So this is how the legendary career of the greatest coach in college hockey history ended: A press release on a Wednesday, somewhat out of the blue; well after the dust settled on the previous weekend’s Frozen Four and all of college hockey’s media and fans departed from Boston; a full month after BC’s season ended at Matthews Arena in the Hockey East tournament.
No victory tour; no on-ice ceremony in honor of the final game; no televised or streamed announcement. No final rapturous standing ovation at Kelley Rink (though that’s sure to come eventually, in a ceremony that will undoubtedly be short and with few words).
Was it ever going to be any other way?
Jerry York announced his retirement on Wednesday and did it in the quiet, reserved manner that defined his career at BC - never wanting any of the attention on himself, but always wanting it to be on his players, and on the school.
Few could have begrudged York if he wanted to announce this decision prior to the Frozen Four, and be feted in his home town by the visiting college hockey world. He certainly deserved it, and the cheers from 17,000+ would have been a fitting way to say goodbye to the sport he has defined for decades.
But that just wouldn’t be him.
In 2010, after the Eagles swept through the Frozen Four and came home with York’s third NCAA title at BC, the school held a number retirement ceremony on O’Neill Plaza to retire York’s #17. Gene DeFilippo announced that it would be in the rafters for good, never to be worn again - only the second number in BC hockey history to receive such a treatment.
Photo Credit: Adam Marchany
What was left unsaid at the time is that this was done as a surprise - York didn’t know it was coming, and undoubtedly wouldn’t have wanted that kind of attention directed at himself.
To nobody’s surprise, the number didn’t stay in the rafters for long. By the time BC dropped the puck that ensuing October, the 17 was conspicuously absent from the “Jerry York” banner at Conte, and Brian Gibbons was back in the ice in his #17 jersey.
While BC did, appropriately, hold ceremonies to mark York hitting milestones like the record-setting 926th win and victory #1000, they were always understated. York had few words and while seeming appreciative of the crowd and the recognition, he also seemed eager to move on and get to the game. It was always about the players and the next game, not about any individual achievement - right on down to the way he announced his exit.
We will likely be regaled in the weeks to come with more stories of York’s legendary humility and good nature.
The Heights probably wrote the best work of that genre after York’s 1000th win, gathering quotes and stories from York’s players and colleagues; you should definitely read it in full.
Mostly, York focuses on his core principle: putting the team first. Pat Mullane, the Eagles’ captain during the 2012-13 season, recalls that as what attracted him to BC in the first place. Mullane was part of York’s 900th and 925th wins, the latter of which put him past Ron Mason as the all-time leading winner in college hockey history. But all York cared about on that day was getting a non-conference win against Alabama-Huntsville during BC’s Winter Break. “When you see your coach putting individual accolades aside for the greater good of the team,” Mullane said via email, “you can’t help but do the same.”
I was fortunate enough to first meet Jerry York in person as a 19-year-old freshman writing for the Heights. I was pretty lucky during my time in school and doing sportswriting as a side gig to meet some accomplished coaches and athletes. They were all interesting in their own way, but meeting York was one of the only times I felt starstruck, as a kid from the Boston area who grew up watching York’s teams fight to get over the hump in the Frozen Four in ‘98, ‘99, and 2000, finally culminating with that legendary 2001 title.
Of course it was none of his doing - he was always great about putting student reporters at ease and sharing insights into the game, something generations of student writers have shared during their years covering the team.
We’ll likely never see the likes of a Jerry York again, on the Heights or anywhere else.
It’s a different time now, and someone who sees the level of success he does probably isn’t likely to stay in one job for 20+ years.
Additionally, we’ll probably never see a legend go so quietly, and with such a lack of fanfare. And that’s no insult on those who have announced their retirements in advance (with Coach K most notably coming to mind). It’s normal to want to put that announcement out there, to take a look back, to experience the finality of one last handshake with each opposing coach and a wave to the opposing fans. To get some closure for yourself, and to give fans and opponents the opportunity to say goodbye.
But that was never going to be Jerry York. He exited the same way he went about his business for 28 years in Chestnut Hill - and now and forever, BC will never be the same.