By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008
Not many people get to coach and manage a pro hockey team in the same city where they played junior hockey. Head coach Mark Morrison figures he is living a dream and yesterday he signed on for three more seasons of it through 2010-11 with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL.
And with added responsibilities, as Morrison has also taken on the general manager duties.
“It’s the dream job for me,” said Morrison, the former world gold-medalist Team Canada junior and the all-time leading scorer of the Victoria Cougars major junior WHL franchise.
“Not many people get to coach pro in the hometown in which they played junior hockey,” said Morrison.
“I’m going to work my ass off to hold on to this and build on this opportunity for Victoria and for the Salmon Kings.”
Dan Belisle, who has been instrumental in the turnaround of the Salmon Kings from league bottom feeders to much higher levels in the ECHL food chain, remains the director of hockey operations but relinquishes the GM portfolio to allow Morrison a more hands-on role.
Then-assistant Morrison took over the Salmon Kings head coaching reins midway through the 2006-07 season and rallied the struggling franchise to its first Kelly Cup playoff appearance. Morrison just concluded his first full season as head coach and led the club to a franchise-best record of 42-23-7, the National Conference West Division title and into the second round of the Kelly Cup playoffs for the first time.
“This success, and how things have gone and with what still needs to be accomplished, has really given me the itch,” said Morrison.
“And not getting to where we want to get [Kelly Cup title] has given me an even stronger desire to win it all. I’m focused and very exited about it.”
As a highly-touted New York Rangers prospect coming out of junior, who eventually spent only 10 games in the Show, Morrison has tremendous empathy to players who are sent to the minor pros and trying to claw their way back up. You sense the Salmon Kings players are with him and on his beam.
“The players have different needs and wants at this level than NHL players,” said Morrison. “You gave to give them respect and attention in their quest to get to the next level. If you do that, they will give back to you. They are looking for somebody to help them. I’ve been there. And when I was there, all I wanted was somebody to care. I treat them the way I wish somebody would have treated me when I was playing.”
Salmon Kings team president Dave Dakers said a way had to be found to reward Morrison for what he has done for the team.
“The organization recognizes his important contributions to and his personal growth with the team,” said Dakers.
Mark has made the organization stronger and this [added GM role] allows him to be more direct with players. He really stepped up. We wanted to create that bond with Victoria and Mark represents that.”
What is less clear is what this represents for Belisle, who will continue as vice-president of the team and director of hockey operations minus the key GM duties.
“In the three years I have been with the team, we have grown from what was accepted as the worst team in pro hockey to now one that is pounding on the door of acknowledgment as one of the best,” said Belisle, in a statement.
“The groundwork is in place for the team to achieve the next goal of capturing the Kelly Cup in the near future. I look forward to continuing to help the team reach its goals.”