By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008
VICTORIA, British Columbia – It never ceases to amaze just how small the world of hockey can be.
Mark Morrison and Don Dietrich made headlines when they were denied Team Canada roster spots for the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics because they were professionals. With the Olympics now wide open to pros, the situation seems almost quaint.
And now 24 years later, Morrison finds himself coaching Dietrich’s son in pro hockey with the Victoria Salmon Kings.
Jacob Dietrich has four points, including two goals, in the four games since he signed with Victoria after graduating from the major-junior WHL as captain of the Portland Winter Hawks.
Jacob, 20, had several ECHL offers once the Winter Hawks missed the WHL playoffs, but it was those hockey connections that was the turning point.
“Don and I talked a few times on the phone and I’m sure he trusts me [to develop Jacob and move him up to the AHL in future seasons],” said Morrison, whose West Division-leading Salmon Kings play the Condors on Friday in Bakersfield.
Moving from junior to pro can be a harrowing experience but Jacob Dietrich has adapted well in the short time he’s had. And having Morrison at the helm has helped.
“It’s how I felt at 17 when I first got to the WHL,” said Dietrich, a six-foot-one centre from Deloraine, Man.
“The players are suddenly bigger and stronger once again at this level. But they know how to play the game better. They support you better and move the puck better and that makes the transition easier. Everyone is a good player up here. I’m really enjoying the Salmon Kings. It’s been awesome. I had a couple of ECHL offers but we knew Mark [Morrison] and that he’s a good, honest guy. Once I talked to Victoria, I realized how good this team is and that made my decision easy.”
What hasn’t been easy is watching his father Don face both cancer and Parkinson’s disease, a battle described in Ladysmith journalist Brad Bird’s recent book No Guarantees from Trafford Publishing.
“My dad is doing well,” said Jacob.
“He had a check-up with the oncologist a couple of weeks ago and the cancer is still clear. He has stimulators in his head to control the Parkinson’s and they seem to be working. The disease is progressing but he’s handled it well. He’s a tough guy and definitely a role model. I’ve always looked up to him. He taught me a lot.”
It’s times like these, with Jacob’s career at the crossroads, when those lessons truly come into play.
“My dad taught me you can always get better in hockey and in life,” said Jacob.
“He’s been through a lot and he’s overcome a lot with a strong mind.”
The son seems to have learned those lessons well. The fact that Jacob graduated from junior as captain of the Winter Hawks speaks volumes.
“We really like Jacob — he is responsible and makes smart plays and also brings us youth and intensity,” noted Morrison.
“He is an all-around, two-way forward that we can throw onto the power play and penalty kill. He’s a very mature hockey player for his age and has stepped right into the pro game out of junior.”
That’s a much-needed thing for Victoria at the moment.
With four Salmon Kings players currently on call-up to the AHL, it’s the recently-signed WHL, NCAA and CIS graduates like Dietrich, Kalvin Sagert, Simon Lambert and Brad Zanon who will have to fill in and who could prove crucial down the stretch drive.