When Tommy Cross arrived on the Heights for his official visit with Boston College men’s hockey while he was in high school, he showed up with expectations of being overwhelmed with state-of-the-art facilities and high-profile alumni right off the bat.
“When I’d go to visit other schools … the first person they’d introduce you to, sometimes it was a big former player that was in the NHL, or they’d introduce you to the strength coach, or they’d show you the new hot tub, cold tub,” Cross said.
But for Jerry York, none of that mattered.
“On our visit to BC, the first stop after we met Coach York, he took us to meet Father Tony Penna,” Cross said. “It was so important for him to take us there immediately.”
For York, BC ’67, more than locker rooms or fancy equipment, relationships are what matter most.
“I don’t think it’s buildings. I don’t think it’s campuses. I don’t think it’s where you are,” York said in his 2019 speech following his acceptance to the Hockey Hall of Fame. “It’s the people that you are involved with that make a place special.”
As the winningest coach in NCAA hockey history, York made an impact at BC from the time he arrived as a player in 1963 to his retirement in April after 28 years. While his resume boasts nearly every accolade and accomplishment a hockey coach could gather, the memories and stories of his players and colleagues prove that York’s legacy at BC is not just about a filled trophy case, but rather, his impact off the ice.
York returned to the Heights as a head coach in 1994 after a seven-year stint as the head coach at Clarkson from 1972–79 and 15 years at Bowling Green from 1979–94. He found success at Bowling Green, winning a national championship in 1984, but his return to BC in 1994 was a homecoming and a chance to coach at his alma mater—something he had always dreamed of.
“In ’94, when Father Monan brought me up to his residence on College Road and sat me down … he says, ‘Jerry, I’d like you to become the next head coach at Boston College,’” York said in his retirement press conference on April 20. “That was probably the most memorable moment—that night. It was something I always aspired to.”
York’s return to BC came amid a tumultuous time for BC men’s hockey. Coaches had been in and out of the program, and the Eagles were on the heels of two losing seasons. BC went 7–12–5 in Hockey East under former head coach Steve Cedorchuk in the 1993–94 season before Mike Milbury replaced Cedorchuk in March 1994. Milbury only lasted three months, abruptly departing in June, and from there, York took over.
“He came my junior year,” said David Hymovitz, BC ’96, who played during York’s first two seasons as head coach. “The program was trying to figure everything out. … It’s one of the most storied college hockey programs, and … two coaches left in a matter of a couple months. And then comes Jerry in July, and from day one, you could tell [there] was … gonna be stability.”
Upon York’s arrival, there was an immediate shift, Hymovitz said. York was determined to bring success back to his alma mater and quickly shifted the locker room culture to become more positive.
“He was coming back home to coach there, and you can tell he wanted to obviously be there a long time—he wanted to turn the program around,” Hymovitz said. “The culture that he brought from day one … I think we still see it today.”
It didn’t take long for York to find success. In his first year at the helm, BC won the Beanpot, and in his fourth year in 1998, the Eagles won the Hockey East regular season title and finished as the runner-up in the NCAA Tournament. They returned to the Frozen Four the next year. In 2001, in York’s seventh year as BC’s head coach, the Eagles won the NCAA Championship.
“When he came, I don’t want to say we were in shambles, but the program was on a downswing,” Hymovitz said. “His fourth year there, they lost in the National Championship in overtime. So it was just such a quick turnaround. He came and he said ‘Hey, what’s going on with this program? What are the issues?’ And fixed it just like that.”
York’s achievements didn’t stop there.
“[His success] wasn’t just a one-hit wonder,” Hymovitz said. “It stayed there for another 24 years.”
York went on to win three more national championships at BC, all within five years—2008, 2010, and 2012.
Cross, BC ’12, who captained the 2012 National Championship team, said that winning the trophy under York made it all the more special.
“Every season, I remember Coach York would essentially start over back to the basics, and you begin this process of building all year long,” Cross said. “He really had an approach that made it feel like we were always climbing—we’re always building toward something, and obviously that something was a National Championship in April.”
While Cross said that York prioritized the process, playing in national championship games was always in the back of the coach’s mind.
“There’s some great pictures of Coach York holding up the trophy,” Cross said. “It shows how happy we all were in the moment, but it also shows Coach York and how happy he was. He was process driven for sure, but we knew that winning trophies was something that was kind of the ultimate goal each season.”
Matt Price, BC ’10, who captained BC’s 2010 NCAA Championship–winning team, said that holding up the trophy to cap off his senior year was something out of a storybook—something he struggles to put into words.
“You can’t draw it up any more perfect—to win your last game as a senior,” Price said. “It [was] truly just a team environment, and just to see the joy on [York’s] face and how much he loves coming to the rink everyday and loves the team and loves hockey. To be able to be a part of giving him that ultimate goal [was] pretty special.”
For both Cross and Price, bringing home a trophy to York was something that meant more than just stitching a new line onto the banners that hang over Kelley Rink. York, for his players, is someone who transcended the expectations of what a hockey coach is. Each trophy that came back to Conte Forum was a testament to the love and dedication he brought to BC, day in and day out.
A staple of the University, York embodies what it means to be a member of the BC community, according to many of his former players and colleagues. Following his retirement, the praise for his lasting impact on BC poured in in an overwhelming amount.
Hymovitz said he saw York’s character in the way he would reach out to see how his players were performing in school and check on their growth as individuals.
“As great of a coach that he was, that was all secondary,” Hymovitz said. “He wanted to make sure you were a great man—a great person. He’s checking on you in the dorms. He’s checking to make sure you’re going to classes. He cares about you in class. It wasn’t all about hockey. He truly made people better.”
Cross sees York’s character in how he reached out during Cross’ time playing professional hockey, sending quick notes about a good win or great play.
“He still stays in touch with all of us via text,” Cross said. “The fact that … I’m in my 10th pro season, and he’ll send a text and say, ‘Hey, nice game last night.’ So the fact that he checked on the box score and cares enough to follow his former players.”
Price saw York’s impact even before he arrived on the Heights. As was the case with Cross, York was an integral factor in Price’s college decision process.
“Part of the reason why I chose Boston College was just feeling comfortable that York truly cared about me as a person and my development,” Price said.
Katie Crowley, head coach of BC women’s hockey and York’s colleague for the past 17 years, said York’s character was evident from the moment she took the reins of BC’s women’s program in 2007.
“Just being at BC for so long, I feel like our relationship developed,” she said. “He just became more of a mentor and a friend as I got to know him more. It was really nice to have a friend like that. We coach in the same sport, and to have such a great relationship with Coach York was really helpful to me … especially when I first became a head coach.”
In 1999, The Heights named York its “Person of the Year.” The article described York as someone who “epitomizes what it is to bleed maroon and gold.”
“In winning with a grace befitting this institution, he sets an excellent example of what the spirit of BC is all about,” the article reads. “Jerry York serves as living proof that nice guys can finish first.”
In capturing York’s legacy, there is almost too much material to work with. But as the lights fade and BC looks to find a new leader for the men’s hockey program, there’s a seemingly universal understanding: There just isn’t anyone quite like him.
“He truly led the way for all of us coaches to try to be like he is,” Crowley said. “[He’s] such a great role model and spokesperson for Boston College.”
Price thinks about the way in which York exemplifies BC’s Jesuit ideals and how, first and foremost, he cares about the people around him.
“He talks about being a man and woman for others—I think he lives it,” Price said. “He takes it seriously. Everyone who came into our locker room or who touched our program, I think he wanted to be treated with respect.”
After York earned his 1,000th career win in 2016, BC Athletics released a recording of his postgame speech. In it, York never once mentioned the achievement. Instead, he congratulated his players, highlighted some of the game’s best plays, and spoke about the hard work of his coaching staff. He ended the speech with a simple sentiment, but one that exemplifies the care he has for his players.
“Congratulations, guys,” he said. “It’s an honor to coach you.”
Since playing on York’s inaugural BC team in 1994, Hymovitz has enjoyed seeing the ways in which York has grown throughout his career. He said he admires that York’s dedication to BC as an institution is as strong today as it was when he arrived on the Heights.
“He is Boston College,” Hymovitz said. “Everything that Boston College stands for is Jerry York.”