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BU's Parker earns Patrick award with great service

by Michael Blinn
In a city full of hockey history, Jack Parker has become a hockey institution unto himself.

Sure, Boston is home to the NHL's first American team, the Boston Bruins. Yes, several of its colleges -- Boston University, Boston College Harvard and Northeastern -- are NCAA Division I powers. The city, and its outlying suburbs, has produced some of the top American-born players to ever play the sport. And, let's not forget the Beanpot, perhaps the most famous hockey trophy behind the Stanley Cup.

But it is the man who has won 21 of those Beanpot trophies -- awarded to the winner of the February tournament involving the city's four Division I college hockey teams -- who may just have a bigger profile than all the aforementioned hockey institutions.

For the past 37 years, Parker has been at the helm of the BU men's hockey program. Since the 1973-74 season, he has guided the Terriers to three NCAA Championships, four ECAC titles, seven Hockey East crowns, and those 21 Beanpot titles.

Parker has also won the Spencer Penrose Memorial Trophy as the NCAA Coach of the Year three times, New England Hockey Coach of the Year seven times and Hockey East coaching honors on five occasions. Along the way, he has won 834 games, third all-time among Division I coaches.

All this, and he recovered from offseason heart bypass surgery in time to coach BU's 2010-11 home opener.

This week, Parker's trophy case gets a bit more crowded when he adds in a Lester Patrick Award, given annually to recognize an individual's contribution to hockey in the United States by the NHL and USA Hockey.

He will be joined in Wednesday night's ceremony at TD Garden by Boston College coach Jerry York, AHL President Dave Andrews and Boston Bruins President Cam Neely.

"It's a pleasure to receive such a prestigious award," Parker said. "It's quite a bit humbling and gratifying. It's hard to describe. I grew up in Somerville (Mass.), played on ponds, I didn't know how serious I was going to get about hockey."

It's a good thing the level of seriousness ended up being pretty high.

Tony Amonte, Chris Drury, Keith Tkachuk, Matt Gilroy, Jim Craig, and Mike Grier are just a few of the former Terriers to have been under Parker's wing as BU en route to NHL careers and international achievements.

"I'm getting accolades because of what others did," Parker said, laughing.

He's right in his own humble way, though.

If it weren't for help from others, he might never have gotten one of the most sought-after jobs in all of Boston, as Parker never would have considered getting behind the bench without his friend Bill Riley, who left an opening on the Medford (Mass.) High School coaching staff.

"I had no intention of coaching," he says. "I was a management major at BU, living in Medford. [Riley] asked me to fill in for him. The minute I got into it, I loved it."

From there, Parker worked his way up, becoming an assistant coach to BU coaching legend Jack Kelley in 1969-70, and being named head coach just four years later at the school where he'd played for three years, captaining the Terriers as a senior in 1967-68, and advancing to the NCAA postseason twice.

"Jack Kelley, the 'Godfather of BU hockey,' set up a great program," Parker said. "And I inherited that. I was at the right place at the right time. I was 27, and coaching players who were three, four years younger than I was."

His early success has rarely waned, in part because he has created a fraternity among his players.

"I always say that I have two daughters and 208 sons," Parker says, chuckling. "And that number goes up every year."

Much of Parker's playing talent at BU comes from digging through the Boston-area youth programs -- and with good reason. While the Boston Bruins have been calling the city the "Hub of Hockey" in recent years, Parker knows it's been just that for a long time.

"Amateur hockey, high school, prep school, peewees, squirts, they've all been around here for a long, long time," he said. "There were programs in the 40s. In the Boston area, kids who wanted to play because of the Bruins, and the Original Six rivalries.

"I've had kids that were in my hockey school at 12 years old, kids that were enamored with BU. They've been predisposed to BC or BU by their parents."

It's the closeness to his players and knowledge of their roots that has allowed Parker to have such an impact. In fact, it's also the reason that he's never left for a job in the pro ranks. It's not for a lack of offers, the most recent coming in 1997.

"When I turned down the Bruins job, (GM) Harry Sinden told me, 'I knew you wouldn't take it.' I asked him why he said that, and he told me, 'Your former players are always stopping by to say hi. They don't do that here.'

"It's a different way of life, more volatile, more risky," he said of the professional lifestyle. "I always say, it would have been worthwhile to see that first NHL paycheck."

But make no mistake, Parker is quite happy right where he is, always striving to be better, to improve the quality of hockey, education, and life for his players.

"You're never really finished," he said. "You can never really say, 'That's good enough.' It's a different team every year; you get five or six new guys and the whole personality of the team changes. That's what makes it rewarding. I had a great experience as a student and as a player. I hope our guys can say the same thing."

If there's anyone who's experienced the same things as Parker, it's York -- his chief rival, and the only active coach with more wins (850 to 834).

The two played against one another from high school through college, and accepted head coaching jobs around the same time. They've mirrored the other's career to a point where they'll both be accepting the Lester Patrick Award together.

"He's more than deserving," Parker says of his close friend and constant adversary. "We've had such similar experiences over a long period of time. It's almost apropos, with one of us getting something, and something for the other, too. He is as much the fabric of this city as the Boston Marathon, Opening Day at Fenway, Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque."

One thing both have had to deal with in recent years is the reach of the pro game expanding into the college ranks. Now, Parker regularly deals with players who have been drafted and have pro careers to consider.

With a keen eye for readiness and maturity, Parker has become a straight-shooter when it comes to advising his players about their future.

"Mike Fidler was the first guy I ever had leave to sign a pro contract," Parker said. "He came to me and said, 'Coach, what should I do?' I said, 'You can do one of two things. You can either sign the contract, or check yourself into Mattapan State Hospital, because you'd be crazy not to take that deal.'"

Fidler went on to play 271 NHL games during a seven-year NHL career that ended in 1983.

Despite his success in cultivating individual players and creating cohesive team bonds that still stand to this day, Parker remains humble, laughing about a historic career that has made him a hockey legend.

"I've been singled out as (one of the) people that contributed to the sport," he said of his award. "I've certainly gotten more out of it that I've given. I'm still wondering how they figured I got the award, to tell you the truth."

Follow Michael Blinn on Twitter: @NHLBlinn
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