In 2010, Jack Parker's summer was interrupted by unexpected heart surgery to treat severely blocked arteries. Two years later, Parker must look back on that experience like it was a vacation. Then, the Boston University hockey coach was concerned for his life. Today, it's Parker's legacy that has been called into question, after a scathing internal report, commissioned on the heels of two star players' arrests on sexual assault charges, depicted the BU hockey program as being awash in a culture of academic impropriety, alcohol abuse and "sexual entitlement."
"I'm concerned, because we don't need any more events," said Parker at Hockey East's media day this week. "We're talking about that all the time. You can't control everything, but we're hoping we've covered all our bases. You don't want to get a phone call at 2 o'clock in the morning again. That's something that weighs on every coach, not just me. Though it'll weigh more on me this year."
Asked if he felt any more pressure this preseason because of the task force findings, the 67-year-old Parker said: "The only pressure in my job is to win the next hockey game. And to make sure we present ourselves properly both on the ice and off the ice, in the classroom and around the campus. I've had that pressure since I took over the job.
"The other coaches in the league put more pressure on me than anybody else because there are so many good coaches and so many good teams," he said. "But in general, I don't think there is any more pressure on me this year to win, or there is more pressure on me to make sure we're not in the newspaper anymore for things other than hockey. That's part of the job every year, and hopefully we'll do a real good job of that this year."
Parker currently sits third on the list of all-time collegiate coaching wins with 875 victories (and a .645 winning percentage), all at Boston University. He is synonymous with the program, to the point where the sheet at Agganis Arena bears his name -- the Jack Parker Rink.
However, it was at that rink, according to a report in The Boston Globe on details of BU's internal report that weren't made public, that some of the most sordid events attributed to the team took place, including alcohol- and sex-fueled parties following the Terriers' 2009 NCAA championship.
The BU task force was formed earlier this year after stars Corey Trivino and Max Nicastro were booted off the team by Parker following alleged sexual assaults in December 2011 and last February, respectively. Criminal charges against Nicastro were eventually dropped, but Trivino pleaded guilty to assault charges and was placed on probation.
The task force, wrote BU president Robert Brown, determined that "excessive alcohol consumption has played a role in the majority of the instances of alleged sexual assault or other inappropriate behavior" on the part of the Terriers.
At the Hockey East media day this week, Parker said he wasn't going to "rehash" the incidents involving his players, but added: "I enthusiastically endorsed the findings of the task force. The stuff that's directed at the hockey team, we've already initiated. The things that have been initiated toward the student body, our kids will participate in, obviously, because they're students here.
"I think the student body, as well as all the athletes, will be better off because of this," he said. "I'm not looking back at that. We got to make sure we do the next right thing this year, and we always look to do the next right thing."
As for his players, Parker said they "can't worry about what people are thinking about them. They have to worry about being good students, good citizens, good athletes, and hopefully that's what we'll continue to do.
"I think the kids deal with this every day. Not the BU situation, but every kid on every campus who is an athlete should have the idea that they're looked at a little differently than the regular student around campus, and they have more responsibility for that," he said. "Sometimes kids are great at that, and sometimes kids aren't that good at it. We're hoping we will continue what we have over 40 years, for the most part, and have kids represent [themselves], the university, the coaching staff and the team in the right way."
Clearly, the team, and the school, are looking to put the events of the 2011-12 season in the rear-view mirror as quickly as possible. In the team's 2012-13 prospectus distributed at media day, Nicastro and Trivino aren't even listed under the "skaters lost" section, since they weren't on the season-ending roster (to be fair, Charlie Coyle, who left the program at the semester break to play junior hockey, isn't listed either). But the players, coaches and administrators are all choosing their words carefully when it comes to discussing the upcoming season, especially as it is played against the backdrop of the report from the BU task force.
"The review was exhaustive, and it was enlightening for us," said Mike Lynch, BU's athletic director. "We certainly appreciate the work of the task force members. It's important work that they did. They made a number of different recommendations for the good of our hockey as well as the good of our program, and we've already begun work implementing those. I'm just like Jack and everyone else here, and really looking for the start of the season."
Senior captain Wade Megan, a Florida draft choice who accounted for 20 goals and 29 points last season, struck a similar tone when asked what the keys to success were for this season's BU squad. "We need everyone to be on the same page. And from what I've seen so far, we're all here to be student-athletes, and we're here to play hockey," he said. "The group we have this year has tremendous character, and they've been working hard. And I think that's the biggest thing. We need to set goals, and have everyone stick together to reach those goals."
Often lost in the salacious details of the task force report is the fact that Parker's 2011-12 Terriers squad was able to overcome much of the in-season turmoil, going 23-15-1 to finish in a tie for second place with UMass-Lowell in Hockey East, one spot behind eventual national champion Boston College. The Terriers also made it to the NCAA tournament, where they were ousted by Minnesota.
Parker's mood brightened noticeably when the questions turned to the upcoming season.
"I love this team I've got in front of me right now," he said. "I like the kids we have, I like the type of talent we have. I look forward to the competition every year. And if I wasn't enjoying it, I wouldn't be standing here."
However, this BU team goes into the season with a distinctively new look, with 10 freshmen vying for playing time. The Terriers are also without rock-solid goaltender Kieran Millan (who led the league with a .928 save percentage) for the first time in four years. Instead, Parker looks to two large freshman recruits, 6-foot-5 Matt O'Connor from Toronto and 6-foot-2 Sean Maguire from British Columbia, to fill the void.
"We've proven that you can win with freshmen in the past," said Parker, noting that Millan backstopped the Terriers to their last championship in 2009. "Not just win national championships, but have successful seasons. With these two guys, we can probably go every other game and see how it goes for a while. They're both very talented. They'll push each other, but they'll also support each other."
Aside from the goaltenders, Parker said the upperclassmen are the key to any success the Terriers have this season. Up front, Parker said, he expects big things from Megan, Matt Nieto (16-26-42), Sahir Gill (12-19-31) and sophomores Cason Hohmann (2-6-8) and Evan Rodrigues (2-10-12). On defense, BU lost Nicastro and Hockey East all-star Adam Clendening, but Parker said he's encouraged by his initial impressions of Matt Grzelyk of nearby Charlestown, Mass., and Ahti Oksanen of Finland, and happy to have Garrett Noonan (16-11-27), assistant captain Ryan Ruikka and shutdown senior Sean Escobedo back.
"Our overall team defense has got to get better," said the BU bench boss. "Last year, we were confident in our goaltender and we gave up way too many shots. I think we were the leading team in the league in terms of penalty minutes. We have to make a drastic change in that. We were great at killing penalties, but we played one-third of every game [with a man] in the penalty box."
Going forward, Parker said, the incidents of last season and the task force report haven't tarnished the Terriers' reputation in recruiting circles.
"It has had no effect on recruiting," said Parker, before adding after a short pause, "because people know what BU hockey is."