Chapter Nine: Tributes

Chapter Nine is comprised of previously published stories, tributes of people written when they retired or passed away. Here is the tribute piece on former Boston University coach Jack Parker, printed in its entirety.

(First Printed in the AHCA newsletter, “Stops & Starts,” in April 2013)

In my tribute to Jack Parker, I tried to mix the professional with the personal, my relationship with Jack being both.

At this year’s Hockey East Tournament banquet, Jack Parker, whose work behind a podium has always been the equal of his work behind a bench, got off one more memorable line. He said, “I just saw Toot Cahoon. Ever since he retired last year, he looks happier and more relaxed than I’ve ever seen him. And ever since I announced my retirement last week, Joe Bertagna has looked happier and more relaxed than I’ve ever seen him.”

It was well delivered, like only Jack can, but it didn’t capture the truth. And I’m somewhat surprised to admit that. There was a time, many times in fact, that I found myself looking forward to his retirement. But when it actually happened, I was anything but giddy.

I go back over 40 years with Jack Parker. I remember Jack the Player, when street hockey games in my neighborhood found us playing as our favorite Terriers and Eagles and Huskies and Crimson.

And I also have early memories of Jack the Coach, when I was playing high school hockey and he was an assistant coach to George Boudreau at Medford (MA) High School. In losing two games to Medford in 1969, by scores of 1-0 and 2-1, we became the first Arlington High School team coached by the legendary Eddie Burns to lose twice to the same opponent in the same season. Nice to be in the record book.

But I really came to know Jack when I began working in college hockey for the ECAC in the mid-1980s. We had a good relationship. In fact, he was influential in my landing the current positions I hold with the AHCA and with Hockey East. But from the time I began as Hockey East commissioner, I had to balance the personal and professional relationships I had with Jack.

Personally, it’s easy to like and admire Jack. He is as entertaining a person as I have ever met in this game. Intelligent, witty, a master story teller, Jack is a lot of fun to be around. He is good to his friends, and he is particularly good to friends in times of need. Stories abound of Jack reaching out to someone going through hard times, offering assistance or just letting a guy know that he is thinking of him.

Professionally, his record is one that may never be matched. Who among today’s active coaches projects to be at one institution for 40 years, winning nearly 900 games in one place, not to mention all the championships?

Of course, there was also that public side of Jack that fans saw in the arenas or on television, the side that the cameras loved, when he set his sights on a referee or linesman and let him have it. As commissioner, I had to deal with these moments, and the record shows I had mixed results. I never enjoyed the confrontations. But they came with the job.

A variety of friends and observers have chimed in with opinions on this side of Jack. It was his competitiveness. His always looking for an edge. It was consistent with his attention to detail in his own life. And that he couldn’t accept the sloppiness he saw from some officials on some nights.

We had many conversations about officials in general, specific officials, the standard of play in college vs. the NHL, the rise of embellishment and how best to deal with it, and so on. We agreed on some things but not all. And no matter the subject, I can say this with certainty: If you decided to take him up on a debate, you had better have done your homework. Because if you couldn’t make your point, he’d eat you up. What a great trial lawyer he could have been.

For all the wins and accolades and all the visual images and the one-liners, I think what distinguished Jack from the rest was his interest in not just doing his job for Boston University, but also for his conference and his sport. Anyone who saw him at work in a coaches meeting, whether a league meeting or a national meeting, saw an active participant always trying to make things better for the group as a whole.

We will all remember Jack in Naples, standing up in one national meeting after another, making points as only he could. Verbal commitments. The visor. USA Hockey. The NCAA, one of his favorites. He never lost sight of the fact that he had a responsibility to not only attend meetings but to participate and contribute. Now maybe his presence and style intimidated younger coaches who stayed on the sideline in some of these meetings. If so, that’s too bad. I choose to see his example of getting involved hitting just the right note for other coaches.

He made us better at what we did. Whether we were hockey players, opposing coaches, referees or commissioners, he pushed and pushed and we all responded for the better.

At the press conference in which he announced his plans to retire, I approached him afterwards and said, “Congratulations. But to be honest, I actually came down here just to make sure you don’t change your mind.”

He smiled briefly and responded, “Oscar Wilde said that some people are happy wherever you go and some are happy whenever you go.”

Amid the flurry of interviews that followed Jack’s announcement, I told someone that the seven words I wouldn’t miss at all next year are, “Joe, Jack Parker is on the phone.” It got a laugh from a reporter. But, of course, that’s not true.

I was one of the people Jack pushed to be better. And I was one he entertained. And, in the end, I appreciated what he has meant to our game. Best to you, Jack.

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