Skip to main content
Hall of Fame

York rewarded for decades of college success with Hockey Hall of Fame nod

Class of 2019 member has coached 48 seasons, won most games in history

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Jerry York went digging through the attic for the ephemera of a hockey life. He knew that buried somewhere up there were the odds and ends that mark a career, the pucks and newspaper clippings and press passes.

York doesn't keep them in glass cases, in special spots throughout his house, set aside and on display. Still, he knew he had stashed them somewhere and, well, when the Hockey Hall of Fame came calling, he wanted to help out with some memorabilia when they asked.

He finally found some, a puck and a pass and a green spiral-bound notebook with the results from the 2016 Beanpot, the word "champions" bookended by quotation marks on the cover.

He would give them to the Hall of Fame, a place he has never actually been, though it has long been on his bucket list, as it opens its doors to him this year, a rarity for someone who has never coached or played in the NHL. Instead, York has made college hockey his home, first at Clarkson University, then at Bowling Green, and finally back in his native Boston, at his alma mater, Boston College. Over that time, York has won five NCAA championships (one at Bowling Green; four at BC), and 1,072 games (and counting), the most in college hockey history.

That has all added up to a career that has him being inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday in the Builders category, alongside the rest of the class of 2019: Guy Carbonneau, Vaclav Nedomansky, Jim Rutherford, Hayley Wickenheiser and Sergei Zubov.

Because, as longtime rival and Boston University coach Jack Parker put it, "If you're going to choose somebody like that, who else would you choose but Jerry?"

****

And yet, this was not the life he intended to have.

He had been a business major, perhaps headed to law school, perhaps headed for a career as a school guidance counselor. But then BC reached out with an offer of free tuition and a stipend to go to grad school and help with the intramural program. He couldn't turn it down. Still, he didn't necessarily think his life was changing course.

Then Len Ceglarski called. There was a position available coaching the freshman team at Clarkson in Potsdam, New York, with Ceglarski coaching the varsity.

"I had to convince my girlfriend at that time, let's get married and go to Potsdam," York said. "And my father-in-law [said], 'How long is this going to last, Jerry? When are you going to get a real job?'

"Still waiting."

They got married in 1970, went up to Potsdam, just to see what might happen, to see if he liked the coaching life, if he could be any good at it.

In 1972, Ceglarski got the head job at BC. York succeeded him as the coach at Clarkson. At 26, he was the youngest coach in the country. 

He is now 74. He hasn't stopped.

"The staying power that he's had and being able to do it for as long as he has and the success he's had at that, it's amazing," said former BC player Brian Gionta, himself about to be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame this year. 

York brought Dave Taylor - his first recruit -- to Clarkson, Rob Blake to Bowling Green, convinced Mike Mottau and Johnny Gaudreau and Brooks Orpik and Cory Schneider and Gionta to attend BC. He helped make them into players who could be stars in college, win championships and go on to the NHL.

"It's taking a group of people, a team, and just going through a year, the ups and downs, molding together a real team," York said. "And catching fire at the right time. We want to win a national championship. That's our goal."

So which is his favorite? Of the five he has, which has been the best?

"It's the next one," he said.

****

Jon Cooper got a text message on Oct. 15, with his team in Montreal. It was from York.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were set to head to Boston after the game, and York was wondering if Cooper would speak to his BC players the next day. Cooper, the Lightning coach, had never met York, but he was quick to say yes, ducking out after his team's off-day practice to head to Chestnut Hill. 

Because, as he said, "How do you say no to Jerry York?"

It's a common problem.

Gionta, the player Parker said he most regrets losing to his crosstown rival, said he was well aware of this when his brother, Stephen, was going through the recruiting process. BC wasn't offering Stephen Gionta a full scholarship, and so Gionta cautioned his brother to go slowly, to take care.

"I said, 'Listen, go there, go for your visit, do one thing: Do not commit when you go there,'" Brian Gionta said. "Just go there, and we can revisit it and see what else they can do for you. Sure enough, he calls me on the Sunday, he's like, yeah, 'I just committed.' 

"But that's what they do. You just have that warm feeling when you go there."

And he's not the only one. 

Zach Sanford, who plays for the St. Louis Blues, was supposed to check out the University of New Hampshire and Boston University. But once he visited BC, once he met York, he was sold on the program. He couldn't see himself anywhere else. 

"He walked us out to our car and I was looking at my mom," Sanford said. "The whole time she was like, 'Oh, this guy is so awesome. I love him, he's the best.' And then they offered me a scholarship."

York told Sanford to let him know. Sanford said, "Can I just commit right now?"

It was the first time he had been to BC.

"Just seeing the campus there, then meeting him, just seeing how good of a guy he was, what his goals were for the team and me personally coming in, I was just like, I have to come here," Sanford said. "I have to."

He canceled his remaining visits. 

It was the same for Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson. "When I got up there and he offered me a full scholarship within the first five minutes of talking I was like - yeah, sold," Atkinson said. "I'm done. Thank you. I'm an Eagle."

It's a warmth that York has, a caring, a sense that a recruit -- and later, a player of his -- matters. 

"I remember when I was going through my recruiting process and meeting Jerry and spending time with him, he had a unique ability to make you feel like you were the most important person in the world when he spoke to you, and I think he thought that way," said Schneider, the New Jersey Devils goalie. "He has a great ability to connect with people, to look them in the eye and just make you feel important, and I think that's a good feeling when you're that age. I think he carries that throughout everything he does."

****

Which is partially why, though the rest of his class will get to Toronto early, assembling for the many Hall of Fame events, York will not arrive until Sunday. Instead of going himself, York will send his brother to be his representative at the Hockey Hall of Fame Game between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, TVAS, TSN4, NESN, NHL.TV) at Scotiabank Arena on Friday, when the inductees will be introduced after the first period.

York will instead bus up to Burlington, Vermont, for a two-game set between BC and the University of Vermont on Friday and Saturday. He will hop on an early Porter Airlines flight to Toronto on Sunday morning, arriving in time to be behind the bench for the Haggar Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Classic on Sunday.

"I always talk about team, not Hobey Baker Award winners, [so] for me to leave …" he said. "Kelly (Masse, Hall of Fame director of media relations) keeps reaching out, 'Are you are? Are you sure? This is a big honor, you know.' I said, 'I'll be there Sunday.' … I just said it'll be a bad taste if I [skip the Vermont games]."

So he will ride the bus with his players, coach them, and ride back. He will try to add two more wins to his ever-expanding total, a number that will be difficult for another coach to ever reach, given that he is in his 48th season as a coach (26th at BC), with plans to keep going.

"My gut feel is if I enjoy it and I get up every day with, hey, let's put those skates on, my health is good -- knock on wood -- I would think another three years," York said. "As long as I don't get hit by a car crossing the street. … But I like [coaching]. If I didn't like it, I would have stopped a long time ago."

Instead he has kept coaching, kept recruiting, kept turning teenagers into men, college players into NHL players, games into wins, and wins into championships. He has become a legend and, now, a Hall of Famer. 

"College doesn't get a lot of love from the Hall of Fame, necessarily, but I think you look at his resume, it's impeccable," Schneider said. "There's been nobody better at the college ranks than him in coaching and also developing players and getting guys to the NHL and the next level. He's extremely deserving of it, and it's a proud moment for alumni and for guys who played for him. You're proud to have played for him and represented him and gotten the opportunity to work with him."

York was so surprised to get the call from Hall of Fame selection committee chairman John Davidson, also the New York Rangers president, that he thought Davidson was calling him about a trade, asking about a player. As he said, "I don't think any college coach has ever thought of it."

But now, he's in.

"I think it's great for college hockey, to show the advances of where the game has come," Brian Gionta said. "Now it's more recognized as a legitimate place to play and advance to the pros. And he was a huge part of that."

At the bottom of that puck, the one that's headed for enshrinement alongside York in the Hall of Fame, is a date, Nov. 24, 1972, and a message scrawled on tape that has so yellowed that it's closing in on brown. Under "ECAC win #1" and below the game score is this: "The fun has just begun."

More than 1,000 wins and a Hall of Fame nod later, there is no sign that it's stopping anytime soon.

View More

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.