At 64, With a Fourth Title Under His Belt, Jerry York Shows No Signs of Slowing Down
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
It was 17 years for Jerry York between his first national championship, with Bowling Green in 1984, and his second, with Boston College in 2001. It was another seven years for his third one.
Two years later, York won No. 4.
It's getting easier and easier, apparently.
"I've learned an awful lot through my career," York said. "[Like] when you're recruiting a player, you better make sure he's going to be a good team guy. ... So I think I've probably gotten a little smarter on the recruiting side of the game."
The fourth title gives York the most among any active coach, once again surpassing Boston University's Jack Parker, who won his third last year. And the win was No. 850, extending his lead over Parker for second most all-time, and putting him now just 74 wins behind the all-time leader, Ron Mason.
And York has no plans to stop.
"I think the next one is always the best one," York said in the afterglow of the latest championship.
York has built a dynasty in Chestnut Hill, that much is certain at this point. The Eagles had gone downhill after Len Ceglarksi retired after the 1991-92 season. Steve Cedorchuk proceeded to run the program afoul, and York picked up the mess in 1994 — after a head-shaking situation that included former Bruins star Mike Milbury first taking the job, then resigning before coaching a game.
Within four years, BC was in the Frozen Four — four straight in fact, before capping it with the 2001 national championship.
Now, the Eagles have played in five of the last seven Frozen Fours, four of last five national championship games, and won two of the last three titles.
"Terrific pride," York said of this run. "It goes in cycles ... but we've been able to stay with it very consistent over 70-80 years of producing top flight college teams. That's what I like the most about it. Consistent."
The recruiting of those good "team guys," is easier when you have a better pick of the litter than other schools can get, but they still have to fit into York's mold.
"There's a certain BC type of player that I like to have. It's hard to describe it but, he's gotta be — this is where he wants to go to school, he wants to compete at a very, very high level, and he wants to go to school," York said. "Because it's not an easy place to play Boston. There's pressure on the kids that go to BC or BU, and they have to handle that type of pressure. Michigan is the same way — you go there, you have to be ready to play."
So many players say they owe their BC careers to Jerry York, not just for bringing them there, but for "raising" them from hockey children to hockey men.
Senior Ben Smith is just one player who epitomizes that. As a freshman, he was moved to the top line when All-American Brian Boyle was moved back to defense. That season ended in disappointment in the 2007 title game against Michigan State.
"It's been a long time since then," said Smith, who was named the Frozen Four's Most Outstanding Player. "That showed how much respect and trust he had in me. That helped me a lot to progress, not just as a hockey player but as a person. I owe a lot of that to him."
York manages to do all of this with as pleasant, charming, and professorial a demeanor you can have in coaching. And it's not just a show to the media. It's genuine.
Even when things go wrong, York barely raises his voice. If he does, it's very rare. He has an uncanny knack for twisting negatives into positives in such a way that the message still gets through, and it motivates the players forward.
"When we were 2-5 to start the New Year — he didn't really care that we lost — well, he did care, he never likes to lose, trust me — but the mistakes we make, he knows that if we learn from that and don't do it again down the stretch, it's a positive thing," Smith said. "And he articulates that very well. And you can see, sure enough, we've learned and come a long way since then."
"When he does [yell], you listen, because he never does."
York was saying all of the right things again, right down to his last locker room chat of the season.
"Coach has been so good at keeping things positive, keeping things in perspective," Smith said. "We were up 1-0 and we just made a couple of fixes to say, 'Hey, pay attention to this,' small details."
Said fellow senior Matt Price, "The positive energy you get from Coach is unbelievable. He always seems to know the right thing to say, how much, how little. I guess all those 850 wins pays off after a while and he's got a pretty good feel of the team and what we need."
How York does this is not exactly clear. There's no formula to work from. But a signature of his time at Boston College is taking talented players and maximizing their abilities.
"I think if you're going to play young players, you're going to have some mistakes made," York said. "But we want to be creative. You learn from your mistakes. Sometimes people say I wish I didn't do that. I think you're better off having mistakes then correcting [them] and moving forward."
But most of all, it's about York being true to himself.
"I was one of 10 children, so I learned very quickly what being a teammate was going to be," York said. "But I think you get out of bed every morning and make a decision, are you going to be — which way are you going to look at the day — I always thought positive and attack the day and make the most of it. Some guys get out of bed and say, 'I'll be grumpy today,' but that's not a way to live, I don't think.
"A lot of the top top coaches in all sports are unique in their own ways to do it. But I've seen a lot of positives coaches be able to be successful. I can't go another way."
Clearly, there is no need.