Jack Parker coaches last home game
BOSTON -- On a rink named for him in an arena he helped build, with one wall on the concourse to recognize the dozens of players he sent to the NHL and another for the Hall of Fame that welcomed him two decades ago, "Jackie Parker from Somerville" said goodbye to the campus he entered 50 years ago as a freshman hockey star who would blossom into one of the best coaches the college game has ever known.
Five days after announcing that he would retire at the end of the season, Parker took the bench for a Hockey East quarterfinal game against Merrimack -- his last home game after 40 years as Boston University's coach.
"Oscar Wilde once said, 'Some people cause joy wherever they go. Some people cause joy whenever they go,' " Parker said after BU beat Merrimack 5-3 in his final game at Agganis Arena, part of a $250 million athletic complex he raised money for and helped design. "Some of my guys might be cheering when I finish up here."
In front of a half-filled crowd of 3,043 -- the students are on spring break this week -- No. 18 BU (20-15-2) fell behind three times before tying it 3-3 on a power-play goal with 8 seconds left in the second period. The Terriers took the lead on Ben Rosen's rebound 5 minutes into the third period and added Sahir Gill's empty netter to eliminate Merrimack (15-17-6) from the best-of-three series.
"It kind of felt weird tonight. This was my last game in a BU rink," Parker told reporters after the Terriers won to earn a spot in the Hockey East semifinals at the TD Garden. "It didn't dawn on me until they said, 'Do you want to say something?' My first thought was, 'For what?'"
BU, which won 3-0 in Game 1 on Friday night, will meet archrival and fifth-ranked Boston College in the Hockey East semifinals at the TD Garden next weekend. With two more wins the Terriers would earn a spot in the NCAA tournament for the 25th time in Parker's tenure.
"I think that's nice that we get to play them," he said, expressing concern over Eagles coach Jerry York, who has a detached retina. "BC has always brought out the best in us, and vice versa. We can't end their season but we can extend ours."
BU's next loss will be Parker's last.
"I'll have the same feeling as I did before," in previous years, Parker said. "The thing is, I don't have practice next October. I don't think it will really hit me until then."
Fans held up posters commending their coach -- the biggest, displayed behind the Merrimack goal in the first period, simply said "For Parker." He was cheered when his name was announced during the introductions and again when a video tribute was shown on the scoreboard between periods.
After the customary postgame handshake line, Parker waved to the BU student section and directed his team to do the same. The referee came over and gave him a hug. Then Parker waited by the bench while the video was repeated, this time so he and the rest of his team could see it.
The players banged their sticks on the ice as the decades rolled past: The three NCAA championships and 21 Beanpot titles and 896 wins in all, through Saturday night -- the most for any coach at a single school and trailing only York and Michigan State's Ron Mason overall.
I'll have the same feeling as I did before. The thing is, I don't have practice next October. I don't think it will really hit me until then.BU hockey coach Jack Parker
The video ended with a simple, "Thanks coach," and then Parker was handed a microphone and he thanked the fans who make hockey the school's flagship athletic program.
"You people made it great," Parker said.
"I was getting pretty emotional about it," Rosen, a senior forward, said of the brief postgame ceremony. "You're really starting to realize who you're playing for, the organization you're on and the kind of guy that's on your bench. It gives you an extra pride in the jersey you're wearing."
Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna was in the press box during the game and in the postgame news conference, where he managed to maintain his professional distance despite their longtime relationship. "I'm still a commissioner and he's still a coach," he said.
But he said he expected Parker would be recognized at the coaches' meetings in Florida during the offseason.
"Given the nature of his relationship with a lot of the coaches," Bertagna said, "I think it will be something like a roast."