It was fitting that circumstance should have brought him back to where the championships began for Jack Parker nearly half a century ago. He was a sophomore out of Somerville when he first put his fingerprints on the Beanpot in the winter of 1966. His first coaching trophy came at the Garden as well, when his 1974 varsity ran the table in the old ECAC tournament and collected the first of a record two dozen NCAA tickets.
So it was cosmic convergence that Parker’s final season at Boston University would have him back on this block of Causeway Street for a date with Boston College in the Hockey East semifinals Friday night. If BU lost to its ancient archrivals, Parker’s coaching career would end after 40 years, three national championships, seven Hockey East crowns, four ECAC titles, 21 Beanpots, and 896 victories, the most by any coach at the same college.
If the Terriers were to win and go on to beat UMass-Lowell in Saturday night’s final, they would claim an automatic NCAA berth. Either way, Parker would have coached his final game in the town where he made his name. After all these decades it is difficult to imagine him anywhere but behind his alma mater’s bench, arms crossed, barking instructions.
Parker was present not only at the creation of the program’s glory days but also for their restoration. When he arrived on Commonwealth Avenue the city still belonged to BC. The Terriers hadn’t won the Beanpot in eight years, had never claimed the Eastern championship, and hadn’t been to the NCAAs in half a dozen years. By the end of the ’70s, they had enough hardware to stock a high-end pawnshop in the Back Bay.
Parker has been ensconced so long that most folks don’t quite recall how he got the job. It wasn’t passed down from Jack Kelley after his mentor departed for the World Hockey Association after consecutive national titles. It was abruptly handed to him after Leon Abbott, Kelley’s successor, was dismissed in the wake of a controversy involving a couple of former Junior A players whose names (Buckton and Marzo) will win you bar bets at The Dugout.
Six games into the 1973-74 season, Parker was thrown the reins of a moving scarlet sleigh a few days before Christmas and was bade godspeed. He won his first game (against Dartmouth) and kept winning. Along the way, Parker established both a style and a standard that endures. His teams were delightful to watch and demoralizing to play against, especially if a trophy was on the line. He liked guys who were quick, who could stickhandle, and who could “see things.”
Mike Eruzione was one of those guys, and it was no accident that Herb Brooks chose him and three fellow Terriers for the Boys of Winter bunch who mined unlikely gold from the Adirondacks in 1980. Parker’s players have gone to Olympus every quadrennium and have guzzled from the Stanley Cup. If you pull on the canine sweater, you’re expected to perform at an elevated level. “The guy who wore your uniform a few years ago is watching you,” Parker once told his team before it played BC.
What all of them had in common was Parker standing behind them. During the first decade or so, when he was going through a pack-plus of Marlboros a day, he would fret and pace behind the dasher, speaking in staccato sentences, jacked up to the rafters. “Worrying about BC will kill me before smoking does,” he once observed.
The Eagles always seemed to be flapping around BU’s kennel, no matter what was at stake. Some seasons the teams would meet five or six times. When Parker won his first national title in 1978 in Providence, BC was the final barrier. In recent seasons, as the Eagles have become a frequent Frozen Four visitor, the Terriers have found the encounters decidedly more challenging.
So it was again on Friday when BC came in aiming for its seventh tournament title in nine years.
The Eagles already had wrapped up an NCAA bid and were in position for a No. 1 seed. The Terriers had to win or exchange their sticks for putters. They were on the bubble for the 16-team national field after a brutal February that had Parker scratching his head.
His team had been top dogs before the holiday break, winning 10 of its first 15. Then it took a 6-0 loss at Denver and the rest of the winter became a Paragon Park ride until the Terriers straightened themselves out and earned home ice. While it would have been heartwarming for Parker to coach his final game in the House That Jack Built, any season that ends at Agganis Arena is a failure. The only place for Jack Parker to say his hockey farewell to the city was in the Garden. After 40 years, there was no more appropriate stage.