Thursday, November 30, 2017

Book Review: Jack Parker's Wiseguys

By John Giles

“We were cocky and we were tough and we knew we were good. That was our coach’s personality. We took that on, I took that on, we all took it on. We knew that if we went out and executed, we could beat anybody.”   Jack O’Callahan

O’Callahan’s statement appears in “Jack Parker’s  Wiseguys”, a forthcoming book by Tim Rappleye (University Press of New England) about the 1977-78 National Championship Boston University hockey team. His remark is a concise assessment of the team’s and its coach’s approach to hockey, and for some of the players, to life in general.

“Wiseguys” provides a highly entertaining account of that championship season. Rappleye follows the team from training camp through the national championship victory against blood rival Boston College, and a bit beyond to the disappointment of the following seasons, and the player’s and coach’s later lives.

Rappleye covers every game the team played, including preseason games. He intersperses game recaps with profiles of several of the players and Head Coach Jack Parker. This was a team that possessed an abundance of confidence and ability; there was no shortage of outsized personalities. Before the term found common usage, this team swaggered.  Author and players agree that confidence was as critical to the team’s success as talent.

In fact, what makes “Wiseguys” so entertaining is the players’ candor, nearly forty years later, as they recount their on-ice and off-ice exploits, the dynamics among teammates, and the relationship between Parker and his team.  Some chapters of the book are hilarious, other chapters are poignant, and a few chapters make you wonder how the season didn’t include court appearances for some of the players. If the book only included the chapters on Mark Fidler’s first preseason practice, hockey’s role in the social fabric of Charlestown and Dick Lamby’s connections to the Worcester criminal world, it would still be worth the purchase price.

On another level, Rappleye portrays an era in which college hockey was far more prominent in the world of Boston sports than it is today.  The four Boston Division 1 hockey teams were stocked with local players, primarily. Even casual fans could name a couple of players on each team. In the sixties and seventies, the Beanpot and the ECAC Tournament were a tough ticket, and they mattered.  

In his Epilogue, Rappleye addresses the following season, 1978-79. After winning the Beanpot, BU’s record was 18-3-0, and the Terriers had won 10 games in a row. After the Beanpot, the team went 3-4-2, and lost 4 of its last 5 games, failing to make the national tournament. BU was one team through the Beanpot, another team afterwards.

The end of that season served as the prelude to three seasons during which BU failed to reach the postseason ECAC and NCAA tournaments.  Rappleye traces the changes to the game, recruiting and players’ attitudes which forced Parker to adapt his coaching style before BU returned to national prominence in the mid 1980’s.

Upon completion of “Wiseguys”, this reviewer has one question. Can Tim Rappleye write another book about BU hockey? The 1994-95 National Championship team seems like a logical candidate.

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