The first two Mondays in February are Jack Parker's time. As a player at Boston University, he was a member of three Beanpot tournament championship teams. Since taking over as Terriers coach in 1973, he has guided the program to 20 more Beanpot titles.
This season, his 36th as the team's head coach, Parker has the Terriers back at the top of their game. They are ranked second in the nation and feeling good about their chances when they face off against Harvard in Game 1 of the Beanpot on Feb. 2.
TC: There are a lot of college hockey tournaments out there. What makes the Beanpot so special?
Parker: Because every other tournament has different teams. This tournament has the same four teams every year, and you can walk from one school to the other. The proximity is that close. It’s unusual to have four Division 1 programs in one city, and most of the players and most of the alums stay around the city of Boston, so the former players are all in the building as well. It’s a parochial thing, but it’s a big-time thing for the city.
TC: BU has had so much success in the Beanpot. How much does that help you in the recruiting process?
Parker: It used to be the Canadian kids and the kids from outside of New England didn’t hear about it, but now it’s all over. You guys have it on the internet and everybody sees it. I remember one time we won the Beanpot and the following Tuesday I was on a plane to Seattle to see a kid we were recruiting. I arrived in his house in the afternoon and he said, “Great game last night.” I said yeah, we played well. He said, “I saw it on TV.” That was the first time I realized we were going national here.
TC: College hockey has gone national. You have kids on your roster from Texas and Georgia.
Parker: I think it’s grown unbelievably as far as where the players are coming from. There are more players in California than there are in Massachusetts right now. More players in Texas than there are in Connecticut. I think mostly it’s because of the NHL’s movement into those areas. I don’t think it’s an accident that the [Anaheim] Ducks win the [Stanley] Cup, and all of a sudden California’s a hotbed. I think the NHL’s expansion throughout the United States has made it a national sport. I don’t think too many people in New Mexico or Arizona get up in the morning and wonder who won the Beanpot, but certainly people know about hockey now and know much more about it than they did in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.
TC: How much has the game changed since you started coaching?
Parker: The technical aspect of the game hasn’t changed much at all. It’s faster, it’s more physical. The face mask has changed the game drastically, made it much more dangerous and more physical. And that was put in back in 1980. In general, as for the technical aspect of the game, there are people doing stuff now and they’re [considered] “innovative,” and [legendary UNH coach] Charlie Holt was doing it in 1975. There are not a lot of new things going on out there.
TC: You’ve spoken a lot about the cage, the face mask, and how players today think they’re invincible with all that armor. What can be done to change that, and could it ever be changed?
Parker: The only reason we have them is the fear of a lawsuit. Somebody’s going to lose an eye and they’ll sue us, so the NCAA wanted to protect people from losing an eye, and they’ve done that. What they’ve done is made it more possible that people will wind up in wheelchairs instead. And somebody’s going to sue the NCAA over that, and that will be the end of it. The only reason why we have it is because of lawyers and not because of any professional opinion of what’s more dangerous.
TC: You had a player end up in a wheelchair. You have said that the injury to Travis Roy, what was obviously such a low point, has become a source of pride. The way the school, the program, and Travis have gone on from that.
Parker: I don’t think that Travis’ particular injury was a face-mask situation. I think the game is more dangerous because of that, and when you can’t see as much as you used to be able to see, you can get blindsided more often, and that’s why it’s going to happen.
I do believe [Roy’s injury] was the worst thing that happened to me as the coach of Boston University. The only good thing about that is the way the university and the hockey community around here and around the United States responded to that tragic situation.
TC: You talked about the NHL’s impact on the game nationally. When you first started coaching, the Bruins owned this town and there were rinks popping up everywhere. There have been plenty of lean years, but the team is back. What does that do for hockey in New England?
Parker: There was such an interest of all the good athletes in playing hockey because of the Bobby Orr era, and it held true for a long time, through the Jean Ratelle and Brad Park eras and the Cam Neely era. Massachusetts was producing a lot of good hockey players, and now we aren’t producing as much as we were before, and I do believe the Bruins had an impact on that. Good athletes were playing other sports. They weren’t enthralled with the Bruins, so they weren’t enthralled with hockey as a seven-year-old. I think that’s changing right now. They’re having a great year, and they look like they’re going to have some good years to come here, so that certainly will help high school hockey and prep school hockey, bantam, and peewee hockey. It may ultimately help us.
TC: A couple of times you almost made the jump to coach the Bruins. Do you ever wonder what would’ve happened had you gone to the pros?
Parker: I would like to have seen the first paycheck [laughs]. That’s about the only thing I reflect on. I wonder what it would’ve been for after taxes.
TC: And you wouldn’t be coaching at a rink with your name on center ice.
Parker: I remember when I told Harry [Sinden] I wasn’t taking the job he said, “I know you wouldn’t do that.” And I said, “Why? I came this close. What are you saying? It was really a tough choice.” He said, “Yeah, but I imagine when you walk around BU people say, ‘Hey, Jack, how’s it going?’ That never happens here.”
OT contributor Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network.
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