Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Humble Hall of Famer

Chris Drury (Center) Inducted into U.S. HOF

If you are privileged enough to have the right magnetic strip, you can enter the west entrance to Agganis Arena, and take the steps down into BU hockey’s inner sanctum. For all the delights of the Terriers sparkling hockey mecca, Agganis’s greatest feature is the photo history on display throughout. And as you step down to the gleaming white corridor you pass under a stunner: six sweaty seniors in living color, surrounding the precious Beanpot, having done what no Terrier had ever done before, swept all four Beanpots, a perfect 8-0, capturing their Beanpots at both Boston Gardens, old and new.
BU's class of 1998 "Gang of Six"
The BU hockey class of 1998: Chris Drury (Trumbull, Conn.), Mike Sylvia (Newton, Mass.), Chris Kelleher (Belmont, Mass.), Jeff Kealty (Newton, Mass.), Peter Donatelli (North Providence, Rhode Island) and Tom Noble (Hanover, Mass.). Six of New England’s finest, caught at their very moment of Boston hockey immortality. Anyone who knows Drury, the latest inductee into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, knows that he disdains talking about his own accomplishments. He remained true to form at the H.O.F. banquet last month, with one exception: he could not contain his pride in what his senior class accomplished.

“I could never rank any of the championship teams I was fortunate enough to be on,” said Drury. But I like to identify with my class at BU. We had about 100 wins and 30 losses over those four years, which was lots of fun. We had six kids in our class and we were all from New England. We all grew up dreaming of winning a Beanpo, and to go to BU and go 8-0 and be the first class in history to win the Beanpot all four years was a huge thrill.”

Jack Parker was at the Renaissance Boston for the H.O.F. pomp and circumstance, and the former BU coach and player insisted on dropping a little cold water on Drury’s happy flashback. “I told Chris ‘Hey, I won all three of my Beanpots because you couldn’t play as a freshman, so you weren’t the first guy to sweep it Chris, okay?’” Parker is not ready to concede Beanpot player dominance to any class, because if you scour the record book, Parker’s class was a perfect 23-0 against Beanpot schools in his three years of play, an uncanny record of Boston college hockey dominance.

But once Parker flipped his cap from that of proud player to grateful coach, he began to gush, something Parker rarely does. He paused to consider all the implications, then handed out this rare superlative. “I think Chris Drury was as valuable a player as BU has ever had. He single-handedly lifted teams with his will to win.” Parker then threw out three disclaimers: Jack Eichel (single season greatness); Jack O’Callahan (comparable competitiveness); and John Cullen (scoring). He then painted a hypothetical as to why Drury was BU hockey’s top dog.
“If you woke Chris Drury up at three o’clock in the morning and said ‘Hey, we got a pickup game over at the Boston Skating Club, c’mon over!’ He’d come over, and once the game started, he would HAVE to beat you to the puck in the corner. It’s in his DNA.”

Drury was the ultimate observer 18 years ago. On the ice in his final Beanpot championship, overtime versus Harvard, he vividly recalled his favorite hockey memory, one in which he never touched the puck. “Nick Gillis scoring the overtime goal to beat Harvard to win our fourth Beanpot as a class, to win the Beanpot that year. Seeing Tom Poti make the play, seeing Gillis put it in the net. I had such a perfect angle to see the whole play develop, seeing it all take place and then the joy and the jubilation of winning another Beanpot, that definitely sticks out in my mind to this day.”

BU hockey’s intrepid historian Bernie Corbett also has a fondness for the Terrier class of 1998, the guys who won it all as freshmen. “I like to call it the “No School Announcement” class said Bernie with a laugh. “You had Newton, Hanover, Framingham, Belmont, you had all those Boston area schools.” Only two of the six were from outside Route 128: Donatelli technically being from Rhode Island, but he prepped at St. Sebsastian’s and had an older brother who captained BU. “Really, the only one without a previous connection to BU was Drury,” said Corbett. But Drury ‘s older brother Ted was a Beanpot champion for Harvard, games that Chris drunk up as kid. He adored his Terrier hockey experience, postponing his pro career for one last run at college hockey’s major titles.

Drury, whose hockey resume makes War and Peace seem like a short story, chose one and only one team to shine light on when he was anointed to the Hall. It was not the Silver Olympic squads, nor the Stanley cup winner nor the two NHL squads he captained. It was his beloved Terriers that he singled out, and that moment in time at Boston Garden in 1998, a moment in which he, the king of overtime thrillers, was relegated to spectator and chief cheerleader, the first man in on the red and white dogpile, a celebration of historic proportions.

Agganis security guard Timmy Smith cautiously let in the interloper into the special entrance to BU hockey. There was Matt Grzelcyk below toweling off after some rigorous therapy. Perched above the 12 steps down to BU’s inner circle was the 1998 Glorious Gang of Six photo, dripping sweat and exuding triumph. From right to left are Sylvia, Kealty, Donatelli, Kelleher, Noble and finally Drury, posing with a rare smile. His face is flushed with victory, nose and lips rouge with pumping blood. America’s hockey champion, an athlete defined both by clutch wins and his humble demeanor. Of all the championships he has been part of, this is the moment he cherishes above all, at the Garden, with his mates, clutching the ‘Pot.