. Buck said, ‘Just answer the thing, would you?’ ”
It was John Davidson, who had been named president of the Rangers the month before. York assumed he was calling about a trade, wanting his opinion of a player. The reason eluded him for several minutes even though Davidson, the Hall’s selection committee chair, told him Hall chairman Lanny McDonald was also on the line.
York is the fifth college coach to go in, a group that includes Herb Brooks (Minnesota), Bob Johnson (Wisconsin), Lou Lamoriello (Providence) — three men York considers mentors — and John Mariucci (Minnesota). York is the only one who never coached in the NHL.
York, the eighth of 10 children, will have a sizable contingent of family with him for the ceremony, along with 18 people from BC.
“The thing I really appreciate about him, and maybe at the time you take it for granted,” Atkinson said, “is as soon as you step on campus, he teaches you that it’s about treating people with respect, dignity, and honor. It’s about going into the community and giving back. It’s about education before hockey. I respect that so much about him.”
When York’s contract runs out in 2022, he will be 76. When recruits ask how long he will stay, he turns it back on them: How long do you plan to stay?
“You come to BC to be a good person, a good player, and to win national championships,” Atkinson said. “If that doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will.”
FILLING THE VOID
Luongo still busy post-retirement
Soon after Don Cherry was ousted from Hockey Night in Canada this past week, Twitter was abuzz with names to replace him.
One of the obvious choices: the beloved prince of hockey Twitter himself.
If Sportsnet tries to land Roberto Luongo (@Strombone1), it won’t be the first network to reach out. The recent retiree has turned down multiple offers to talk hockey on TV.
“Too much stress,” said Luongo, grinning.
So “Lu’s Lair” won’t be a thing, but Luongo is plenty busy these days. Rather than yakking for a few minutes every week, Luongo has used his ears.
In the first few months of his life as an ex-NHLer, after a combination of troublesome hips and age (40) caused him to hang ’em up, Luongo has hung around the Panthers, soaking up everything he can.
Last Wednesday, the team, which already employs senior vice president Shawn Thornton, officially made Luongo a special adviser to general manager Dale Tallon.
Being around has helped Luongo fill the post-retirement void felt by most every player.
“I think it’s really kept me happy,” he said. “It’s something I was scared of missing. At the rink every day when the team’s home, I see the guys and chat with them for a few minutes, and then do my thing. The first couple months after I decided, it was tough, just going day by day not knowing what the future would hold.”
This past week, Luongo checked in with the Panthers’ AHL affiliate in Springfield, where a younger brother, Leo, is the goalie coach. Another younger brother, Fabio, owns a restaurant (La Bella Italiana) in Montreal’s Sainte-Leonard area, and his father-in-law owns Pizza Time in Coral Springs, Fla., where Luongo met his wife, Gina. Management, rather than coaching or being a restaurateur, is what intrigues the likely future Hall of Famer.
“I like to be involved in the day-to-day transactions and all those kind of things, drafts and trades and all that,” Luongo said. “That’s the stuff I find really interesting and exciting. I’m learning as much as I can right now.”
Luongo, eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2022, was at TD Garden last Tuesday for the Bruins-Panthers game, after he took a trip to The Heights. That’s where the Panthers’ top goalie prospect, last June’s 13th overall pick Spencer Knight, stops pucks at BC. Luongo is hobnobbing with scouts to learn about draft-eligible prospects. He’s also diving into the thorny pages of the NHL’s financial regulations.
“Trying to go through the CBA,” he said, “is . . . taking me a while.”
Contained in those byzantine rules: an explanation of why two teams still carry his cap hit. When Luongo retired on June 26, he had more than $3.6 million in salary remaining on the 12-year, $64 million contract he signed in 2009 (the one he memorably and self-deprecatingly said “sucks”). Because of his early retirement, the Canucks and Panthers took a cap recapture penalty. Vancouver carries slightly more than $3.03 million, Florida some $1.01 million. His new role with the Panthers will pay him a hefty chunk of what he had left on the table as a player.
No dollar figure could coerce Luongo to don the pads again. He didn’t know when he might suit up for the Panthers alumni. He said he even turned down the Hall, when it asked him to play in its annual Legends game this year in Toronto.
“I’m scared to get hurt right now,” he said. “But we’ll see.”
He’s happy to be a Panther, off ice, in office.
LA appears stuck with Kovalchuk
The Bruins were among the suitors for Ilya Kovalchuk two summers ago, when the aging sniper wanted back in the NHL after six years in Russia. Boston and San Jose balked at a three-year deal. Los Angeles did not.
Now the Kings appear stuck with a six-time 40-goal scorer who looks all but cooked. Opening the season with seven points in eight games before tailing off (3-6—9 in 17 games), Kovalchuk was asked to sit out on Tuesday. Not yet halfway through a three-year, $18.75 million deal, Marc Savard’s onetime Atlanta triggerman has delivered 43 points in his 81-game return tour, at a cap hit of $6.25 million.
If there’s a market for Kovalchuk, 36, it will develop after he collects half of a $5.3 million bonus on Dec. 15. His salary is a prorated $700,000, though he would have to waive his no-movement clause to go anywhere. The league’s premier left-circle cannonblaster before Alex Ovechkin emerged, Kovalchuk has one power-play goal this season in 48:37 of man-up time, but it was a signature blast from his favorite spot.
Would the Bruins be interested? Doesn’t seem like it, as much as they need right wings. They entered Friday’s game in Toronto without Karson Kuhlman, Zach Senyshyn, Brett Ritchie, and David Backes (and left wing Jake DeBrusk). Two centers, Charlie Coyle and call-up Trent Frederic, were filling in on the flanks.
Any team trading for Kovalchuk would need to accommodate his cap hit. Backes’s foggy health status makes a swap of those contracts, perhaps with a prospect going west, an unlikely proposition. The Blue Jackets and Islanders (helmed by Lou Lamoriello, Kovalchuk’s GM in New Jersey) have the space for him, and a need for goals. The Blues have Vladimir Tarasenko on injured reserve until the spring, but it would be a tricky fit after he returns from shoulder surgery.
If Bruins GM Don Sweeney is clearing room for that kind of deal, and looking at right-shot LA wings, Tyler Toffoli, who also grabbed a press box seat recently (4-5—9 in 18 games), could be a much better fit. He is an unrestricted free agents at season’s end.
Pare putting up some numbers
The leading scorer in the Quebec Major Junior League as of Wednesday was a physical 6-foot-3-inch center with excellent hands.
The Bruins could use a prospect with those attributes, and Cedric Pare wouldn’t mind being a Bruin. In fact, he already was.
“If they are still talking to me, I’ll be happy,” said Pare, who had a 23-23—46 line in 20 games for Rimouski Oceanic. “They drafted me, and gave me my first chance. I would be happy to go with them again.”
The interest may not be mutual. A sixth-round pick (173rd overall) in 2017, Pare attended two development camps with Boston, but the Bruins did not sign him and lost his rights on June 1. Czech defenseman Daniel Bukac, a seventh-rounder from that class, was also cut that day. Pare camped with Winnipeg in September, playing in two preseason games, but did not earn a deal.
Pare’s skating needs work, as he conceded, and he is more physically developed than some of his peers, as a 20-year-old overager in “The Q.” He’s also battling the perception that his linemates — top 2020 draft prospect Alexis Lafreniere and speedy Calgary draft pick Dimitri Zavgorodny, a seventh-rounder (198th overall) in 2018 — are helping boost his numbers.
“They have their opinion,” Pare said. “If they see us play, they will see we complete each other. Lafreniere is really smart, I’ve got size, and Dimitri has speed. I don’t think it’s only one player that makes us really good. We’re all really good.”
“I bring the puck to the net, I’ve got a good shot, and I’ve got confidence. I’ve got great linemates and I give a lot of credit to them.”
Pare, who bears a resemblance to Patrice Bergeron, learned a few tricks from him in the faceoff circle.
Pare doesn’t mind getting a few extra looks from the NHL personnel ogling Lafreniere, who seems to be up against OHL Sudbury center Quinton Byfield for No. 1 overall honors. “He’s so good everywhere,” Pare said of his left winger. “When he has the puck I know it’s going to come to me. He’s got speed. He’s physical. He’s really smart . . . I’m not a scout, but I think he’s got a good chance.”
Lafreniere’s agent, Emilie Castonguay of Momentum Sports, told USA Today he is a “mix of [Evgeni] Malkin, [Leon] Draisaitl, maybe John Tavares.”
The Bruins’ saplings from that 2017 class have yet to bear NHL fruit, but things are promising. First-rounder Urho Vaakanainen (18th overall) played in his third NHL game on Tuesday. Jack Studnicka (53rd) continues to sprout in Providence. Jeremy Swayman (111th) has a .942 save percentage and 2.09 goals-against average in 10 games for the University of Maine. Defenseman Victor Berglund (195th) returned to Sweden after playing four games for Providence last season.
The Senators, languishing near the East’s basement, have shown more fight than some expected. “I think they knew there were going to be some awful nights where things fall apart,” said former Bruin Garry Galley, a Hockey Night in Canada analyst. “But they battle most nights and don’t get discouraged.” Boston University product Brady Tkachuk, says Galley, looks like future captain material. The Senators’ toughest decision comes at the trade deadline: what to do with pending UFA Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who is scorching (11-8—19 in 18 games). Would he be part of the rebuild, or will the 27-year-old want to up his $3.4 million salary? . . . The Islanders putting Andrew Ladd on waivers this past week once again raised the specter of the dreadful 2016 free agent class. The 12 unrestricted free agent skaters who signed deals of four years or more that July 1 — Milan Lucic, Kyle Okposo, Mikkel Boedker, Matt Martin, Loui Eriksson, Backes, Frans Nielsen, Darren Helm, Dale Weise, David Schlemko, Troy Brouwer, and Ladd — had through Wednesday combined for 18 points this season. The latter four: 0 games played . . . The Penguins reportedly won’t shop for a center with Sidney Crosby out six weeks after hernia surgery. Crosby, who was leading the Penguins in scoring (5-12—17 in 17 games), is on track to return around Christmastime. The Penguins’ points percentage without Crosby, from his debut in 2005 up to this latest ailment: .625 (97-54-21) . . . Maybe the Sharks aren’t dead in the water after all. They won four in a row after their 4-10-1 start, beating Pacific Division leader Edmonton on Tuesday. Joe Thornton, well into the “load management” phase of his career — he calls his time off “spa days” — skated a season-high 16:55 and picked up an assist in that game . . . Sportsnet’s Elliote Friedman reported that teams are interested in Ryan Donato, who has three points in 16 games. Agent Matt Keator believes Donato will remain in Minnesota, unless some team has a blockbuster in mind . . . Another Keator client and Harvard product, Adam Fox of the Rangers, has been among the brightest rookie defensemen. In Tuesday’s OT win over Pittsburgh, he scored a slick goal in the slot and set up Kaapo Kakko for a winner with a killer backdoor pass. “Cool and confident in all situations,” Keator said. “He is ordering a martini when the plane goes down.” The name’s Fox. Adam Fox.