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Q&A with Checkers Head Coach Mark Morris

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
Michael Smith

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The Carolina Hurricanes named Mark Morris the new head coach of their American Hockey League squad, the Charlotte Checkers, on Friday. had the chance to catch up with Morris shortly after the announcement to get his thoughts on returning as a bench boss in the AHL, his experience as an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers and his philosophies on player development. First of all, congrats on the new gig. How excited are you to begin this next chapter in your coaching career?

Mark Morris: I’m very excited. I was fortunate to be in the National Hockey League last year in an assistant’s role, but I really missed the head coaching business. I had a great run in Manchester for eight years, and I wanted to get back to that atmosphere. I was really comfortable in that role, and we had some pretty good success together. Having gone through the Kings organization, it was kind of a unique experience to follow the process and see some real positive things happen in that organization over that time. I’m hopeful that my experiences will help Carolina move things forward and look forward to the future with a lot of optimism. How familiar are you with the Hurricanes or players in its organization?

Morris: I’m just getting a feel for things. I’m hopeful that as I get down there in the next couple of days that I will get up to speed with the needs of the organization personnel-wise and get more familiar with the systems that Bill (Peters) has put in place. I’m excited to meet the other members of the staff and start building my relationships with the people in the organization. Prospects Development Camp will be your first hands-on experience with the group. What are you most looking forward to in camp?

Morris: I’ve got a lot of passion for the game, and as coaches, we’re all life-learners if we’re still involved in the game. To be able to get to see the talent we have to work with and start to mold them into a group that has success together, that’s the ultimate goal of any organization. After spending eight years with Manchester and then taking on a different role in an assistant coach’s position, what do you think you can bring from the combination of those two experiences?

Morris: Experience. I’ve seen a lot of guys over the course of time start their careers as young pros and see how they were shaped by the vision of the organization and how they were mentored by the veteran players they were surrounded by. Being part of the development system and coaching staff over that time frame has really benefited me.

I had the good fortune of working with three different staffs during my time with the Kings’ organization. First under Mark Crawford, Mike Johnston and Jamie Kompon. Terry Murray came in after that, and I had a chance to see how he implemented his defensive systems. I benefited by learning from not only him but John Stevens and Davis Payne and the entire development staff to see how they were able to really work on the details of the game and bring structure and fun. Darryl Sutter, he benefited greatly by following Murray and the aspects of the defensive game that were put in place. He tweaked a few things and brought a real determined attitude to the team. We in Manchester were able to benefit by great scouting and also applying their systems and beliefs to the young talent we had a chance to work with. Since Ron Francis was named general manager last year, he’s begun building from a solid foundation, building a pipeline of prospects who are NHL-ready when called upon. It seems similar to what you and the Kings organization built in Manchester. Did that attract you to this role?

Morris: For sure. I realized that in the absence of being a head coach, it’s been a passion of mine to really try to implement good structure and relay the messages from the big club to the youth. Often times, it’s very challenging, and you have to think on your feet. Sometimes your best players aren’t available to you, even if you practiced all week long with them. You have to think on your feet and find ways to communicate to the young players the where, the why and the how. You have to open up lines of communication to help them realize the challenges you face in the professional hockey game. Pro hockey can be downright cruel at times and very exhilarating at other times.

Being able to communicate well is a big key. Every year, it seems like you’re dealing with a different breed, and you as a coach have to be adaptable to relay the messages of the organization but at the same time, set standards so that these guys continue to progress their careers and hopefully realize their dreams.

(Ed. note: This interview was slightly edited for content.)

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