Is Force Head Coach The Man That The NHL Forgot

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Is Force head coach the man that the NHL forgot?

Like a patient in a psychiatrist’s office, John Marks lies down on the couch and starts talking.

The head coach of the Fargo Force junior hockey team opens up about having former assistant coaches with less experience than him become NHL head coaches.

Or of the six current NHL coaches who got their starts in the East Coast Hockey League, his resume can easily compare to his counterparts.

“I’ve seen a lot guys who I’ve coached in the same leagues as for a number of years who haven’t had the same success, but ended up getting the opportunity,” Marks said. “That’s what it’s about I guess, getting the opportunity.”

But why? Why did Marks never get a chance at being an NHL head coach?

Marks, on paper, would appear to be a prime candidate.

He had a nine-year career playing in the NHL and later became an assistant at the University of North Dakota before coaching in the professional ranks.

He coached in the International Hockey League – formerly hockey’s AAA level – and became the first coach to win two titles with different teams in the ECHL, hockey’s AA equivalent.

He’s coached and developed more than 100 players who have reached the NHL, a list headlined by goaltender Dominik Hasek.

Yet he has never received a chance to coach in the NHL.

“Well, I think in a lot of cases it all goes back to timing,” said ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna. “Jobs open up, and it is a question of being at the right place at the right time.”

McKenna said Marks was one of the first high-profile coaches to come to the ECHL.

He said getting Marks from the IHL opened the door for coaches to come to the league and use it as a training ground to develop their skills.

It worked. McKenna said seven of the NHL’s 30 teams opened this season with head coaches who were former head coaches in the ECHL.

One of those seven, Davis Payne, was one of Marks’ assistants.

The American Hockey League, hockey’s AAA affiliate, had half of its head coaches come from the ECHL.

“Coaches in our league have to work hard,” McKenna said. “We certainly have become the development ground for the AHL and the NHL.”

Marks says some of it falls on who you know. He professed how some guys stick with a certain general manager and climb the ladder that way.

He’s sent his resume to coaches he knows who were hired by NHL clubs, letting them know he’d be interested in being an assistant.

Marks says the closest he came to being an NHL head coach came when he ran the Chicago Blackhawks training camp for a week.

Marks was the head coach for one of the Blackhawks’ farm teams and was asked to fill in.

“I’ve coached in two exhibition games where we won and we tied,” Marks said. “I’ve never interviewed for an NHL job.”

Dean Blais is one of Marks’ closest friends.

Blais has also been a college head coach, an NHL assistant and a former Force head coach. Now, he’s the head coach at Nebraska-Omaha.

Blais believes once Marks got into coaching, he enjoyed the concept of developing players more than coaching them.

“In the NHL, players tend to treat practices like it’s a warm-up for a game,” said Blais, who was an assistant at UND with Marks. “In Fargo, he’s developing those kids every day, and they work hard.”

Blais said he believes Marks would have also made a great college coach.

Marks, 63, said he applied to take over at UND when Blais retired but knew current coach Dave Hakstol had been groomed for the position.

Looking back on what he’s done, there are no regrets.

He’s come to Fargo, and in his first year took a team that lost 13 of its first 15 and recently won nine in a row with them.

Marks said he loves being in Fargo, but if an NHL team wants to give him a shot, he’s game.

“If any NHL team wants to give me a call,” Marks said. “I’ll be more than happy to listen.”

Ryan S. Clark

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