The Duke Of York

Boston College Coach Calls It A Career After Record-Setting 50 Years Behind The Bench

 

After a standout hockey career as a walk-on player at Boston College, Jerry York had a stint in the Army reserves. 

Once he finished his time in the service, he decided to work as a graduate assistant coach at his alma mater and pursue a master’s degree in counseling psychology.

His intension was to become a high school or college guidance counselor once he earned his master’s.

That all changed with one phone call in 1971. He was sitting in the office of his former Boston College coach Snooks Kelley, who York worked under as an assistant. 

“The phone rang and it was Clarkson coach Len Ceglarski,” York recalled.  “He said, ‘Coach Kelley, I am looking for an assistant.’ Kelley then passed the phone to me and Ceglarski said, ‘Are you interested?’ I said ‘Yes. I said, Where’s Potsdam [N.Y.]?’ I wasn’t thinking about that. The next year I went out to Clarkson.”

That started his 50-year coaching career—including 44 years as a head coach with stints at Clarkson (1972-1979), Bowling Green (1979-1984) and Boston College (1994-2022). York became the youngest head coach in college hockey at 26 when he took over the Clarkson program.  

Now, with his retirement in mid-April at age 76,  he is leaving quite a legacy behind him. 

York finished as college hockey’s all-time winningest coach (1,123 wins) and he captured five national championships, four with Boston College (2001, 2008, 2010, 2012) and one at Bowling Green (1984). 

But all good things had to end at some point.

“For the last five or six years, I was like, ‘Do I enjoy it? Do I still like it?,’” York asked. “The answer was always, I enjoy it and I want to do it again. I thought after this season, ‘This may be the time to hang up the skates.’ I love putting the whistle and skates on. I just felt it was the right time.”

York is downshifting to a more leisurely lifestyle, which will include spending time with his grandchildren, traveling and watching other college hockey games from the grandstand. 

“I think at some point I will travel out to the West Coast,” York said. “I will call different coaches and be an interested spectator. See a game at Grand Forks, Denver and East Lansing. That would be a good trip for me, and I will be close to the National Parks. I will watch classic games and rivalries.”

Most likely Bobbie, his wife of 52 years, will be traveling with him as she did for decades to all the road games.

Some of his current and ex-players still find it hard to believe he’s actually handing over the reins. Even at the end, he ran practices while skating with a stick and whistle, despite some injuries.

“I was shocked,” said Buffalo Sabres’ forward Alex Tuch, who played two seasons for York. “I thought they’d have to get a restraining order to keep him away from that team. He absolutely loved coaching BC. It was his dream. We didn’t have a good year in my first season in 2015. He wasn’t happy about summer coming. He just wanted to keep going and play for 12 months. It puts a smile on my face about how he just loves the game so much.”

Tuch isn’t the only one who felt the infectiousness of his devotion to his players and coaches. Brooks Orpik, who played for Boston College from 1998 to 2001 and served as the program’s assistant coach this season, marveled at York’s energy.

“It’s not too often you look to a 76-year-old to lift you up energy-wise,” said Orpik, who turned his time with the Eagles into a 16-year NHL career that included two Stanley Cups.

“I would come to the rink some days and needed a coffee, or I just didn’t have it. That’s how he was. But if you walked into the rink and you were dragging at all, he would lift you right up. That was one of the best qualities about him.” 

York’s emotional investment in his players and staff went well beyond the ice rink. He wanted to prepare his players for life after hockey. Behind his positive demeanor, York was a strict disciplinarian who had a series the rules the players had to follow.

For starters, the players had to keep their hair short and be clean-shaven. He also inspected his players’ dorms and suites for cleanliness. 

“I felt when you left the rink, it was important to stay involved with your players,” York said. “We would visit their rooms. I did give them grades. It was hard to get an A. We just wanted to be part of their lives. Whether it was checking with their professors and to see how Johnny was doing in school? Or check with the resident advisors in the dorms, and ask, ‘How are these guys doing?”

With York’s success on the ice and the way he helped players with their personal development, the NHL came calling. He talked to the Washington Capitals and Los Angeles Kings about head coaching jobs but the college game and all that comes with it always tugged at his heartstrings.

“Some of my players became general managers: George McPhee and Dave Taylor,” said York, produced 18 first-round picks during his tenure at Boston College.

“I never thought I wanted to be an NHL head coach. I love watching the NHL and talking to all the coaches. I talked to [Boston Bruins coach] Butch Cassidy a lot throughout the year. I have great respect for him. But the lifestyle was not conducive to what I wanted to do.”

His first and only love was and always will be college hockey. His 50 years on campus is the proof. He just never fell out of love with the sport. 

“All the programs I coached valued hockey,” York explained. “I had some remarkable players. Looking back, that kept me in it for all those years.  If I was at schools that really didn’t value hockey or I wasn’t able to recruit good players or I had lousy assistant coaches, I would have been in law school at some point early.”

Orpik maybe benefited more off-the-ice than on from York’s coaching. He went on to play16 years for the Penguins and Capitals after leaving Boston College.

“People would ask me, ‘Jerry must be the best hockey coach you ever had?” I always say ‘Not even close.’ If I say what coach had the biggest influence and impact on me in terms of character and my life, it’s not even close. Jerry is miles ahead of everybody else. That’s what you are super grateful for.”

 

Tom Worgo is a freelance writer based in Annapolis, Md.
Issue: 
2022-05

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