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Massena’s Morris guides players to Cup final

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Massena native Mark Morris played professional hockey for three years and has been a professional coach for the last six.

But Monday night will be the first time Morris sees a Stanley Cup Final game in person when he watches the Los Angeles Kings host Game 3 at the Staples Center.

Morris coaches the Kings’ top minor league affiliate, the American Hockey League’s Manchester (N.H.) Monarchs, and 11 of the current Kings players skated for him in Manchester. Current King defenseman Willie Mitchell also played for Morris at Clarkson, where he is the all-time winningest coach in school history.

“It’s very gratifying,” Morris said. “Watching them play at a high level and playing for the Stanley Cup is rewarding.”

One of Morris’s top forwards this year was 6-foot-3 Dwight King, who scored 11 goals in 50 games for Manchester before the Kings called him up. He grew into one of the top offensive performers for Los Angeles in the Western Conference Final against the Phoenix Coyotes.

“I know for us he was a force,” Morris said. “After the all-star break, (Kings coach) Darryl Sutter came down and spent a couple days watching our team. A couple days later, King and (Jordan Nolan, who is also 6-3) were called up, and we became a very small team after that.

“They are very strong and they puck-protect very well. They are guys that really made a huge impact on our team. To see them both go up and be able to blend in nicely with L.A. really validates what goes on in the American League.”

Even though Manchester is close to Boston, which is notorious for starting the “Beat L.A.” chant at a Celtics game in 1982, there is a Kings fan base in the town, according to club president Darren Abbott, a Canton native.

“It’s a lot bigger now,” Abbott said. “The Kings have owned us since day one. A lot of our core fan base identifies with them. I wouldn’t say it’s a big Kings following, it’s still (Boston) Bruins country. I think after 12 years the community has identified with the fact that we are with the Kings. I’ve been quite pleased with the excitement in our community with the cup run.

“It’s great for us, especially the guys that went up this year. That’s been real exciting. It’s been easy for us to let our fans know how important the development model is for the Kings. The guys that are from Manchester seem to be doing the most damage.”

Morris has coached Manchester since the 2006-07 season and is the only coach in franchise history to win a postseason series. He’s twice taken the team to the third round of the AHL playoffs.

“He’s a great teacher,” Abbott said. “I think that’s what the Kings like about him. He really works well with the young kids. The Kings put all their young players in Manchester. We don’t go out and sign a lot of free agents at this level. What we like about (Morris) is he’s very supportive of what we are trying to do off the ice, whether it be speak to youth hockey kids or help with business after hours. I think he’s really become a good part of the community. Everyone likes him down here. It’s hard to argue with what he’s been able to do. He never knows what he’s going to be dealt from one week to the next. We lost (Slava) Voynov, King and Nolan right at crunch time and he still got us to the playoffs.”

While Morris has enjoyed watching his former Monarchs contribute to the Kings playoff run, he’s also proud of Mitchell, who played at Clarkson from 1997-99 and helped the Golden Knights win the 1999 ECAC championship.

“Willie is a very dedicated pro,” Morris said. “I think that one of the biggest advantages he had was having the opportunity to work with Larry Robinson when he broke in with the (New Jersey) Devils. He’s one of the best in the business at teaching defense. He got ahold of Willie right away. He learned a ton from him and took it every step of the way.”

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