MEN'S HOCKEY: Living Like An Eagle
York Still Hasn’t Changed, Even With The Ultimate Record In Sight
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Putting the team before the individual.
It’s every coach’s dream. It’s also Jerry York’s reality.
On any given day, anybody involved in the Boston College men’s hockey program can expect York to bring a few things to Kelley Rink. There’s his decaf coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. There’s his famed notebook and a few sharpened No. 2 yellow pencils. Then, of course, there’s his constant smile that rarely ever goes away.
But York also brings vital intangibles. There’s his enthusiasm, his positive attitude, his genuineness and care for others, his gentle demeanor and an underlying determination for more—more trophies. York has been able to collect those trophies by carefully crafting a program with one overarching theme—no one player is bigger than the Eagle.
York’s mental consistency as a coach, which includes that mantra, is one of his biggest strengths. His younger brother Bill has seen the same Jerry York all of his life.
“Jerry is consistent day in and day out,” Bill York said. “They can lose a big game, they can be on a losing streak, and his attitude doesn’t change. He’s still very, very positive.”
On the verge of becoming the all-time winningest coach in college hockey, York can surpass Ron Mason’s record with a win on Friday night in Providence, which would be the 925th of his career. For now, however, the record is the last thing that York is thinking about.
“Some of these individual accolades now—the remarkable number of games that he’s won—with Jerry, that’s not really part of his culture,” Bill said. “It’s nice, but let’s get this distraction over with and get back to winning team trophies and get on with it. I think that’s his leadership because it’s how he acts. Some people go through the motions thinking they’re trying to get something. That’s not Jerry.”
But it was not always so clear that York would be this successful of a college hockey coach—or even a college hockey coach at all. York himself admitted that when he was playing at BC from 1963-1967, he never thought he’d be back as a head coach, never mind a head coach with over 900 wins.
“No,” York said laughing. “I was thinking of either going to law school or going to graduate school for a masters and going into high school teaching and coaching. I elected to go into high school teaching and coaching.”
Little did he know that his decision would get him to where he is today. He went back to BC to earn his master’s degree in education, while serving as a graduate assistant. From there, he went on to be an assistant coach at Clarkson when an opening became available. He took his newly wedded wife Bobbie with him, and moved up to Potsdam, NY to begin his career.
After two years as an assistant, York took over as head coach at Clarkson in 1972. Though it might not be as clear as recent games, he still remembers his first win.
“Oh wow,” York said remembering the game. “I was at Clarkson, it was a home game versus Queens University, a Canadian university from the Ottawa area. I remember it vaguely, but it was a relatively easy win for us.”
In 1979, York left Clarkson to take the same job at Bowling Green, where he won his first national championship in 1984.
Then, in 1994, he was presented with the opportunity of his dreams: the head-coaching job at BC. After the interview, his brother Bill, a lawyer, worked with York to figure out the terms of a potential contract. When York finally found out that he had secured his “lifelong dream” of coming back to the Heights as the head coach of the hockey team, he called his brother Bill right away.
“He called me up, just overjoyed, and said, ‘Hey Bill, let’s go out and celebrate,’” Bill York said. “And I’m thinking, ‘Oh terrific, we’re going to go out and have a couple of nice cold beers.’ He picks me up and I say, ‘Where are we going?’ He drives me over to Brigham’s and gets me an ice cream sundae.”
Nine-hundred and twenty-three wins after the one over Queens University at Clarkson, York has maintained the same philosophy that he started coaching with—stressing that the team is more important than the individual—and his players have been the biggest benefactors.
“Everyone preaches that, but it’s so much easier said than done,” said Tommy Cross, who won national championships at BC under York in 2010 and 2012, and is now playing for the Providence Bruins in the AHL. “The difference is that [York] gets guys to buy into that. And in some respects, it’s even harder for Coach to do that than other coaches, because you look at the roster this year, they’ve got first-round picks left and right, they’ve got potential All-Americans. You look at our team last year, we had a guy that was playing in the NHL at the end of the year and then a guy, Brian Dumoulin, that could have gone to the NHL this year, among others.
“I think when you get those high-profile kids, typically comes more ego and more individual accolades. Somehow, Coach does the opposite and he gets those guys to buy in. If your superstars are buying in, then everyone really has no choice but to buy in as well.”
Making players leave their egos at the door is something that starts at the top, and York said the leadership on the team helps to maintain that mindset.
“Our staff, we’re all about team, with the understanding that you never put yourself above the team,” York said. “If you do that, you’re certainly going to fight a lot of demons trying to win hockey games. I think leadership of the players, internally, is probably the most important thing. We can state all our goals, but the players have to fully understand that and embrace that philosophy.”