Parked in trust
Three full collegiate generations with no Frozen Four appearances? Jack Parker has lived to reflect on that type of tale, let alone revel in the gush of refreshment that comes with better-late-than-never redemption.
In fact, Boston University’s Professor of Puck has overseen two twelve-packs of bitter endings in his timeless career, making in all two-thirds of his 36-year reign.
And as of yesterday, Parker has splashed a personal drought that only those of his kind could have possibly dug up in the first place: he accepted the Spencer Penrose Award as the American Hockey Coaches’ Association’s pick for NCAA Coach of the Year for the first time since 1978. A mind-boggling 31-year separation between Parker and Penrose –one that began when he was merely five years on the job- has finally ended.
Sheesh, and Minnesota Gopher fans thought 23 years (1979 to 2002) between national titles was indigestible. This may be the ultimate team sport, but an individual struggle like Parker’s –complete with protracted blotches of frustration and indubitable heat from ungrateful Terrier fans- just epitomizes his peerless legend.
Sequentially speaking, the alternations between power and patience put the bulk of the epic fiction found in the classrooms to shame. Jubilant fans now four days removed from Saturday’s barely describable overtime overthrow of Miami University will be enticed by the suggestion that at least the next seven years will deliver at worst satisfactory endings.
After all, that has been Parker’s basic pattern thus far: eight years of at least reaching tasting distance of a title, 12 years of anything less than that, repeat cycle.
The freshly crowned champions went the distance as part of the program’s first hustle to the final frontier since a whole different conglomeration of Terriers was rallying around the inspirationally buoyant Travis Roy in 1997.
That year, a 6-4 falter at the hands of North Dakota effectively halted an eight-year sugar rush that saw BU put in seven appearances in the then-Final Four of hockey, four title games and one 1995 banner included.
Before then? Well, after the 1978 installment –featuring Jim Craig, Jack O’Callahan, and Dave Silk- repressed neighboring rival Boston College to claim the crown at the Providence Civic Center, Professor Parker’s Pupils went into a rut of futility. An eight-year string complete with Parker’s advent to the bench in 1973 and seven Final Four passports was followed promptly by 12 years with no journeys of the sort.
Only by the 1989-90 campaign did BU re-emerge for a business engagement over the final weekend of the season, though they were promptly zapped by Colgate, 3-2. (In hindsight, it was a borderline ludicrous pity, seeing as the NCAA perplexingly decided to scrub out its consolation game before the start of that season. None other than the cross-Commonwealth Eagles were the other semifinal also-rans that year.)
It would take five more years and three more tries for the Terriers to progress to the title game, but when they did, they decisively wrested away the 1995 championship from Maine, 6-2, and at the same Providence Civic Center, no less.
Think Parker was internally scheming to hastily shuffle last weekend’s hospitality from the nation’s capital to his southern neighbor’s state capital?
Guess that didn’t matter in the long run. Incidentally, the centerpiece of the 2009 Frozen Four emblem –namely the US Capitol building- is fraternal enough to the Rhode Island State House, so for all you omen analysts, that sure worked nicer than Miami skipper Enrico Blasi borrowing ring-bearing Denver foreman George Gwozdecky’s lucky tie.
But less to the point of luck and more to the point of pucks, Parker’s constant, commanding presence has made a steadfast magnet out of the BU ice house. Even when left unfulfilled for a time, the craving to pitch in on a national title run –to say nothing of digging in to the Beanpot- for such a revered figure never fizzles. Why would it? The coach’s rep and desire never fizzle.
Co-captain Matt Gilroy and sophomore scoring beacon Colin Wilson alike cited the exact same pangs when they each opted to return to the program this season. And under altered circumstances, the likes of Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen –two inseparable D-men both under the eyes of the Colorado Avalanche- may have bolted early as well.
But the Terriers were fresh off an altogether unflattering deferment from the 2008 NCAA bracket, though Parker sensibly cited a sluggish start and a poor interleague transcript as the cause. And the coach was contagiously determined to redeem that embarrassment, which for him peaked Twelve Years Away From Paradise: The Sequel.
Now you see the result: a final transcript of 35-6-4, six championships in as many tournaments, a record 30 NCAA tournament wins, and a long-awaited reunion with Spencer Penrose’s prize.
Not to mention, the most stimulating turnaround in championship tilt history, and –as he is continuing to confirm to the satisfaction of umpteen inquisitors- the best BU team he has coached up to this point.
There was a time on the cusp of Y2K when The Hockey News playfully suggested a headline that Detroit Red Wings fans would love to see: “(Scotty) Bowman says he’ll coach for one more millennium.”
Fans around another red-and-white ice base can say the same about Parker.
Al Daniel can be reached at email@example.com