York Pins Success on Decisions to Stay
by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter
BOSTON Following Boston University’s national championship in 2009, Boston College coach Jerry York placed a phone call to his longtime friend and eternal rival Jack Parker.
Aside from congratulating the Terriers’ boss on an amazing season, York offered Parker a single piece of advice. One he learned that very season, when his club failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament 12 months after winning a national title.
York told Parker the season following a national title is the hardest season for any club. Aside from the external expectations coming from fans and others in the game, preventing players from developing too high an opinion of themselves often proves quite the challenge.
Boston College won its 10th Hockey East Championship Saturday night, checking off another goal from its preseason list that includes a second consecutive national championship. Based on York’s advice to Parker, the reasonable conclusion for BC’s continued success is simply a fantastic coaching job. Not a bad idea, either – York collected the Hockey East Coach of the Year award Thursday night at the league’s annual banquet.
After the game, York, forced to reflect on his club’s season and its quest for another trophy, pointed to the play of goaltender John Muse and a few other players. Lastly, though, the coach, known for his lightheartedness as well as his unwavering candor, provided a bit of insight into the problems coaches face in modern college hockey.
“We did not lose a lot of players to the NHL, which was certainly a key factor in [our success this season],” York said. “We lost an excellent senior class, but we had a number of players decide to return to BC to pursue another national championship. That i as key a factor as you’re going to get.”
The continued success of his top line – wingers Cam Atkinson and Joe Whitney and center Brian Gibbons – along with the development of Chris Kreider, Jimmy Hayes and other standout BC players seem like the key component driving BC’s success. However, any number of BC players, including Atkinson, Kreider and Hayes, could have walked after a national championship season, which also served as breakout years for the trio. All three of them stayed and have maintained their steady development pace, while guiding the Eagles to a certain No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Looking back to 2008, when the Eagles won the national championship, Hobey Baker finalist Nathan Gerbe forwent his final year of eligibility to sign with the Buffalo Sabres. There was no mass exodus of BC underclassmen, but the loss of Gerbe hung over the Eagles all season. The normally dynamic club, which also lost a few seniors and experienced some injury problems, advanced to the Hockey East semifinals, losing to BU.
When last season ended, the Eagles hadn’t finished celebrating when the rumors started. Kreider, whose draft rights are own by the New York Rangers, and Atkinson, property of the Columbus Blue Jackets, seemed destined for pro contracts. Even defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who capped a remarkable rookie campaign with the title, dealt with speculation of his departure for the Carolina Hurricanes organization.
Everyone stayed. And now, they rank among the favorites to return to the Frozen Four for another whack at the game’s ultimate prize.
Throughout Hockey East, clubs dealt with this very issue last spring. Even at the bottom of the league, Massachusetts saw three players with remaining eligibility move on, while ninth-place Northeastern learned freshman defenseman Jake Newton signed with the Anaheim Ducks days after its season ended.
Examining the rosters of either UMass or Northeastern shows both clubs would have enjoyed far better 2010-11 seasons had those players returned.
Ask Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy, who led his club to its first Hockey East final in program history Saturday night, where the Warriors would be had Stephane Da Costa left after a remarkable freshman season.
For the most compelling evidence of early departures’ negative impact, though, look no further than the recipient of York’s phone call that night in April 2009. Parker lost leading scorer Colin Wilson and defenseman Brian Strait to the NHL, aside from his seniors. After raising the banner from the 2009 championship, the Terriers suffered through a season of inflated egos and expectations before losing to Maine, 5-2, in the Hockey East Seminfinals.
Jerry York’s players were forced to make the same decision last April and chose to remain in Chestnut Hill for a chance at a second consecutive set of trophies. They won the Beanpot on Feb. 14 and locked up Hockey East Saturday night. The chance to win the third comes next weekend.
Looks like York’s players made a pretty smart decision.