By Neil Stevens
John Marks joined an elite hockey group Thursday night.
Marks earned his 700th career coaching win with the Greenville Growl’s 3-2 victory over the Gwinnett Gladiators in ECHL action. But Marks was too modest when discussing his entry into pro hockey coaching’s 700 Wins Club. “I guess it means I’ve been around for a long time,” Marks said.
Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, John Brophy, Tommy McVie, Mike Keenan and John Muckler are the only men ahead of him.
The 56-year-old native of Hamiota, a dot on the Manitoba map 70 kilometres north of Brandon, spent his teens in Winnipeg and played junior hockey for the St. James Braves.
He was an all-America player at the University of North Dakota, and Chicago’s first pick, ninth overall, in the 1968 NHL entry draft. He was a defenceman until coach Billy Reay gave him a left-wing assignment in the playoffs in his rookie season, and he stayed up front the rest of his career.
From 1972 to 1982, he played 657 games for the Blackhawks, including 500 in a row during one stretch that would make any Ironman envious. He scored 112 goals and assisted on 163.
He returned to North Dakota as an assistant coach with the Fighting Sioux, and helped them win the U.S. college title in 1987. Marks had recruited a fellow-Manitoban by the name of Ed Belfour to tend goal.
Marks stepped up to the IHL to coach the Minnesota North Stars’ affiliate in Kalamazoo, Mich., and then the Blackhawks’ farm team in Indianapolis when Dominik Hasek was a rookie.
He was lured to the Carolinas 12 years ago by an ownership group that planted an ECHL franchise in Charlotte, N.C. One in the group, Carl Scheer, then started up a new ECHL team in Greenville, S.C., and he wouldn’t have anybody but Marks as his coach. Marks was happy to follow. He has coached both the teams in the Carolinas to ECHL championships.
“It’s a pretty part of the world to live in,” says Marks.
Chicago and Edmonton are NHL affiliates of the Grrrowl.
Marks, who coached his 1,400th game the other day, is in his 18th year as a head coach.
“I’ve always loved the game,” he says. “I still feel it’s the best game in the world – fast and emotional with players with tremendous skills.
“You have to be in great physical shape, and teamwork is a necessity to be successful. I just have a passion for the game, and I’ve been fortunate to have people who have given me opportunities.”
He’s proud of having won the league title three years ago after starting the season with 14 rookies. Greenville again has a young team, and he likes that because he enjoys working with “kids full of passion dreaming of moving up the ladder.”
It remains a mystery why no NHL team has hired him.
“I keep coaching because I feel I can coach in the NHL,” he says. “I’m comfortable here but am I satisfied?
“No. Anybody who has any drive and ambition, and I feel I do, wants to coach at the top of the ladder. I would love to be there.
“I’ve thrown my resume in when positions have become available but haven’t received a lot of interest. I can’t understand it but that’s one of the things you have to accept. But I’d love to do it and I know I can do it.”
There are 700 reasons why he can do it.
© The Canadian Press 2004