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Record reflects York's principled approach

Less than a year after nabbing win No. 900 (above, on Feb. 17), Jerry York got his 925th. Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Call it anticlimactic, but a win is a win is a win.

And for Boston College hockey coach Jerry York, Saturday's 5-2 triumph over Alabama-Huntsville was win No. 925 in a long and illustrious career, giving him sole possession of the all-time collegiate victory record, surpassing Ron Mason.

Admittedly, the matchup against the independent Chargers (3-15-0) in the opening leg of the Mariucci Classic in Minnesota didn't qualify as high drama. But the convincing win by the No. 1 Eagles (12-2-1) seemed somehow appropriate, simply because it took place far from the media glare of Boston.

After all, York, according to his assistant coaches and legions of former players, has never been concerned with the spotlight. It's never been about winning at any cost. He has always been more interested in shaping the lives of young men. He has always wanted to win, but only if his teams won the right way.

Now he can take a large measure of pride in accomplishing both.

"As he was approaching this milestone, I started to reflect back a little bit, and the most impressive thing to me is that Jerry York is the same great person that came up to Levack [Ontario] to recruit me to Clarkson in 1973," said Dave Taylor, a former collegiate All-American and NHL All-Star who is now an executive with the St. Louis Blues. "As a person, he's absolutely the same great guy.

"I was talking to Bill O'Flaherty [who took over the Clarkson program when York departed for Bowling Green in 1979] when Jerry was getting close to becoming the winningest coach in Division I hockey," said Taylor. "And Billy said, 'Well, the old adage that nice guys finish last certainly doesn't apply in this case.'"

As a testament to York's legacy as a coach who not only won often but did so with his moral compass intact, the BC coach has been swamped with emails, phone calls and texts -- and even tweets on his new Twitter account -- from former players who want the Watertown, Mass., native to know how much his milestone means to them as well.

"He just loves it," former BC captain Matt Price said. "You can just tell he loves everything about his job. I think he loves being around the guys he helps. He loves helping the guys get better. From day one, it's the littlest things. When the raindrops are freezing and Coach says, 'Oh, it's hockey weather.' Everything reminds him of hockey, and he has such a passion for the game that I don't think he can help but bring energy, because I don't think he can imagine doing anything else."

For York, the delight is in the details, teaching the game and seeing the results of those efforts producing banners and trophies for his program and school. He has won five NCAA championships: one at Bowling Green and four at BC.

"When you think about Jerry, it's hard not to talk about what type of person he is," Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna said. "It's a hockey story and a hockey accomplishment, but he just distinguishes himself. It's not just the winning, because some people make the argument, as [BU coach] Jack Parker says, the coach that gets off the bus with the best players usually wins. But there's more to Jerry than just having great players.

"He tries to let everybody be a part of these things and share in them. He really does not like attention. I've been to his house, and he doesn't have a lot of trophies and plaques. It's very modest. It's not an act. I really think he's uncomfortable with people talking about him. So he's probably not looking forward to whatever accompanies this record."

But the record was bound to raise eyebrows, and York, after his record-tying victory over Boston University on Dec. 1, seemed genuinely embarrassed by the attention it garnered. However, the celebrations had to be put on hold after the Eagles failed to hold onto a 3-1 lead against Providence on Dec. 7 and settled for a 3-3 tie when the Friars scored with less than 11 seconds remaining in regulation. That result emphasized the reality that York refers to often -- winning hockey games is not easy.

"The parity in college hockey has never been more obvious," said former BC captain and current Providence Bruin Tommy Cross. "Anyone can beat anyone else on a given night, yet Coach still finds a way to win 30 games a year."

The comment echoes those made by BC associate head coaches Mike Cavanaugh and Greg Brown, who agreed that while BC has been fortunate to recruit superb players, it isn't the only school that's been able to do so. However, York's teams have achieved a consistent level of excellence that's rare.

"The extra thing is Coach and the culture he has established at BC," said Cross. "It's more than just a framework, more than just a foundation. It's been secured year in and year out.

"Everyone understands that the culture isn't going to change. The culture is what it is. Team before individual, Energy and passion, being good citizens -- that's what Coach has established."

It is a culture that has followed York through his stints at Clarkson (1972-79, 125 wins) and Bowling Green (1979-94, 342 wins).

"He's seen all of us come and go, and I'm sure he'll see a few more," said Rob Blake, a former Bowling Green All-American, NHL All-Star and current NHL executive. "But he's also been able to adapt to the game. You can keep a certain style for a certain amount of time, but the games change. College games change. NHL games change. And I'm sure he's had to adapt with that."

To earn the record, York surpassed Mason, the man he succeeded at Bowling Green. But despite his success with the Falcons, including his first national championship in 1984, York's greatest success has come with his alma mater.

As a player for the Eagles, York improved every year, according to longtime rival and foil Boston University's Parker, who stands in third place on the career win list with 886 entering BU's Saturday night game versus Denver.

"He became a terrific offensive player his senior year," said Parker, referring to York's 1966-67 All-American season. "In high school, he was a pretty good player, but I don't think he was a huge recruit coming out of BC High. He was a guy who got better and better as his career went on."

York has made a career of helping his players follow the same blueprint.

"What's most important is that you need good players," said York. "But you need good players who want to get better every day."

That formula hasn't changed in four decades.

"He always stressed, 'You don't stay the same as a player. If you stay the same, you're falling behind. You're regressing. So you've got to work to improve,'" said Taylor. "He always pushed the players to improve, working on the small details, working on the strength training, eating properly, all the little details to make yourself better as you went along.

"As I reflect back on 40 years, that's a trademark of Jerry York's teams. For me, the players that go to him get better over their career. The teams seem to get better over the course of the year, and they seem to peak during playoff time. So certainly a lot of credit to Jerry as a coach and the methods and how things have evolved for him over the years."

York has taken that ideal to an entirely different level behind the Boston College bench (458 wins in 19 seasons). Taking over a team that was battling through a rare downturn in the early 1990s, York constructed a perennial contender at The Heights. The Eagles have made the NCAA field of 16 in 13 of the past 15 years, winning four national titles during that span, including three of the past five.

"They play an incredible transition game, and they're always fun to watch," Bertagna said. "And they're particularly fun to watch late in the year, when they seem to have everything going.

"There is something about that team, in the (NCAA) Regionals. You watch them playing pretty well, and all of a sudden, they just click. The puck is not on their stick for a second. Jerry always says that people talk about how fast our skaters are. But fast hockey isn't skating; it's moving the puck. And when they're doing that, when they're clicking on all cylinders, that's fun to watch."

So what's the secret?

"People asked me all the time: 'What is it that we do at BC?'" Cross said. "There's really not anything different. There's only so many systems, so many forechecks you can do. Coach says it all year: 'I don't have a magic wand. We're not going to just make a run in February and March. We need everyone to buy into everything we're doing. The culture doesn't have a lot to do with hockey and the X's and O's. It's more about attitude, commitment to the program and selflessness. Those kinds of things that happen off the ice but also affect the result on the ice as well."

And Jerry York has the record to prove it.

"I'm just very proud, and very appreciative, to have been a part of it for just a sliver of his years," Price said. "Especially now, having left, you see how much it means to him but also how much the wins are insignificant to everything else that his program is about. Just how much he cares, and the little things he remembers.

"It's about winning hockey games, but it's also about making the members of his program better as young men. It's nice that that can all culminate in a significant number of wins and championships."

Not that York will talk about them. Odds are he'll be too focused on Sunday's game against No. 4 Minnesota to consider what, if any, significance the record holds for him.

"I was part of Jerry's first recruiting class, which was a stroke of good fortune for me," Taylor said. "But that was 1973, 40 years ago. And he's still the same person. He's got that bounce in his step. He's always optimistic. He truly enjoys what he does. It's just a way of life for him."