After more than 50 years in the game of hockey, very little shocks Boston College coach Jerry York.
It appears, however, that a call from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman makes that short list.
This summer, York was driving back from a round of golf, idly contemplating the day's play, when his phone rang. When he picked up and heard, 'Hi, this is Gary Bettman,' on the other end, he was flabbergasted.
The call from Bettman was to inform York, the long-time Boston College coach of his selection to receive the Lester Patrick Award, given annually by the NHL and USA Hockey for contributions the hockey in the United States.
"I'm stunned, still," he laughs. "It's still kind of some mixed emotions."
It wasn't the first phone call that brought life-changing news to the ever-smiling Bostonian. Oddly enough, York remembers the one innocent phone call that started his whole coaching career.
Jerry York (Getty Images)
At the time, York was a graduate student at Boston College, working as an assistant with school's freshman hockey team alongside legendary Eagles' coach John 'Snooks' Kelley, when Clarkson coach Len Ceglarski phoned to tell York about a coaching opportunity with the Golden Knights.
"Lenny called and said, 'If you don't like it, go back to law school, or get your MBA.' I was just getting married and convinced my wife (Bobbie, with whom York has two children, Laura and Brendan) to move to upstate New York.
"I found I kind of liked it," York said of coaching Clarkson. "I remember my father telling me, 'When are you going to get a real job?'"
He was just 26 when he took the Clarkson job, the youngest Div. I head coach in the nation. After seven years in Potsdam, N.Y., he moved on to Bowling Green State University.
In 15 years with the Falcons, York took his team to the NCAA postseason six times, including a 1984 Division I Championship, picking up the Spencer Penrose Trophy as National Coach of the Year in 1976-77, as well as CCHA Coach of the Year honors in 1981-82.
In 1994, York took over coaching duties at his alma mater, Boston College, and has brought the Eagles to the NCAA Frozen Four nine times, taking the title in 2001, 2008, and 2010. In 2003-04, he garnered both Hockey East and New England Coach of the Year awards.
York is the all-time leader in NCAA postseason wins, and has coached three Hobey Baker Award winners. He is also one of only three NCAA coaches to have won national titles with two different schools. Ned Harkness and Rick Comley are the other two.
Thirty-nine years and 853 career wins as a head coach, and counting, and he's turned it into a job well done.
The journey began back in Watertown, Mass., where York refined his thick Boston accent and hockey skills, playing for Boston College High School in the mid-1960s, followed by Boston College, where he lettered in hockey and eventually captained the team. He was the 1966-67 recipient of the Walter Brown Award for the top American-born player in New England, and still ranks among BC's all-time leaders in career points, career goals, career assists, single-season points and single-season assists.
A well-known hometown star, he spent a good amount of his younger years facing off against a young man by the name of Jack Parker -- the same man who heads up the bench for cross-town rival Boston University, and will receive the Lester Patrick Award alongside York on Wednesday night.
"It's really special, really unbelievable to share it with Jack," York says of the man who most closely trails him in active wins with 834. "We've known one another since we were 13 or 14, and that makes it even more special. Jack knows what I go through every day, and I know what he goes through. It's special for us, we mirror each other. We spend from September to May doing the same thing."
Despite his successes, York still looks forward to challenging himself every season by making magic with his collection of players each fall.
"I always wanted to take a team in October, these 25 men, and turn them into a team," he said.
Of course, it helps that after almost four decades, York still knows where to look. The '3 M's' lead the way, he says of Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Michigan; but, in recent years, players have begun to crop up in all corners of the country, and that's helped the sport along.
"Boys growing up in Florida, New Jersey are getting into hockey, and now we're getting really good athletes," he said.
While every player coming through the B.C. pipeline is special in his own way, several stick out in York's mind.
McPhee, Gionta, and Dave Taylor all refined their game with York as their coach, and he tries to maintain contact with them.
"I'm ecstatic to watch them develop," he said. "College hockey has always been a special place. You go through an incredible experience. Players stay for four years, get a degree, and go play in the NHL … that's a Utopia. I can one day see Gionta joining Taylor in the Hall of Fame."
Of course, with all of his success, both personally and through the exploits of his players, the question lurks as to why hasn't York ever made the transition to the pro game?
"I always wanted to take a team in October, these 25 men, and turn them into a team." -- Jerry York
His resume certainly speaks to his abilities. But in the end, the old adage holds sway here: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
"Sure, it passed through my mind -- go coach the Bruins, go coach the Rangers," he said. "I never had the inclination. I've always been comfortable with college hockey. It's a setting I enjoy. This is the pinnacle, in my eyes."
Now, he reaches another pinnacle -- joining a select group of hockey luminaries that have been officially recognized for their contributions to the game in the United States.
The enormity of the honor is certainly not loss on York.
"I received a book on the Patrick Family by Eric Whitehead in the 1980s, and they were just a fantastic family," York said. "They were the original, really good players. They left an imprint in the game, coming up with off-sides, six men on a team. I hope to influence, in a positive manner, these young kids trying to be a player or a coach. I'm very excited."