The Boston University campus spreads over seven blocks of Commonwealth Avenue, split down the middle by MBTA trolley tracks. BU is the archetypal city school, where homecomings are disregarded and student activities are Opening Day at Fenway Park and a Rolling Stones concert at the Boston Garden. And although BU's hockey team has dominated the East in the '70s, winning two NCAA and five Eastern championships, Coach Jack Parker says, "On this campus a hockey player's no different from an oboe player." In fact, until this season the Terriers were busts at the box office of their on-campus Walter A. Brown arena, selling out only once in the previous seven years.
Suddenly, however, BU has sold out its last six home games. This has nothing to do with the fact that the Terriers, a team with only three seniors, are 23-1 and rank with Denver University as the best team in the country. What has happened is that in Boston, where the city game is hockey not basketball, the city school has finally become the city team. For the first time in a decade, the BU lineup contains more Americans than Canadians. There are only four Canadians on the Terriers' 22-player roster; of the four one has a brother and another a father who are BU graduates. And not only does BU skate 15 players who come from Massachusetts, but its five All-America candidates are also local kids.
"There's still none of that campus rah-rah, jock-worship stuff here," says Co-captain Jack O'Callahan, a junior defenseman who is one of three Terriers from the inner-city section of Charlestown. "A lot of the people who have started following us have nothing to do with BU. They're just hockey fans. People in this city suddenly have become really interested in local hockey players. It all started this fall when Bobby Miller made the Bruins. Everyone started talking about how a kid went from the local ranks of a Pee Wee and high school program in Billerica [a Boston suburb] to a local college [New Hampshire] and then right to the Bruins. Next thing you know, Miller's doing television commercials, and people are saying, 'Hey, our kids can play hockey as well as anyone from Moose Jaw.' Now at our games there's a whole section of season ticket-holders from Charlestown. There's a group from the South Shore that follows David Silk. We've even got fans from Southie [South Boston] now, and we'll probably have more fans from Southie next season because I think we're going to get a couple of their good high school players."
When Parker played for BU in the late '60s, he was in a minority. He was from Somerville, a 10-minute drive from BU, but his teams, as well as BU's 1971 and 1972 NCAA champions, were dominated by Canadians who had been recruited by Jack Kelley, now the general manager of the New England Whalers. Eight members of those championship teams reached the NHL or WHA—and all were Canadians. Now Boston University has one player in the NHL, Cleveland Baron Left Wing Mike Fidler, who hails from Charlestown.
March 6, 1978
"It's not that we stopped recruiting Canadians," says Parker. "We recruit the best kids we can, no matter where they're from. Jack Kelley had to recruit Canadians in order to keep the BU program healthy and competitive. Boston College used to wait until the papers published their high school All-State teams, then they'd pick up the phone and have five of the six kids committed to BC by noon. I was sick of that." When the All-State selections were announced last year, five of the six players on the first team had already agreed to attend BU.
As it turned out, that group of recruits included Fidler's younger brother Mark and Miller's younger brother Paul, both of whom immediately became BU regulars. Fidler, in fact, is BU's leading scorer with 21 goals and 31 assists. "We had lost our two alltime leading scorers and were depending on so many freshmen and sophomores to play key roles that we never dreamed we could get off to this kind of start," says Parker, whose Terriers won their first 21 games this season before losing to Yale 7-5 in college hockey's upset of the decade. "Of course, we haven't exactly blown a lot of teams out [eight wins have been by one goal, seven by two]." Indeed, only the dependable goaltending of Brian Durocher, Leo the Lip's favorite great-nephew, and Jim Craig and some steady defense work by O'Callahan and Dick Lamby, the best pair in the East, if not the country, have kept BU on top.
O'Callahan is BU's first junior co-captain in 14 years, a bright, articulate kid whose first goal is not the NHL but law school. A strong, sure skater, O'Callahan also is tough, but everyone from Charlestown is tough. "What makes O'Callahan so good is that he's the most intense competitor I've ever seen." Parker says. O'Callahan shrugs off most questions about O'Callahan. "I almost went to Harvard or Brown," he says, "but I like the low-key atmosphere here. Who knows? This is a tough team, but at a rah-rah place we might all be ego cases."
Lamby transferred from Salem (Mass.) State to BU last year. He played for the 1976 U.S. Olympic team and has been selected for Team U.S.A. in the World Championship at Prague this spring. The 6'1", 195-pound Lamby is a heady puck-carrier who has scored 47 points in 21 games. One pro scout claims he is "the best physical talent in the East." Lamby's principal claim to fame, though, may be that he is the best hockey player to come out of the basketball-mad city of Worcester, Mass. "The best and the craziest," he adds.
While the pro scouts like O'Callahan and Lamby, both of whom have been drafted by teams in the NHL and the WHA, they drool over Silk, a 6', 180-pound sophomore right wing from the seacoast town of Scituate, Mass. At least he was from there—his home was destroyed last month by the terrible storm that ravaged New England. Silk, 20, most likely will be the first American picked in June's NHL amateur draft. That league's scouting bureau rates him "a surefire NHL player." Silk is a natural goal scorer. In 34 games as a freshman he had 35 goals, and he has scored 23 in 20 games this season. Silk is strong in the corners and makes such deft passes that several scouts project him as a center in the pros.
"I don't think any BU player ever had a better freshman season than Silk," says Parker. "Not just because of his scoring ability, either. He's the best defensive forward I've ever coached." Like many of his teammates. Silk has good bloodlines; his grandfather, Hal Sanvrin, played on the last (1918) Red Sox world champions, and a cousin, Mike Milbury of Walpole, Mass., is a Bruins defenseman.
However, no BU player is more representative of the Boston bloodline than Mark Fidler. He has been called a phenom from the Bobby Orr League to Pee Wees to Matignon High School to BU. His oldest brother Joe, who skated at BC, plays forward for Phoenix of the Pacific Coast League. Mike moved right into the NHL after his sophomore season at BU. Mark, a 5'8" 180-pounder, is the collegiate counterpart of Bryan Trottier, the star center of the New York Islanders. "Mark's had a better freshman season than Mike did," Parker says. "He's absolutely incredible with the puck."
BU's success has hardly calmed the nerves of the 32-year-old Parker, who smokes four packs of cigarettes a day. Parker took over BU in the 1973-74 season and led the Terriers to the Eastern championship. He also won the Eastern title in 1975 and 1976, and his 114-28-2 career record is the best in NCAA history in terms of percentage. Nonetheless, Parker says, "As good as our record is this season, it means nothing if we don't win the ECACs and the NCAAs."
This year one of Parker's major problems has been to get his players together for practice. Boston has been snowed in several times, making transportation and communication almost impossible. While school was closed during the big storm, most of the BU players killed time at The Dugout, an underground bar on Commonwealth Avenue that has long been home away from home for the school's athletes. At one point, power along Commonwealth Avenue was lost for 12 hours, and as a result O'Callahan and Durocher, who are part-time bartenders, had to tend The Dugout's bar by candlelight. Fed up with the blackout, Boston Globe reporter Joe Concannon turned to Durocher and joked, "Can't you do something about this?"
Durocher threw his arms heavenward. The lights flickered back on. In Boston, when you're 23-1 and the city team, the Lord is on your side.