BOSTON — Ahhh, the sounds of hockey in April… in this case, hockey as practiced by one shooter, one goalie and one assistant coach at Conte Forum early on a Monday morning.
Most of the rest of the members of the Boston College hockey team were in class at the time, or in the library. Or at least that’s what head coach Jerry York told me. He was in his office, considering the University of Minnesota team BC will meet Thursday night in Tampa at the Frozen Four.
“To be perfectly honest,” York said, “they reflect our team. They skate very well, they compete well, they’ve had good goaltending. We play to win, we don’t trap, we don’t sit back and say, ‘Hey, if we can get to the third period and get a break, we can win a game.’ We’re gonna try to win a game early. So it’s gonna be really interesting match-up.”
On the eve of the trip to Florida, Coach York was excited about the prospect of a national championship. And no wonder: BC carries into Thursday’s game a 17-game winning streak. Still, he’s taking nothing for granted in terms of preparation. Which has included team bonding exercises, one of the most recent of which was a group trip to a movie featuring – as the trailer says – real Navy SEALS.
“I thought ‘Acts of Valor’ would be a terrific movie to bring the guys to, and, sure enough, it was,” York said. “It depicted the SEALS and teammates in groups of seven or eight SEALS together, and the sacrifices they make for each other. Now, it’s war, and we’re just games, but there’s a lot of similarities with good teams that respect each other and play hard for each other.”
Jerry York has also utilized various, less dramatic ways to inspire his team. When I asked him whether the 17-game winning streak might have bred overconfidence, he told me that he’d reminded his team of what former New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi had said about that team’s remarkable streak.
“He said, ‘Listen, we haven’t won 24 straight; we’ve won one game 24 different times.’ ”
Coach York’s players may be more impressed by cinematic heroics and the musings of football-playing Patriots than some of the opposition’s skaters, because BC’s recruits are inclined to be younger. Lots of college coaches pack their rosters with Canadians seasoned by post-secondary school hockey experience — but not York.
“Most of our players are coming right out of high school. We go after the very top players, and we think that recruiting 18-year-old players, they’re more comfortable in the dormitories with other 18-year-old students, but their upside is so much better,” York said. “Nothing is wrong with the direction some schools take, because it’s allowed, and you can do that, but I’d much rather take the younger player in.”
It’s a system that has worked well for York. With 911 career victories, he is college hockey’s most successful active coach, and his BC teams have won three national championships. He’s reluctant to promise that this year’s squad will match the achievements of their most accomplished predecessors.
“Those other teams are pretty good, you know. They got good coaches, they got good players, they have good fan bases, but that’s the challenge we have,” York said. “If you can win a trophy any time during the year, you’re excited about bringing a trophy into your locker room. But if you can win this trophy, this is the shiniest, this is the biggest trophy, but it’s the most difficult to get, and it’s pretty rewarding. So, having said that, I feel good about our club.”
Winning 17 games in a row will do that for you. And if BC can prevail in just two more, that shiniest of trophies will return to the Heights.
Thursday in Tampa, this year’s four most accomplished college hockey teams will be whittled down to two. In Frozen Four action, Union College will meet Ferris State University at 4:30 p.m., and Boston College will take on the University of Minnesota at 8:00 p.m.