BOSTON -- As the final horn sounded at Agganis Arena Saturday night, it signaled not only the end of the Hockey East quarterfinal playoff series between Boston University and Merrimack College, but also marked the end of a era for one of college hockey's most successful coaches.
Jack Parker, who announced his pending retirement on Monday, walked out onto the sheet of ice bearing his name for the final time as the Terriers' head coach. After having been behind the bench at both Walter Brown Arena and now Agganis for 40 years, Parker coached his final game on campus as BU closed out their best-of-three series with Merrimack with a 5-3 win.
While fans came to the game armed with "FOR PARKER" signs as well as signing a large banner saying "THANK YOU COACH PARKER" on the arena's concourse, the game concluded with a video tribute to the coach. Parker won his 896th game as a college coach, third most all-time and most with one program for any coach.
After the crowd rose to its feet and his players tapped their sticks on the ice, Parker walked onto the ice and was handed a microphone, and he delivered a short farewell to the home crowd.
"This my last home game for Boston University," he told the crowd. "It's been quite a run for me, it's been a lot of fun. You people made it great."
Afterwards, Parker told reporters he hadn't really thought about the possibility of it being his home finale until he was asked if he wanted a microphone to speak to the crowd. "It didn't dawn on me until the game was over, really, when they said do you want to say something to the crowd," Parker said. "It just didn't hit me, I just didn't think of it until they said you want to say something to the crowd, and my first thought was 'For what?' And then I realized, 'Oh yeah, we won't cross here again.'"
Parker also acknowledged it hit him suddenly when he realized it would be his last game at Agganis.
"Kind of felt weird tonight," he said. "It's my last game in a BU rink. ... It was weird. It was nice to win." Parker has built one of the most successful programs in Division I college hockey over the years, winning three national titles, as well as helping 66 former Terriers reach the National Hockey League, including Keith Tkachuk, Tony Amonte, Chris Drury and Scott Young, and also coaching two of the most famous U.S. Olympians in history, Jim Craig and Mike Eruzione, members of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice' squad. Thanks to his success with the program, Boston University moved across the street from Walter Brown Arena into Agganis Arena in 2005, one of of the most modern venues on the college hockey circuit today.
The program won its last national title in 2009, but hit a rough spot in recent years, missing the NCAA tournament in 2010 and then having some off-ice issues shade the program the last two seasons. This year, the Terriers started off this season strong with a 10-5-0 clip heading into the Christmas break, but BU slid badly in the next two months, going 4-9-2 through January and February, and putting what had seemed a secure NCAA tournament bid in doubt. But Parker's club has played better in recent weeks, going 6-1-0 in its last seven games including the series sweep.
Thanks to the two wins over Merrimack, the Terriers will take on longtme rival Boston College in a single-game elimination semifinal Friday night at 8 p.m. in TD Garden for what likely will be Parker's last chance to face the Eagles. "I think that's nice that we get to play them," Parker said. "I hope [BC coach] Jerry [York] will be back [from a detached retina]. "BC has always brought out the best in us and vice-versa, so it should be a great college hockey game. We can't end their season, but I would like to extend ours by getting to the finals."
It also is unlikely the Terriers would get a NCAA tournament bid without at least a win over BC -- or perhaps winning the Hockey East tournament outright -- so Parker knows his coaching career could end abruptly next weekend.
"The same exact thing will happen as I've said over the years: the only team that wins its last game is the national champion," he said. "Everybody else loses their last game of the year. When it happens, it's like somebody shot you in the head. Because it's so hectic, 24/7 from September to that last game, and when that last game is over, there's no practice tomorrow. "I'll have the same feeling as I've had before. The only thing is there will be no practice next October. I don't think that really dawned on me."
The first step in his goodbye to college hockey came Saturday, as he gave his speech to the crowd, thanking the fans and the band before stepping off the Jack Parker Rink in a game as a head coach.
In the end, the longtime coach was philosophical about the upcoming change in his life.
"I think all good things must come to an end," he said, laughing. "Oscar Wilde once said, some people cause joy wherever they go, other whenever they go. Some of my guys might be cheering when I finish up here."