Ian Clark's On Hockey: Milestone victory for Monarchs' Morris
MANCHESTER -- From bus driver to the top of the charts, it's been quite a ride for Mark Morris.
Morris collected his 300th professional coaching win Wednesday when his Manchester Monarchs defeated Norfolk 3-1. Morris is the only coach to ever win 300 regular season games at both the professional and college levels.
Now in his eighth season with Manchester, the 55-year-old Morris coached Clarkson University to a record of 306-156-42 from 1988 -2002.
"If you look at coaching records, my college coaching career was cut short so there wasn't an opportunity to go back to college coaching. I often wonder where it would have gone," Morris reflected. "You've got to turn the page and move forward. This is a tough business. I guess if you're long in the tooth, the numbers pile up. I've landed in a good spot here."
It's an impressive list of names that Morris now heads. The only ones close are legendary names like Michigan coach Red Berenson (100 pro wins and 744 college wins), Herb Brooks (219 pro and 157) and Bob Johnson (234 pro, 406 college).
"When I looked at the names in there, Bob Johnson, Herb Brooks, that's pretty good company," said Hubie McDonough, Monarchs director of hockey operations. "To be at the top of that, the only guy to ever do it, that's pretty amazing. It's a credit to him."
Another New Hampshire coaching luminary is also impressed.
"Mark's a good friend. He's a great coach. He was a great college coach. I mean, nobody else has done what he's done. It's unbelievable," said University of New Hampshire coach Dick Umile. "That says an awful lot with all the people who have been coaching at both the college and professional levels, so congratulations to him. (He's a) great guy."
It wasn't necessarily something Morris himself would have expected. Morris had stints as the special assistant coach/interim strength and conditioning coach for the Vancouver Canucks and interim assistant coach for the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL after he was let go from Clarkson.
He then found himself back at the prep school he graduated from, Northwood School in Lake Placid, N.Y. Morris was director of boy's hockey and the boys' junior hockey coach there from 2004 to 2006.
"All of a sudden you find yourself literally driving the bus and babysitting your own kids at the prep school where you were the third choice. It's funny how things unfold," Morris said. "I remember that really well. ... some of those railroad crossings I forgot to stop at as we were driving around with guys in their hockey gear. It was a fun time. It reminded me why you're in the business to begin with."
Morris said he's learned a lot since joining the Monarchs in 2006.
"I'm still emotional, but at the same time I'm more savvy to know you can't control everything," he said. "I've realized that at this age, when you admit your frailties, you can endear yourself to your players. As a young coach, oftentimes guys are striving for milestones to prove they're a somebody. In the end, it's the relationships that you build. Watching teams and individuals grow is the most satisfying."
Morris has directed the burgeoning pro careers of a large number of current NHL players such as Jonathan Quick, Dustin Browne, Jonathan Bernier, Teddy Purcell and Matt Moulson. When the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, they did so with more than a dozen former Monarchs.
"They may not be college kids, but college-aged kids (here in Manchester) and the way he's done it has been remarkable," McDonough said. "He's firm but fair, hard when he has to be and pats the guys on the back and that goes a long ways, too."
Morris never made the NHL as a player, topping out at the AHL level with New Haven for three seasons. But just as the players he currently mentors have dreams of the NHL, Morris still thinks about getting his own shot there, this time as a coach.
Morris' answer was short when asked how often he dreams about it.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is email@example.com.