Seventy-three-year-old Jerry York was reveling on St. Patrick’s Day in Providence. His BC Eagles had staved off elimination for the second straight game, knocking out the nationally ranked Friars in exquisite drama, and the coach was fielding compliments about his energy and his youthful demeanor. “It’s the water,” he said with a smile, toasting the media with his bottle of Dasani. “It’s a great day, St. Paddy’s day.”
For the first time since 2011, this traditional Eastern hockey superpower needed a road upset to advance to the Hockey East semifinals at the Garden, something many Eagles fans felt is their birthright.
Yes the Madness has begun but @BCHockey they call it trophy season. Coach York's team is still playing and have a big one this Friday vs UMass. Its usually a good sign when your goalie is a Woll! #goeagles #flosports #mistahjerryyahwk— Bob Daley (@RND64) March 18, 2019
Unlike past teams, however, York’s 2018-19 Eagles had lost an astounding 21 games, and most pundits thought their elimination was a foregone conclusion. Not York.
“I always thought we were a good team, I kept on saying that to the players, ‘Don’t get discouraged.’ I think they might have believed me because they kept working hard. I’ve watched a lot of hockey, this is a good team.”
This from college hockey’s lone member of the 1,000-win club. “Look at the losses, it’s a series of things that happened during the year that for some reason or another, whether it was puck luck, or just one bad play.”
York has embraced his new role of Riverboat gambler, and he’s holding a pair of aces. Ace No. 1 is former NTDP scoring star Logan Hutsko, a kid who was mired in a sophomore slump until he ruined the Friars’ season with consecutive game-winning daggers. “Rookie of the year last year,” said York, who conceded that Hutsko had hit “a brick wall this year.” The veteran coach is accustomed to the best offensive talent in the nation year after year, and is convinced he has a phenom on his hands in Hutsko.
“He’s one of those players,” said York. “There’s only a few of them in our league that while you’re watching, you’re out of your seat when he has the puck, he’s going to do something special. We were fortunate to have a lot of those type of players at BC. This is another one.”
The BC offense has been decimated recently with injuries to three of their stalwarts, so York knows it is goals against—not goals for—that will be key to BC’s chances at the Garden. York’s next ace might be his best card in the deck: World Junior goaltending star Joe Woll. “He just performed really well this weekend, some of the saves he made were spectacular. I’m sure some of the Friars players were saying ‘What the heck is going on?’”
York then used this forum to take a dig at the voters who snubbed Woll for goaltender of the year. “I’ve watched a lot, I’m not a rookie coach. For him not to be on the Richter top 20 in the country, none of the coaches would look at that and say, ‘Joe Wall is not a top goalie.’ I thought right from the get-go, that this is perhaps the best goaltender in the country.”
Armed with a goaltender on a mission and a sniper who’s found his stride, York’s Eagles march into Boston Garden with a truckload of house money. They’ve got to win a pair of games, starting with the powerful Minutemen, to extend their Cinderella run. York, however, doesn’t see it that way. The consummate educator gave his charges a lesson on hockey probability.
“I had the kids stand up last week and say, ‘How many games to get to the Garden? How many games do you have to win to get to the regionals?’”
York then recited his players’ answer, how they calculated the required path of victories to get to the Garden, into the NCAA’s, and then all the way to Buffalo.
“Two, two and two… six games.”
“I said—No, that’s not the answer. The answer is one game. I don’t have to win six games, I got to win one game. Then you advance and now you got to win another game. That’s the mindset.”
His season was toast after the Beanpot, the losses—and the injuries—piling up. But the Eagles now return to the familiar ice of Boston Garden, having left national contender Providence in their wake. Powerhouse UMass stands in the way of the BC’s most improbable NCAA run ever, but as York told his troops, it’s only one game.
Author Tim Rappleye just released his latest book: Hobey Baker, Upon Further Review (Mission Point Press, 2018). He can be reached on Twitter @TeeRaps.