MASSENA — The final goal of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final was a memorable one, as Alec Martinez scored on the rebound of a shot from Tyler Toffoli in double-overtime to give the Los Angeles Kings their second championship in the last three years.
Massena native Mark Morris, who coached both players with the American Hockey League’s Manchester Monarchs, had a sense of what was going to happen even before the shot was taken.
“I can’t tell you how many times (the Monarchs) do drills where we do exactly what happened,” Morris said. “You shoot for the far pad to play for the rebound if you don’t think you will score. That’s exactly what unfolded.”
Morris, who recently left the Monarchs after an eight-year stint as head coach, played a part in the two titles won by the Kings and since the postseason ended he received a note saying as much from the Kings associate head coach John Stevens.
There were 13 players on both the 2012 and 2014 championship teams who played for Morris either with Manchester, or when he was head coach of Clarkson University from 1988-2002.
“I’m extremely proud of having a hand in bringing those young guys along,” Morris said. “My assistants and I, and the people on the development staff, worked really closely with those guys to get them where they are now.”
Morris, who is 56, said that at the end of the 2012-13 season he was offered a three-year contract to stay with Manchester, which is the Kings’ AHL affiliate.
“At the time I asked if I could re-assess after (this) season and just take one year,” Morris said. “That’s the way things played out.”
After the current season concluded Morris talked with Kings general manager Dean Lombardi and decided that now was the best time for him to parlay his role in the Kings success into a National Hockey League assistant coaching position.
“I think that’s ultimately every coach’s goal to be at the highest level,” Morris said. “I realized with the Kings (having a full staff), there was no room for advancement. I think our eight seasons in Manchester kind of elevated what we were doing there and if I was ever going to get a chance to coach at the NHL level that this is probably the best time, with all the openings that are out there to explore.
“The hard part is, when you’ve been a loyal soldier for so long and you leave an organization that you have a lot vested in, it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Morris certainly has an attractive resume for a coach looking to land a spot in the NHL.
The players on the current Kings roster he coached include Kyle Clifford, Dwight King, Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Tanner Pearson, Toffoli, Martinez, Clarkson alum Willie Mitchell, Jake Muzzin, Slava Voynov, Brayden McNabb, Martin Jones and Jonathan Quick.
Morris is the winningest coach of all time at two of the three places where he’s been a head coach — Clarkson and Manchester. He’s also the only person to ever win more than 300 games as a college and professional head coach.
“It’s premature, but I’ve had discussions with the obvious organizations with jobs out there,” Morris said. “I’ve gotten to know quite a few people in the business. There’s obviously some interest in what I bring. I think the lure of attracting somebody from a team that’s won two (Stanley Cups) in the last three years carries some clout. Now it’s a matter of how things shake down and whether it’s an organization that is up-and-coming or with an organization that wants to add some depth to their staff. Those are all parts of the equation. I’ve been on the phone diligently since I got back here (to Massena) doing my homework and making sure I give myself the best opportunity to continue to coach.”
Morris played collegiately at Colgate from 1977-81 and then was a professional hockey player from 1981-84, most of that with the Kings AHL affiliate at the time, the New Haven Nighthawks. He’s coached in the Frozen Four twice, with St. Lawrence University as an assistant in 1988 and at Clarkson as head coach in 1991.
The last thing left to achieve is to finally get that call he originally wanted to get as a player that brings him to a National Hockey League bench.
“My window of opportunity is shrinking,” Morris said. “Like everybody else, as a competitor, I think (the NHL) is certainly a goal. It’s been something I’m confident I can do. I have had success at every level. I would expect that I’d continue to push for excellence and try to impart the knowledge that I’ve learned and utilize a lot of things the Kings organization has done with a new organization. It’s an awkward time for all coaches. I have a lot of respect for other guys waiting for an opportunity. Unlike every other coach looking for work right now you just hope that when the music stops you’ve found yourself a place to sit down. It’s really a tough business.”