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Marks takes coaching job with Augusta Lynx

by Brian Compton /

John Marks, the ECHL's all-time winningest
coach, has taken over as head coach of the
Augusta Lynx, replacing Bob Ferguson.
When John Marks was beaten out by Jason Nobili for the coaching job in Reading, many -- Marks included -- believed the ECHL's all-time winningest coach would be left out in the cold this season.

Fortunately, that is not the case. After watching his Pensacola Ice Pilots abruptly shut down, the 60-year-old Marks was named coach of the Augusta Lynx on July 31. Marks replaces Bob Ferguson, who was named assistant general manager of the American Hockey League's Iowa Chops by the Anaheim Ducks.

Marks arrives in Augusta with 485 ECHL victories over 14 seasons, and he was the first coach to lead two different teams to an ECHL title. While he seemed perplexed the Royals passed on him, the former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman is more than happy to be with the Lynx.

"It's amazing … after years of coaching, you look in the paper and it doesn't say anything about, 'Wanted: Coach with 25 years experience,'" Marks told "There's not too many of those jobs available. I was starting to get a little worried, but fortunately, I've landed in a very good situation with some outstanding people. I'm relieved and excited."

Because of his late hiring, the recruiting process had to begin immediately. Ten days into the position, Marks signed rookie forward Matt Hartman, who had 20 points in 39 games for St. Cloud State last season. Two days later Marks made a huge signing -- literally. Defenseman Art Femenella -- who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 255 pounds -- will skate on the blue line and intimidate opponents all season. The Annandale, N.J., native was a sixth-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2001 and had 664 penalty minutes in 156 games with the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League from 2000-03.

Femenella tried out with the Lynx last October but missed the entire 2007-08 season due to injury. Considering the numbers on his resume, it's a safe gamble that he will be a fan favorite in Augusta.

"Art is a legitimate heavyweight who doesn't back down from anything," Marks said. "You obviously can't coach size, but he also has all the tools to be a very good hockey player. Art's physical presence should help him be the kind of player fans grow to love and appreciate."
In search of more character and leadership, Marks lured former Colorado College captain Scott Thauwald to Augusta on Tuesday. Thauwald spent five seasons at Colorado and had a career-high 15 points in 39 games last season.

With eight players from last season's roster extended qualifying offers, Marks believes the pieces are in place for a highly competitive club. The Lynx went 32-35-5 in 2007-08 and reached the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

"Bob Ferguson did a fine job there, which should make the transition a lot easier for me," Marks said. "We were able to sit down together and go over the personnel that was there. He had some players that he had been recruiting that I had been recruiting (in Pensacola). They're happy to be coming to Augusta."

Marks said he's been working the phones trying to lure some of his former players from Pensacola to Augusta. While some already have committed to other clubs, Marks is confident he'll be able to land at least one or two. Once the Ice Pilots decided not to return for 2008-09, their players became free agents.

"I've got a couple of guys (interested)," Marks said. "Had I been hired a little earlier, I would have had a couple of other guys that were bigger keys to our team in the second half of the season. I guess our players that we had in the second half weren't that bad after all, because it didn't take long for about six or seven of them to get snapped up."

Marks also will be getting some help from the Tampa Bay Lightning, who signed an affiliation deal with the Lynx this summer. With their American Hockey League affiliate in Norfolk, Va., there's certainly a good chance Marks will be shuffling players back and forth all season long -- a scenario he welcomes.

"I was starting to get a little worried, but fortunately, I've landed in a very good situation with some outstanding people. I'm relieved and excited." -- John Marks
"I've never worried about call-ups … I really haven't," Marks said. "That's what this league is for. Over the years I've had a ton of guys called up and I've never said no. I've never said no to any general manager that's ever called me for a player. That's what the league's all about. I look at it as a positive. A young man's getting promoted, and he knows and the team knows you're promoting him. I think it helps in recruiting in the long run. Anybody who says no is just slitting their own throat."

The same way Marks couldn't say no to Lynx ownership. Of course, he could have found another line of work.

"I had a good friend of mine who had me all lined up to drive a truck when they started harvesting the corn up here and the sugar beets and the potatoes," Marks said. "That would have been rather interesting."

Around the ECHL -- The Alaska Aces re-signed veteran forward Bo Cheesman, who had a career-high 30 goals and 57 points last season. … After racking up 297 penalty minutes with Fort Wayne of the International Hockey League in 2007-08, forward Mitch Woods will be joining the Kelly Cup champion Cincinnati Cyclones. Despite all that time in the penalty box, Woods managed to total 15 goals and 21 assists. The Cyclones also re-signed Matt Syroczynski, who is coming off a 30-goal campaign. … The Johnstown Chiefs have renewed their affiliation with the Colorado Avalanche and AHL Lake Erie. … Forward Ryan Kinasewich will return to the Utah Grizzlies this season. … Kirk MacDonald is joining Jason Nobili in Reading after notching 34 points in 43 games for the Florida Everblades last season. … The Victoria Salmon Kings signed rookie defenseman Mike Nesdill, who had 45 points in 115 games for Bowling Green State University. … The South Carolina Stingrays inked blueliners Zach Tarkir and Johan Kroll. … Bruising wing Brad Herauf, who had 229 penalty minutes in 64 games with the Everblades last season, has agreed to return to the club. Herauf also had 13 goals and 19 assists.

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