BOSTON -- Adieu, Coach Parker.
There would be no storybook ending in the storied career of the best hockey coach in Boston University history. Faced with a must-win scenario, and his Terriers unable to duplicate Friday's stunning comeback victory against Boston College, BU coach Jack Parker saw his 40-year career come to an end during the Hockey East finals on Friday at the hands of a determined Lowell River Hawks squad in a 1-0 thriller.
"From the opening faceoff, I thought both teams played extremely well. It was a great college hockey game," said Parker, employing one of his favorite assessments. "It was unbelievable that it was a 1-0 game, with all the chances going on. I was very, very pleased with our effort. I thought it was one of the best games we played all year. A real 60-minute effort.
"I was really happy with my team. I was really happy with everything that happened, except we couldn't put it by their goaltender, and they got one by ours. Both teams played extremely well. We got 36 shots. We had our chances. I guess it wasn't to be."
Instead, an unmistakable sense of "a changing of the guard" permeated the TD Garden after the final whistle. It was a fairytale run for Lowell (26-10-2), led by second-year coach Norm Bazin, as the top-seeded River Hawks captured their first Hockey East title. It was the exact opposite result of the 2009 title game, when Lowell needed to beat BU to advance to the NCAAs, only to lose 1-0. It was also particularly sweet for Bazin, who was a senior on the 1994 Lowell team that lost to BU in the 1994 Hockey East finals, 3-2.
"I congratulate UMass Lowell for a terrific season. I thought they were a terrific team all year long," said Parker. "I thought we gave them one heck of a game tonight, but they had a heck of a year. Winning the league, and then winning the playoffs, is quite an accomplishment for them, and for Norman. He's had a great year as a coach and deserves that Coach of the Year award."
Parker admitted that, when the game ended and he watched the Hockey East banner lowered so Lowell could be added, he thought of how the competition in the league had gotten progressively tougher over his tenure.
"When I first started coaching, and a good friend of mine [and former BU teammate], Billy Riley, was the coach at Lowell Tech," said Parker. "BU hockey was something special when I got the job here. Lowell Tech, now UMass Lowell, has come a long way, to the point where they're now the dominating team in Hockey East."
While the sentimental vote may have been in Parker's corner, the see-saw game turned in Lowell's favor with one dramatic play halfway through the third period, after the River Hawks had withstood a dogged BU attack.
With just over nine minutes left in the game, UML's Derek Arnold broke the heart of Terrier Nation. The junior from Foxboro, Mass., finishing a rare 3-on-2 break, spun around the back of the net and flicked a backhander that caromed off BU netminder Sean Maguire and into the net. It was the last goal that Parker would see scored from his viewpoint behind the BU bench.
Arnold, in the handshake line after the game, even managed to draw a laugh out of the outgoing BU coach.
"He said he wished he played for me. And I told him, I wished he did, too," said Parker with a wry smile. "He's a really good kid and a really good player."
The loss means Parker's Terriers (21-16-2) won't get an invitation to the NCAA tournament, which starts next weekend. Parker finishes his four-decade run with 897 wins, third all-time (behind BC's Jerry York, 935, and Ron Mason, 924) and the most by any coach at a single institution. He already has a record 24 NCAA appearances, but while disappointed the Terriers couldn't get a 25th, he said he left the TD Garden without regrets.
"I couldn't ask for more of my team," said Parker. "I couldn't ask for a better weekend for us. We played really well. We played really hard."
The Terriers kept the game close with a gritty, relentless style that Parker loves to preach. It was the same style he played with when he suited up for BU for three years, 1966-68.
"He was a very good skater. The best part of his game was his faceoffs and his forechecking," said longtime rival and friend, BC's York. "He was tenacious forechecking. So you could see some of the fire that he's had in his coaching career as a player."
For his players, the loss was compounded by the fact they weren't able to send their coach out on top.
"Obviously, we wanted to extend the season for Coach Parker for as long as we possibly could," said BU captain Wade Megan, a member of the senior class that will be the first in 40 years to leave the program at the same time as its coach. "At the end of the day, we played as hard as we possibly could, and we left it all on the ice. It's tough to have regrets when you play like we did tonight. We just couldn't solve their goaltender. That was the bottom line. It would have meant a lot to extend the season, especially for Coach Parker, but it wasn't meant to be."
Ryan Ruikka, an assistant captain, echoed Megan's sentiments. "This is my fifth year with Coach," said the Michigan native. "It's been a great time. He's an unbelievable coach, unbelievable person.
"We wanted to make the run as long as we could for him. We pushed hard at the end. We didn't get what we wanted, but he had a great 40 years here," said Ruikka, prompting a chuckle from his coach. "Some kids say he's the face of BU hockey, and I just thank him for all he's done for me and this organization."
In truth, there are few names as synonymous with "Boston" and "hockey" as Jack Parker. Over the years, his Terriers teams have been so dominant in the annual mid-winter Beanpot Tournament (29 crowns) that the annual contest for parochial supremacy has been dubbed "the BU Invitational." He won the Beanpot three times as a player, and 21 times as a head coach. He's also won seven Hockey East crowns, all at the home of the Boston Bruins, the Garden (whether the cherished Boston Garden that closed in the fall of 1995, or its replacement, currently known as the TD Garden).
But an eighth crown proved elusive. In a fast and clean and scoreless first 20 minutes, BU carried the territorial play, but only managed an 8-6 advantage in shots on net. Both teams battled, but as Parker had warned the night before, managed to stay out of the penalty box.
Lowell began to assert itself in the second period, but BU's Maguire, one of the Terriers' heroes from Friday night's 6-3 win over BC, was equal to the task. Just before the game's halfway point, Lowell's Colin Wilson, who led the River Hawks in scoring against BU this season, had a Grade A chance in front, but slid his tip attempt just past the left post. Moments later, UML's Joseph Pendenza had a bid in the low slot, but his wrister was blocked by the BU defense.
At 3:25 of the third, UML's Colin Wright snuck in behind the BU defense and beat Maguire cleanly to the blocker side, but the puck hit the left post flush and caromed out. At 11:09, however, Arnold worked his magic, getting the eventual game winner past Maguire (28 saves) on a superb individual effort.
BU had chances in the final three minutes, including terrific bids by Evan Rodrigues and Cason Hohmann. But Connor Hellebuyck, Lowell's outstanding freshman goaltender, stopped everything that was thrown his way, finishing with 36 saves.
"From a sentimental perspective, we certainly wanted to go as far as we could go. Not only for our seniors, but also for Coach," said BU athletic director Mike Lynch. "For me, I look back on the 13 years I spent with him, the last nine as athletic director, and have nothing but great admiration and respect for him. He's obviously hurting tonight because we didn't win the game. But generally speaking, he's in a pretty good place.
"It's a little tough to think about anything else right now except the loss," he said. "But we'll move forward, with pride and enthusiasm. He's had an unbelievable career."
Among the many former BU players who came to the game to lend their support was Travis Roy, the Maine native who was crippled 11 seconds into his first shift in 1995, but remains extremely close to his former coach.
"Obviously, it's pretty emotional," said Roy. "He's a special man. He's the most competitive man I know, the wisest man I know. I love him.
"For those of us who know who he is, and his character, and what he's meant to his players over the years, it's just an honor to know him and be part of his life. I only wish I got to play for him for more than 11 seconds."
For Parker, it's the end of a run lasting almost 50 years, a run that first started when he walked onto the BU campus as a freshman in the fall of 1964, and took over the reins of the hockey team as head coach in December 1973.
"The old Garden and the [new] Garden ... was always pretty good to this guy," said Parker. "It was always a pleasure playing here, that's for sure."
"I've won games, I've won tournaments, I've won [national championships]," he said. "I wanted this for my seniors. But it wasn't to be. The best scenario is that I'm still breathing."