Jerry York is very accommodating when talking about his players, his program, and college hockey in general, but ask him to discuss his accomplishments and he struggles for words.
The veteran Boston College bench boss is closing in on the record for Division 1 victories. York, whose team faces archrival Boston University Friday and Saturday, has 923 wins and needs one to tie the mark held by Ron Mason.
“It’s not a big thing for me,’’ said York, whose squad is ranked No. 1 in the country and has won 10 in a row. “I talked to our players the other day about that. When you put yourself above the team, it’s never been part of my fabric. Our players are the same way. Whether it’s Pat Mullane or Steve Whitney, they’re not above the team, so I think that’s important.’’
York, 67, won 125 games with Clarkson, 342 with Bowling Green (including an NCAA championship in 1984), and 456 with BC so far, including four NCAA titles (2001, ’08, ’10, and ’12). His record over his 41 years is 923-558-94.
Boston University coach Jack Parker said he is rooting for his close friend to reach the milestone — just not this weekend.
“It’s a fabulous mark to go after and it’s a credit to his excellent coaching ability, his excellent assistant coaches and their recruiting abilities, and the fact where he’s been at three different schools where hockey was real important to them,’’ said Parker.
“He’s a terrific coach, he’s had a great career, and somebody had to break that record. I hope he doesn’t do it against BU. But he’ll do it very soon.
“It will be a terrific mark for him, and when he does, I’ll give him a call or I’ll see him. If he sweeps us this weekend, I will see him right at that game. But I think it’s quite a feather in his cap.
“Nobody recognizes or looks at those things until it’s long gone and you’re done with your career. It’s one thing to get 700 games or to get 600 games, it’s another thing to be the winningest coach ever. That’s a completely different situation.”
Former BC defenseman Mike Brennan, who captained the Eagles to the 2008 NCAA title, said York is very much someone who leads by example but also holds people accountable.
“I think the biggest thing is his values and the way he approaches every day and how the players react,’’ said Brennan, who is currently on a tryout contract with the Worcester Sharks of the AHL. “He loves what he does, and that just fuels everyone in the locker room.’’
That isn’t to say York is always pleased with his team’s performance. Brennan recalls when the Eagles traveled to Maine during the 2007-08 season and York wanted his squad to play up to its potential.
“Things weren’t going that well,’’ said Brennan. “It’s not that he loses his cool — he never loses his cool — but it’s more like a stern lashing. It’s like, ‘Wake up, you’re a BC hockey player. You wear a sweater filled with pride and history and tradition.’
“From that point on, once you see him in that kind of light, you respect it so much. That’s when we turned it around. He knows when to do it and when not to. Jerry has that pulse on when to do it and when not to.’’
Brennan said one of the important aspects of the way the BC program is run is how quickly newcomers are integrated into the program.
“That stems from Coach,’’ said Brennan. “He makes it known that anyone who puts on a BC hockey sweater is going to sweat and bleed for the school. He does a good job of making sure young guys are going to have a big role on the team, too. I think that’s why those teams are so successful.
“You see from top to bottom — freshmen to seniors — contributing at the same level. They have to pick up pucks [after practice] and have to do certain things, but no one is going to disrespect them.’’
Matt Price, the 2009-10 captain who won two national titles at BC, said there is more to the program than on-ice performance.
“I think a lot of what has made the program successful is that it’s not just about hockey,’’ said Price, who works at Colony Realty Partners in Boston. “You’re part of something greater than the hockey game. I think [York] takes great pride in that.
“You come in as a freshman and there are guys who are seniors who have gone through it for three years prior and it’s a continual process of training. I look at a guy like Pat Mullane now. Coach makes sure when those freshmen come in they have senior leadership that has been taught along the way, and he reinforces the values he has and those freshmen come to learn pretty quickly and Coach makes sure they are able to contribute by the end of the year.
“He’s a hockey guy and he wants to win, and that’s definitely at the forefront. Guys go there because they want to win championships. It’s about the team. You get a lot of very talented guys in the room, but there is never a conversation about individual accolades. No one ever puts an individual above the team, and that includes the coaches.’’
Mullane, the current BC captain, said even though York may not focus on individual achievements such as the victory record, his players are proud of him.
“It’s extremely impressive,’’ said Mullane. “He’s not one to let everyone know, and he’s the first one to play it off like he’s just anyone else, but the fact is, he’s much more than that. He’s such a prominent figure around this campus and in the hockey world in general, he’s so knowledgeable and has had so much success.
“What he brings to the rink every day and to the community is far more important than his wins and losses. Whenever he retires, I think he’ll be remembered for his wins and accomplishments but more for who he was as a person and as a coach.’’
As much as York believes the glass is always half-full and imparts that to his team, Mullane said, he’s a realist in that there will be bumps in the road.
“He understands wins and losses; losses are going to come,’’ said Mullane. “With his wins, he still has over 500 losses, so he understands that teams are going to lose. But when he gets upset is when you disrespect this program and this university.
“He’s a man of a lot of character and he doesn’t want any attention on himself. He wants all the guys to understand that BC hockey comes first and individuals second.’’
Mullane said everyone at BC is looking forward to this weekend, and if York breaks the record against BU, that would be a major bonus.
“Obviously with BU coming up, it’s special,’’ said Mullane. “That’s why guys go to Boston College and why they go to Boston University, to play against their rival. It’s easy to get up for those games.
“For me, I’d like to see [the record broken] this weekend. Selfishly, I’d like to get two wins and sweep the weekend, but a sweep is hard, regardless of your opponent, let alone BU.
“But I’d love to see it happen, personally. I’d love to be able to stand at center ice on Saturday night and know we swept BU and that Coach York is the winningest coach. That would be fantastic.’’