Jack Parker, Ben Smith took different paths to the Hall
When Jack Parker got the call that he had been selected for the US Hockey Hall of Fame, he wanted to know who else was going to be inducted.
But the former Boston University coach who won 897 games over 40 years was told he would have to wait, as the rest of the class of 2017 would be announced a few days later. In fact, Parker was told, he could tell his wife but not anyone else.
But when the phone conversation ended, Parker knew he had to bend the rules and make one call, to his longtime friend and former assistant, Ben Smith.
“I called Ben and I said, ‘I’m getting inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame. I wasn’t supposed to tell anybody but I had to tell you, because I know this never would have happened if it wasn’t for you,’ ” said Parker.
“He used to keep me on the good side with US Hockey. I used to get into arguments with them, and he always kept me on the right side. He always kept me sane.
“And he literally said, ‘Well, right back at ya. I’m getting inducted too, and I’m not supposed to tell anybody but I’ll tell you, because I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you and being your assistant for nine years.’ ”
The relationship between Parker and Smith dates back to when they played against each other in high school, and again in college when Parker was at BU and Smith at Harvard. So it seemed fitting that the two were inducted together, along with Scott Young, official Kevin Collins, and coach Ron Wilson, earlier this month.
Smith and Parker took different paths to the Hall. While Parker spent his entire career with the Terriers, Smith bounced around, including a stretch in the ’80s when he was Parker’s assistant at BU. Among the players to take the ice at Walter Brown Arena was Young, who skated two years for the Terriers before heading to the NHL.
Smith found himself on the opposing bench when he coached Northeastern from 1991-96. The annual Beanpot luncheon, in which the captains and coaches of the four participating schools address the media, felt more like a precursor to the Comedy Central roasts, with Smith and Parker trading good-natured barbs.
Smith left NU to become coach of the US women’s national team, coaching the first three women’s Olympic teams. The US took the gold in 1998, a silver in 2002, and a bronze in 2006. Although no longer coaching, Smith is still involved with USA Hockey, serving in a player evaluation role. More than 21 years removed from coaching in the college game, Smith was asked how much has changed
“I think what you see is that the game really is a business through a lot of different levels, right down to 14- and 15-year-old boys,” said Smith. “I think the challenges that college coaches have are much different than when I was coaching. I think they’ve got a real hard job. I’ll leave it at that. I’m glad I’m not doing it.”
It’s been less than five years since Parker coached his last game at BU in 2013.
“We had kids leave early, but we had the Olympic team that was a buffer for us,” said Parker. “In those days, kids wouldn’t leave early so they could play in the Olympics.”
The NHL did not start participating in the Olympics until 1998, so if one of Parker’s star players wanted to represent his country in the Games, he would postpone turning pro to retain eligibility.
“So we did have people leaving early, but you could plan on people leaving early,” added Parker. “Nowadays, kids are leaving all the time. What’s worse is, when you lose that 19-year-old sophomore, you have bring in another 18-year-old freshman. You’re not going to pass on Jack Eichel, but he’s only 18 though.
“I think the biggest change is college hockey has gotten much, much older. There’s so many 24- and 25-year-old guys playing college hockey. That’s a tough gap for an 18-year-old, to be playing against a 23-, 24-, or 25-year-old.”
More on the Hall
There was a distinct Hockey East feel to the Hall of Fame ceremonies. Wilson is the winningest American coach in NHL history with 648 wins, and led Team USA to the inaugural 1996 World Cup title. Wilson played collegiately for Providence in what was then the ECAC.
“Ron Wilson might have been one of the greatest college players I ever coached against,” said Parker. “We’re talking about him up here because he was a fabulous coach, but he was an unbelievably great college hockey player.”
Young played 17 seasons in the NHL, scoring 342 goals and recording 415 assists in 1,181 games after leaving BU after his sophomore season. He won two Stanley Cups, one with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and one with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996.
“Scotty Young might be one of the best hockey players to play at BU even though he only played there for two years,” said Parker.
“I have one regret from the two years that he was there. I should have played him every other shift. He could have played every other shift, he was such a great skater. He could play any position as well.”
Loss of a legend
Tributes poured in for former Boston College coach Len Ceglarski, who died Dec. 16 at 91. At the time of his retirement in 1992, he had 673 wins, which was a college hockey record. That has since been eclipsed, with current BC coach Jerry York now leading at 1,042 wins.