Hockey Hall of Fame 2019: Despite impressive resume, Boston College's Jerry York surprised to get the call

Sporting News

Longtime Boston College men's hockey coach Jerry York is the winningest coach in college hockey history, and on Nov. 18 he will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame .

York is the fifth NCAA coach to be given the honor of entering the hallowed halls — he joins Lou Lamoriello (2009), Herb Brooks (2006), Bob Johnson (1992) and John Mariucci (1985); however, the near five-decade coaching veteran is the only member of that list to never further his career at the professional level.

A star center for the Eagles in the mid-1960s, York was the youngest coach in college hockey when he started at Clarkson University at just 26 in 1972. Seven years into his career, he took the head coaching job at Bowling Green where he spent fifteen seasons and won the 1984 national championship. York returned to his alma mater in 1994 and has remained a fixture in Chesnut Hill ever since. The Eagles have won four NCAA titles, appeared in 12 Frozen Fours and captured nine Hockey East tournament championships under his guidance.

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2019 HHOF class: Carbonneau | Nedomansky | Wickenheiser | Zubov | Rutherford | Brown | Hughson

Sporting News recently caught up with York for a conversation on his Hall of Fame induction, his legendary career in college hockey and who he thinks deserves the honor of being inducted next.

(Editor's note: The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)

Sporting News: What does it mean to you to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame?

Jerry York: You know, I’ve had time to think about it since [the news] came last June. But as it’s gone on, I’ve just become so appreciative of the Hall of Fame committee reaching out to me. To join this exclusive club, when I sat reading more about it, it’s a humbling experience. I’m just humbled and honored, kind of mixed emotions — especially as I read more about the Hockey Hall of Fame and some of the builders, the players, the referees… the historical nature of the whole Hockey Hall of Fame is pretty mind-boggling when I say hey, my name is going to be written in a book there . . . I’m kind of overwhelmed.

SN: Did you ever think ahead and wonder if you would be inducted into the Hall one day?

JY: I never thought of it. It’s very rare that someone enters the Hockey Hall of Fame [from the college coaching ranks]. It’s more a different avenue, we never talk about college coaches. Lou Lamoriello, Bob Johnson, Herb Brooks — they all kind of went on to the pros and then they’re a whole different animal, a whole different nomination because they have a pro background. None of us who stayed in college, to my knowledge, ever think about this.

So when the call came and then there was a conference call with the other inductees, for the most part they all were wondering if the phone would ring. To me, it was just another day in June. I wasn’t thinking that I might get a call from the Hockey Hall of Fame. None of us ever talk about it, at least never in my circles of college people. To me, it was a complete surprise.

SN: How, specifically, has college hockey changed over your career?

JY: The recognition and the value of college hockey is so different. Part of it is that if you look at it, the general managers [in the NHL], an awful lot of them have a background in college, with Don Sweeney or Brian MacLellan or David Poile or Rob Blake. A lot of [former] college players [are now] scouts at a high level. I think all the front offices of the NHL teams now have a college influence and I think that’s helped our college players pursue the dream [of playing or working in the NHL]. The caliber of the teams, the players are much better. I thought there might have been some players in the '70s or ‘60s — there were six teams then, and it was mostly Canadian major junior players and a sprinkling of Europeans — but now it’s just opened up so many doors for players at any level — college hockey or Europe — to pursue that dream.

Certainly, the impact of college players now is very significant. In scouting, they say ‘hey, let’s watch North Dakota play Minnesota. Let’s watch BC play BU. There are prospects there that could help us.’ That mindset is completely different. I remember we had to beg the Kings to give Dave Taylor a tryout way back in the ‘70s and he became part of the Triple Crown line, played 1,000 games. Back then, it was like ‘oh he’s a college kid, I don’t know if he could play minor pro, if not NHL level.’ It’s different now.

SN: What was it like returning to Boston College in 1994 to coach your alma mater after starting your coaching career with Clarkson and Bowling Green?

JY: Well you know, I love coaching. I really enjoyed my time at — first of all, Clarkson because I kind of cut my teeth there, so to speak, learning how [to] coach and recruiting. I was a young guy, I was 26 and the head coach at Clarkson. I really grew a lot with that process. Bowling Green it was the same, I was just maturing as a coach. I had a chance for a national title at Bowling Green and I regret the fact that we couldn’t win one at Clarkson. I was a different coach — all of us are, when you coach a decade you learn all kinds of issues come up and you learn from them. Coaching BC, it’s very similar: college-aged players, recruiting, coaching. But to be back in my backyard, a lot of my family lived here and this is my alma mater. It’s a special feeling.

SN: Are there lessons you learn about coaching five years, 10 years, 15 years into the job and even today?

JY: Absolutely. I learned yesterday [at] practice. It’s an evolving sport — technology’s changing, systems are changing how to play. If you’re not learning every day you’re falling behind, I would think. I’ve never thought ‘hey, I’ve got the book on coaching.’ The book changes every day. You’ve got to get better every day, just like a player. [As a player] you want to improve your skills, all the basics — skating, passing, teamwork. Coaching is the exact same — running practices, preparing for a game.

SN: Obviously the way the game is played and coached has changed over the years. How has your personal coaching style changed over the years and what makes you decide to adapt?

JY: I think you’ve got to stay with the fundamentals. Back in the ‘70s, skating, stick skills, competitiveness, teamwork — that’s never going to change. That’s going to be the basis of coaching in the ‘70s, coaching in the ‘90s, coaching today. It’s like football: blocking and tackling are still extremely important. So we work on fundamentals and we just [iron out] wrinkles.

We watch Bruce Cassidy here with the Bruins on TV and see different plays they have, power plays and penalty killing and it’s always evolving. I think the players are basically similar — everybody talks about, ‘oh they have different music [today].’ I have to relate to the music change. And social media has changed [things], but hockey is hockey. It’s a simple game. You’ve got to play at a high level and have great fundamentals. You’ve got to be a good teammate because it’s not an individual sport at all. Those are the things we hang our hat on — ‘let’s get better with our skills here, let’s get better at being a better teammate, let’s pursue a common goal. Let’s chase trophies, and do it together.’

SN: You’ve won four national championships with Boston College, coached the team to 12 Frozen Four appearances and a number of Beanpot titles. You even won the Beanpot as a player yourself in 1965. What’s been your most proud moment?

JY: The next one. The next national championship. It was great [winning a national title with Bowling Green in 1984] because it was kind of like, ‘hey, I can do this thing and I can do it at a high level.' Then I came back to BC and it had been 50 years since we won a national title. We consider ourselves one of the original six teams, so to speak, [between the] NHL and college hockey, and that had been too long. We scored that OT goal against North Dakota [to win the 2001 national championship] and that was like, ‘okay, let’s get going and win some more.’ So probably the most exciting part was winning the first at Bowling Green and then the Brian Gionta-led team in ‘01, but I always think the next one is the most important.”

SN: When you look back and think about all the players you’ve coached over the years, are there any you have met and started working with and immediately thought ‘this kid is going to be a star?'

JY: There’s been a number of them. I would think Dave Taylor at Clarkson, Rob Blake at Bowling Green. Gionta [at BC], Johnny Gaudreau, Marty Reasoner. That’s the key — you really need some leaders and really high-end players to have on your team. I think we’ve been very fortunate to have those type of players throughout my career.

SN: On the flip side, are there players who you feel through your work with them as a coach they grew to become a star?

JY: I think all the good players get better no matter who is coaching them. They all keep on improving. So any player I’ve seen go on to great success has never stood still. And I’m not saying it’s coaching — it’s more intrinsic. The player has worked hard, he’s absorbed coaching, he’s built something very special just in his day-to-day activities. All the top players have done that. [Recently] they were doing a count — over my career I’ve coached 58 players [who have played] 50 or more games in the NHL, and all of them deserve credit for what they’ve done. Some of them are making an unbelievable living on it. Maybe I was a small part in it, but certainly, it’s the player that drives them to that level.

SN: You touched on how rarely college coaches are recognized by the Hall of Fame. Do you have any thoughts on the five other legends being inducted this month?

JY: I’ve watched all of them play. [Sergei] Zubov, [Vaclav] Nedomansky and [Guy] Carbonneau — I’m really just an avid hockey fan. It’s terrific, and I think opening [the Hall] up to the best ladies in the world is an outstanding achievement over the last decade. Jimmy Rutherford, we both have sons that play on an 11-year-old team in Pittsburgh, so we share that in common. He’s won Stanley Cups as a general manager. It’s a very exclusive club and I’m dying to get up to Toronto at some point and share that feeling.

SN: Are there any hockey legends not currently in the Hall of Fame you would like to see be inducted in the future?

JY: One of the things I’ve mentioned is that now they’ve decided college coaches are worthy to go into the Hockey Hall of Fame — there are four other coaches that I’ve battled against for years and years, and hopefully they’ll get in soon. In no particular order: Ron Mason (Michigan State), Red Berenson (Michigan), and [in New England] Rich Umile (University of New Hampshire) and Jack Parker (Boston University). I’ve battled against them and hopefully, they get the same recognition down the road.

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