Kevin Schnepf, Published May 17 2013
Schnepf: Marks bring coaching stability to Force
It’s a phrase used in match-play golf tournaments like the well-known Ryder Cup. “They have reached dormie,” golf announcers will whisper, referring to one golfer building a lead that matches the number of holes remaining.
It’s a phrase John Marks, the 65-year-old coach of the Fargo Force junior hockey team, resorted to before Friday night’s United States Hockey League Clark Cup finals game at Scheels Arena.
Down 2-0 to Dubuque in the best-of-5 series, it was do or die for the Force.
“Right now, we are dormie,” Marks said. “We’re down two and we’ve got two holes to play here at home. We know what we have to do … we have to birdie No. 17, win No. 18 and we go extra holes.”
Friday night before 3,480 hopeful fans, Marks’ Force left their birdie putt just inches short in a 3-2 overtime loss. No 18th hole tonight at Scheels Arena. No extra hole Tuesday night in Dubuque.
This Clark Cup stuff for the Force is becoming as routine as the Ryder Cup itself. It was their third Clark Cup appearance in their five-year existence. Unfortunately for the Force, it was their third Clark Cup runner-up finish.
What’s different about this season is the fact that Marks becomes the first Force coach to last more than one season. And after signing a two-year contract extension in March, Marks plans to stick around.
“I love it here … I do,” Marks said in his Scheels Arena office earlier this week. “My friends who are all retired ask me when I’m going to retire. I tell them, ‘I am.’ I’m doing something that I love to do. I’m not ready to pack it in.”
Why would he?
Marks considers the Fargo area more his home than his native Winnipeg, more than Chicago where he played professional hockey for the Blackhawks from 1970 to 1982, more than Dayton (Ohio), Augusta (Ga.), Fayetteville (Ark.) or Greenville (S.C.) where he coached minor-league hockey teams.
His wife, Cathy, whom he met while playing hockey at the University of North Dakota, is from Fargo. For years, they’ve returned to this area at their summer home on Lake Melissa near Detroit Lakes, Minn.
“I really wanted the job here,” said Marks, who applied for the head job after Dean Blais left after the Force’s first year. The Force hired Steve Johnson, who lasted one year, and then hired Jason Herter, who lasted one year.
“I finally got it,” Marks said.
It’s a job that has become a full-year deal, with all the success the Force have had. In 13 days, the Force will hold their annual camp that attracts 130 prospects and returning players.
“So we start all over again,” Marks said. “It’s a long year, but I would sooner be here than where a lot of other teams in the league are right now.”
Marks admits it has been an adjustment coaching players, many still in high school, compared to the 26-year-olds he coached in the minors. Reminding himself to be more patient, Marks – known for his crass demeanor – estimates he’s only gotten real angry four or five times this season.
“It’s tough to be a teenager these days … I know, my youngest just turned 21 in January,” Marks said, referring to his son, Logan, who played hockey at Moorhead High School. “You learn who’s got thicker skin than others. You can push the envelope farther with some kids than others.”
He’s pushed them enough to produce one of the Force’s best seasons. Their 38 regular-season wins is their most ever, and they produced the most points ever.
There are 13 Division I commits from this team, including Brendan Harms, a Bemidji State commit who said Marks communicates well with his players.
“You don’t second guess him and you don’t question him … you have so much respect for a guy like that,” Harms said. “He cares so much for his players, but is serious when he needs to be.”
As usual, Marks was serious after Friday night’s thriller. He was also thankful – not only for the comeback win, but for a Force franchise he calls one of the best in the USHL.
“We’ve got an outstanding building, we’ve got outstanding ownership, front office and fan support,” said Marks, who relished the standing ovation Force fans gave his team after the overtime game. “I don’t think you can ask for too many more things … other than maybe a Clark Cup.”
Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found