Scott Fowler

Checkers coach Mark Morris finally made it to NHL – then came home to minors

Mark Morris is the new Charlotte Checkers head coach, and although he never made it to the NHL as a player, his sticks did.
Mark Morris is the new Charlotte Checkers head coach, and although he never made it to the NHL as a player, his sticks did. ddeaton@charlotteobserver.com

6 things to know about Mark Morris, the new Charlotte Checkers coach:

1. He has never coached a game in Bojangles’ Coliseum.

Although Morris, 57, has coached more than 1,000 games in the pros and in college, the first time he stuck his head in Bojangles’ – which returns as the Checkers’ home for the 2015-16 season – was Friday.

“I just took a peek at it. I walked in the building and I just felt a warmth,” Morris said. “It reminded me a little bit of the Scope (home of the Norfolk, Va., minor-league franchise) and Brown University, which also has a rink shaped like that. To have the fans right on top of you – to be able to feel that as a player and as a coach – brings that intimacy that you love to have.”

2. Morris never made it to the NHL as a player – but his sticks did.

Morris was a good minor-league player but not quite good enough to get called up. “I was kind of a Bob Uecker type as a player,” he joked.

Once, though, Morris was playing on a minor-league team owned by the L.A. Kings. NHL player Dean Kennedy was sent down for a short stint in the minors, liked Morris’s hockey sticks and took them back to the NHL with him – unbeknownst to Morris until he went to find them the next day.

3. He finally got to the NHL, then missed being a head coach.

After more than 30 years as a hockey coach, Morris made it to the big-time when the NHL’s Florida Panthers hired him in 2014 as their defensive coach. But then he missed all the other parts of the job. Despite having only served the first year of two-year contract with the Panthers, he left to come to Charlotte and coach minor-league hockey again.

4. Morris’s wife, Cecily, is a family-court judge in New York.

They have four children, ages 22 to 31. Morris returns to live in the family home in Massena, N.Y., every offseason.

“We made a choice as a couple and Mom and Dad that in order for me to continue to stay in pro hockey, she would do her thing and I would do my thing,” Morris said. “She’s able to get here a couple of times a season and also follow our children around the country. It’s not perfect. But in order to follow our passions, we make do with what we can.”

5. Out of necessity, Morris text-messages his players a lot.

“You have to be adaptable,” Morris said. “And the kids from the new millennium, there are a lot of texts with them. You have to figure out how to bridge that communications gap so that they can trust you and know that you care about them.”

6. Morris can wax eloquently about his chosen sport.

“Hockey, more than any other sport, commands respect,” Morris said. “It’s fast. Spontaneous. Now I love football, but there are no huddles in hockey. The spontaneity, the aggressiveness, the finesse, the skill – that all makes it extremely unique. To be able to control your speed and stop on a dime on an ice sheet is pretty special. And there are not too many sports where people are firing projectiles at you at over 100 mph, either.”

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