- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

The names and faces that dot Jack Parker’s two NCAA championship teams at Boston University, first in 1978 and then in 1995, form a tapestry of hockey history that appears weaved from the same cloth.

Irish and Italian last names, churned out by the same Catholic prep schools, speak to the stunning effectiveness with which Parker could build championship teams composed almost solely of kids who grew up in New England dreaming of wearing a Terriers uniform and playing in Walter Brown Arena.

It was a homogenous bed of talent unlike any other in the country, except perhaps that of Minnesota’s high schools, and it was all Parker needed to keep a college hockey contender stocked.

“We’ve had nine guys from Catholic Memorial [School in West Roxbury, Mass.], seven guys from St. Sebastian’s [School in Needham, Mass.] on the team. … There was a time when somebody would get the best kid from British Columbia, and it was, ‘That’s OK, we’ve got Tony Amonte,’ you know?” Parker said. “Somebody’d get the best kid — ‘That’s OK, we’ve got Keith Tkachuk, we’ve got Scott Lachance.’ If you look at the teams that won national championships, it was Jack O’Callahan and Jimmy Craig, it was Chris O’Sullivan and Mike Grier and Chris Drury.”

If Parker wins his third NCAA championship Saturday, it won’t be because he went back to those long-running pipelines. In some ways, it will be more because he realized he couldn’t.

The makeup of this year’s team, the first Terriers squad to reach the Frozen Four since 1997, represents how much Boston University has had to adapt to the changing recruiting game. Players are coming from more places than ever before, and many of the top talents aren’t staying in high school. Instead, they’re going to junior hockey leagues, the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., or Canadian major junior leagues.

The last of those three options makes players ineligible for the NCAA, but Parker has used the first two to great effect.

Seven players on this year’s team came from the U.S. under-18 team, which has become something of a clearinghouse for the best high school talent in the country. Another nine came from various U.S. junior leagues. Just nine players on this year’s team are from Massachusetts, and two more are from Connecticut.

“The fact that we’ve got guys like [Nick] Bonino, Colin Wilson and [Kevin Shattenkirk] and [Colby] Cohen, those are huge recruits that are not our usual recruits,” Parker said. “They were not from around here. In years past, if they weren’t from Boston, we weren’t going to win that battle.”

But the opening of 6,300-seat Agganis Arena in 2005 changed the game, and Boston University had the resources to compete on a national stage.

Wilson, a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award — college hockey’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy — might be as good an example of an unusual recruit as anyone. He grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and said the only Division I school looking at him before he went to Ann Arbor was Bemidji State.

Once he started playing in the program, first for the under-17 team and then for the under-18 team, that quickly changed. In the team’s barnstorming schedule of exhibitions against major college teams, Wilson played before scouts every night. He heard from more than 30 teams and narrowed his list to Colorado College, Denver, North Dakota and Boston University.

Because the program has become such a one-stop shop for scouts wanting to see the best players, it has also become the popular destination for kids who are more concerned with fast-tracking their NHL path than they are about playing in their hometowns.

“You look up in the stands, and it’s about 30 black jackets with clipboards,” Wilson said. “You just go, ‘OK, I’m definitely in the right place for the exposure.’”

Even one of the Terriers’ more traditional recruits, freshman David Warsofsky, had a different path to Boston.

He grew up a half-hour outside Boston. Former Terriers player and former Boston Bruins head coach Mike Sullivan was his older brother’s godfather. He committed to Boston University at age 16. But he didn’t stay in New England. He went off to Ann Arbor.

And when he got to Boston University, he held no illusions of the program being the next step only for New England kids anymore.

“A lot of guys from New England are going major juniors or going to school out west,” Warsofsky said. “It’s nice to have guys from your hometown all on the same team. But I think wherever the best guys come from, that’ll work.”

It has helped put Parker back on the map. He’s still somewhat nostalgic for the days of teams loaded with New Englanders, but he knows surviving in today’s college hockey world requires something different now.

“It’d be nice if Massachusetts could get back to producing a lot of great hockey players again. But in the time being, we can recruit Western Canada against North Dakota or against Denver, go out and recruit in the Midwest against Michigan,” Parker said. “We still don’t have a lot of success in Minnesota. Pulling kids out of Minnesota is a very difficult situation. But other than that state, we can go anywhere we want.”

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