On Oct. 18, a sellout crowd will pack Blue Cross Arena for RIT’s contest against national powerhouse Boston College, the focal point of Brick City Homecoming & Family Weekend. For RIT Head Coach Wayne Wilson and Associate Head Coach Brian Hills, this will be a different sort of homecoming—forged 35 years ago in a small town in northwest Ohio.
The Boston College men’s hockey team is coached by Jerry York, college hockey all-time leader, with 963 wins in 42 seasons. Both Wilson and Hills were a major part of York’s success at Bowling Green University where they both played for him in the early 1980s.
The trio helped Bowling Green re-emerge as a national powerhouse, advancing to the 1982 NCAA Quarterfinals and Central Collegiate Hockey Association Championship game in 1983 before Hills, the university’s second all-time leading scorer, graduated. In 1984, Wilson, a defenseman and captain, played for York to capture Bowling Green’s one and only hockey NCAA Championship.
“Jerry is all about discipline, doing the right thing at all times like being on time, always being clean shaven and respecting one another,” said Hills, who played for York from 1979 to 1983 and is entering his 10th season at RIT. “On the ice, he let us play our style and taught us how to win.”
Wilson would come back to Bowling Green in 1989 and serve as an assistant coach under York until the latter left for Boston College in 1994. Wilson and Hills are part of a long line of former York players who have become head coaches or team executives at the collegiate and pro levels.
“I had a great experience playing for him and later coaching with him at Bowling Green,” said Wilson, who enters his 16th season behind the bench at RIT with a 282-165-49 record. “Most importantly, he made me a better person off the ice. He taught me a lot about discipline, following team rules, and so many little things like seniors eating with freshmen, and rooming with different teammates on every trip.”
Both Wilson and Hills agree that some of their coaching styles and tendencies have come from what they learned from York.
“Jerry allows you to play your game and is the most positive person I’ve ever been around on the bench; he never gets down,” Wilson said. “I’ve definitely learned a lot from him and emulated certain aspects into my own coaching style.”
York is just as complimentary of his former pupils. “It’s great to see how both Brian and Wayne came in as young pups at Bowling Green, matured into leaders for me on the ice, became great family men and have now become two of the most respected coaches in college hockey,” York said. “They have both done really great things, building RIT into a tremendous program.”
Like last year’s opponent, Michigan, Boston College is a perennial power in Division I hockey, having won five NCAA Championships and made 24 trips to the Frozen Four. Boston College has several National Hockey League draft picks on its roster and will more than likely be a pre-season top-five team when they arrive in Rochester. In addition, Rochester natives Brian and Stephen Gionta and Chris Collins all played for York with the Eagles. Both Giontas play in the NHL.
“To be able to coach against him is an honor,” Wilson said. “Jerry York embodies what college hockey is all about.”
Once the puck drops, however, friendships will take a backseat for two hours. “I talked to (Michigan coach) Red Berenson not too long ago and he said that the crowd and the atmosphere downtown last year was electric,” said York. “We are really looking forward to this game and a loud, sell-out crowd.”