Watch Boston College play hockey and there’s a very good chance you’ll be impressed. Head coach Jerry York’s players are incredibly skilled – and he knows how to maintain and improve those skills throughout the season.
Entering the 2014-15 campaign, York stands as college hockey’s all-time winningest coach with 963 victories. He has guided the Eagles to four NCAA national championships (2001, 2008, 2010, 2012) and he also notched a national title behind the Bowling Green bench in 1984.
York offered USA Hockey some insight into his coaching philosophy, season preparation and skill development.
USA Hockey: We stress skill development at the youth hockey levels. Do you still focus on that at BC?
Jerry York: That’s an absolute given. Every day it’s skill work. We have a system of how we want to play hockey, but you can’t play effectively unless your skill level is at the highest level. It’s something that has to be tuned every day – handling the puck, passing the puck, shooting the puck. It’s like soccer. I watch our soccer teams practice. You see so many balls out there and players working on their skills all the time. We have a lot of reps in our practice and use a lot of pucks. We have a lot of puck touches in our practices.
USA Hockey: Do you think it’s easy for coaches to stray away from skill work? Maybe trying to focus more on systems instead?
Jerry York: I think that’s easy to do at all levels. That could happen at my level. You have to constantly remind yourself that the ability to handle pucks and your skills are going to allow you to get better in team systems. I think one of the great things I’ve noticed in USA Hockey’s ADM is that there are more reps because there’s smaller-area games and more players are frequently touching pucks. We do an awful lot of small games during the course of our season. Skill level, to me, is skating also, so we’re constantly working on skating backwards, forwards, pivoting and so on. You can’t have one without the other. You can’t have great skill and no method to play and vice versa.
USA Hockey: How are you and your staff preparing for the season? What do you do to prepare together and get on the same page?
Jerry York: We have Greg Brown, who’s been here for a lengthy period of time. So we’re on the same wavelength on how we want to approach the year. Mike Ayers is now starting his second year with us, so he’s now accustomed to what we call ‘The BC Way.’ I think each year there is some adaptation and there are some tweaks to the system. We’ll discuss that as a staff and I’m certainly open to input from our staff.
USA Hockey: How important is it to utilize and engage with your assistants as the season ramps up?
Jerry York: It’s vital. I think that’s important for youth hockey also. The assistants should feel like they are a part of the whole planning process. Direct involvement from your assistant coaches helps immeasurably.
USA Hockey: Do you still have to make the game fun for your players at the college level?
Jerry York: I think fun is winning at our level. I think if you practice well and practice smart and are creative with your drills and vary your drills, that’s certainly going to help. But at some point during the year, you have to work through the grinds. It might be our sixth practice in seven days or our fourth game in eight nights – and you have to enjoy the grind. Enjoy getting better and working at it.
You talk about September and October, and when you first start, there’s that enthusiasm and excitement from players and coaches. We have to maintain that through November and January and March. I think you have to be conscious of that.
USA Hockey: What’s the most enjoyable and fun part of the game for you?
Jerry York: I enjoy chasing trophies. The team trumps everything in my philosophy of coaching. Everything else is secondary. When you have a team trying to get better and trying to improve their skill level and teammate skills and you’re pursuing team trophies – that’s what I like the best. I like watching the team focus on getting better because we’re going to chase a trophy. The team trumps all. The team trumps individual accolades.