By Brian Compton
It was only a couple months back that the Pensacola Ice Pilots were on life support. There was talk of the struggling franchise closing up shop as it concluded a season that featured a league-low 20 victories and 46 points.
These days, though, the fans of Pensacola are excited. Their franchise got back on the right track on April 26, when the Ice Pilots named John Marks their new head coach.
The former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman has experienced plenty of success as a head coach at the ECHL level. Pensacola’s 15th victory next season will make Marks the league’s all-time winningest coach. With 466 triumphs, Marks only trails the legendary John Brophy (480) on the all-time list.
Marks surely is excited about the challenge of turning the Ice Pilots around, and certainly understands the situation the franchise is in. After all, Marks was forced to coach the Fayetteville FireAntz of the Southern Professional Hockey League this season after the Greenville Grrrowl suspended operations following the 2005-06 campaign. After coaching the Grrrowl for eight seasons – which featured a Kelly Cup championship in 2002 – Marks found himself without work. So, he went to Fayetteville and helped that city win its first professional championship in 51 years.
“Obviously, I was sad to leave (Greenville) in the first place,” Marks said. “The circumstances were beyond my control. There’s not much you can do about it. Things worked out extremely well, going to Fayetteville and winning the championship there. So I guess one thing kind of leads to another. Sometimes, when you think things are bad, they’re not as bad as you think and things turn out very well.”
Marks was blindsided by the demise of the Grrrowl, as he spent the first couple of months after being ousted from the Kelly Cup Playoffs putting together a team he felt could improve off a season in which Greenville tallied up 93 points. Instead, he had to leave town like everybody else.
“We finished with a 93-point season, and we had a lot of guys that had committed to come back,” Marks said. “We already signed four blue-chip kids for the following year. Ninety-three points this year probably would have won the conference. We would have had a tremendous team in Greenville, but unfortunately, it didn’t happen. That’s just the nature of the beast sometimes.”