Former Terriers pay tribute to Parker’s BU legacy
Back in 1982, then-21-year-old Dale Dunbar was down on his luck. Dunbar had played one season of college hockey at Boston University, but a family tragedy had Dunbar feeling sorry for himself during his freshman year, and he messed up academically. Dunbar left BU after his freshman year and moved to Canada to keep playing hockey, but he quickly realized Commonwealth Avenue was the best place to be.
So after a season in Canada, Dunbar approached coach Jack Parker and asked for a second chance. Parker agreed to let Dunbar come back, and the rest was history. Over the next three seasons at BU, Dunbar, a defenseman, played well enough to earn a six-year professional hockey career despite having never been drafted. When his playing days ended, Dunbar went into coaching and mentoring just like Parker. Dunbar currently coaches the Winthrop High School hockey team and serves as a family advisor to some Boston University hockey players.
“Coach Parker giving me that second chance, that’s really helped me obviously to this day of still being in hockey and fulfill my dreams even playing a little bit of the National Hockey League and pro hockey and coaching,” Dunbar said. “He gave me a huge break when he really didn’t have to because I didn’t fulfill my end of the bargain.
“I always wanted to help my program as an alumni but more for coach Parker to have my players be under his tutelage as far as his mentorship. He’s a great person, a great coach and a real caring person.”
At Parker’s retirement press conference on Monday, Dunbar’s sentiments were echoed by the dozens of players who showed up with less than a day’s notice to see their former coach off. One reporter who has covered collegiate and NHL hockey for two decades remarked that Parker’s retirement press conference was the most well attended press conference he can remember.
For the players, attending the press conference was a way to give back to and support a man who served as a father, coach and friend long after he managed them on the ice. Many players in attendance credited Parker with shaping them into the men they are today.
They also reflected on the giant family of former BU players that has Parker as its patriarch. The BU hockey team at times was a literal family; in 1978, Parker’s first wife, Phyllis, died of cancer and he was suddenly a single father to two young daughters. Players recalled sitting on the bus with Parker’s daughters as they traveled to games. One of Parker’s daughters eventually married Scott LaChance, one of the BU players on the 1990-91 Terrier team.
“We’re all his sons, as he said, and he cares about us not only on the ice but off the ice,” said Mike Eruzione, a Terrier from 1973-77 and a member of the 1980 USA Olympic gold medal team. “You look back and we have some players who have had some tragedies in their life, whether it be Travis Roy, we’ve had players in severe car accidents, a couple of players have lost their kids with leukemia or cancer. Jack’s the first guy there for you. He’s more than just that college coach. It’s not just five days a week. It’s a year-long process for Jack.”
Parker’s love for his players was evident simply by the way they responded to the news of his retirement. Players not only turned out in large numbers at the press conference; many also spoke of their former coach on Twitter and left their congratulations and well wishes for him. They were eager to speak with reporters in order to share their stories of time spent with Parker over the years. Players spoke of the strength of Parker’s practices and his emphasis on becoming well-rounded players instead of specialist superstars and. And of course, many players mentioned times Parker would yell at them in the tunnel of the rink after a poor play or insufficient effort.
Colby Cohen, a Terrier player from 2007-10 and current Providence Bruin, said his most vivid memory of Parker came after a Tuesday night game against Providence College in his junior season. Parker laced into the defenseman and delivered what Cohen said was the most intimidating scolding of his career. Cohen incredulously recalled that no other coach aside from Parker has ever been able to give him a tongue-lashing like that while somehow managing to get him to perform better and maintaining a good relationship with him.
In addition to improving his teams as hockey players, Parker focuses heavily on preparing players for life after hockey, and while he encourages them to play for as long as they can, he also makes sure they are taken care of by helping them find jobs when their days on the ice are over.
“He always says play hockey for as long as you can because there’s no job like it, but at the same time, he’s very careful to make sure guys are prepared,” said John McCarthy, a forward and captain for the Terriers from 2005-09. “He’s got internships lined up. He has networking opportunities with alums that are now not playing anymore, so he definitely looks after that also.
“He’d do anything for his former players. He’s always at the events, the alumni events and everything and it’s good to see him in that setting because that’s different from when we played for him.”
While many players said they realized Parker’s retirement would have to come sooner or later, they said it was still a shock to see him actually announce his retirement. Among the surprised was Mike Grier, a forward who played for the Terriers from 1993-96 before embarking on a 15-year NHL career.
“I was a little sad. He’s meant a lot to so many people and he means a lot to the university so it’s kind of an end of an era and you kind of hate to see it come even though it’s probably best for him,” Grier said. “I’ve got a nine-year-old son, and in the back of my mind, it’s always been like, ‘Oh it would be great for him to play with Coach Parker.’ Obviously that’s a long time away, but you always think of him being here running the program, so it’ll definitely be a change.”