It was December 29, 1988, I was a senior at St. Lawrence University and we were one period from improving to 13-0-0 on the season. We were playing at home, in one of the great barns in the country, Appleton Arena. We defeated Western Michigan the night before and were leading 6-2 heading into the third period. We were ranked No. 1 in the country and would be keeping that ranking after the weekend sweep.
On the first shift of the third period there was a scoring chance and their goalie covered the puck. I turned away after the whistle, when Mike Posma, a player from Western Michigan, decided to slew foot me from behind. My right leg went up in the air as I fell but the toe of my blade on my left skate caught the ice and when I fell I landed on my ankle. The moments that followed are hazy because I was in so much pain.
After the game my coach Joe Marsh came in to the training room to find out what happened and how I was doing. He got the news; I broke my ankle and I was likely done for the season. He was so mad he punched a towel dispenser in the coach’s bathroom.
The next morning he drove me to the hospital to get x-rays. I got my leg and ankle and he got his right hand x-rayed. The news wasn’t good! His hand was broken and he was going to need some type of cast to immobilize it.
My news was worse. The doctor said he had good and bad news and asked what I wanted to hear first. I said the good news to which the doctor replied, “This shouldn’t be a career-ending injury.” That was the good news!
The bad news was I broke my fibula and tore ligaments in my ankle that required season-ending surgery. So I had just played my last game at St. Lawrence and as the Co-Captain. I was going to be a passenger on the top team in the country.
Earlier that year, in September, the New York Islanders were playing an exhibition game against the Edmonton Oilers in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Pete McGeough was in his first pro season and trying to make the Islanders. Pete had just graduated from St. Lawrence where he was a Co-Captain and helped our team win the ECAC Championship and advance to the National Championship, a game we lost in overtime to Lake Superior State in Lake Placid.
It was Pete’s third game as a pro. As he skated towards the corner in a race to the puck, he and an opponent got tangled up and fell. The other player fell on top of Pete and they went crashing into the boards. Pete’s arms were under him so he went head first into the boards. His doctor couldn’t give him the same good news I got. His career was over and he was going to have to fight the ultimate fight just to be able to walk again. He had broken his back and his good news was he might be able to walk again. His bad news was he was never going to play hockey again.
Joe Marsh left our team and spent almost two weeks with Pete while he was in his hospital in Cape Breton. Hockey was secondary at that point and Coach Marsh left the coaching up to the assistants who at the time were Paul Flanagan and Pierre McGuire.
In a previous blog a year or two ago, I mentioned five people who were influential and had a big impact on my hockey career. One of those people was Joe Marsh, my head coach at St. Lawrence University from 1985 to 1989.
Joe Marsh became the head coach at SLU in 1985, my freshman year. We started the year 0-7 and I think Joe was worried he might not last the first year. He did, and 25 more seasons.
For all the trophies -- 5 ECAC Championships, ECAC and NCAA Coach of the Year honors -- his legacy will always be the players he taught and coached. When you played for Joe Marsh, you were being taught leadership, life skills, work ethic first and foremost, skills that carry over to any vocation. The hockey was important, but was secondary and basically a conduit to teach young kids how to be successful in the real world.
Joe Marsh retired after 26 years and he has left an incredible mark on so many of his players, many of whom are very successful in the business world.
Mike Mudd, President of the Worcester Sharks, is one of those players who learned from the best. Mudder and I played on the same team for three years in college and next week we will get to see each other and skate at Appleton Arena again.
On Nov. 1, there is ceremony at St. Lawrence to honor Joe Marsh and his coaching career. On Friday there is an alumni game in the afternoon, a pre-game gathering at the legendary Hoot Owl, and then a ceremonial puck drop before the Skating Saints game on Friday night.
Pete McGeough will be there, he can walk but he won’t be able to skate. Players from teams over 26 years will be back in Canton, NY for one weekend to celebrate the amazing career of Joe Marsh.
Joe Marsh made going to the rink fun everyday. He cared for his players, sometimes too much, but that’s just his DNA. Joe Marsh is an incredible teacher, motivator, coach, and person and his legacy will continue for years to come because of the leaders he helped mold.
Coach, thank you for making me feel part of the team when I was injured, for an amazing four years, and for the contributions you have made to St. Lawrence University and the game of hockey.
And remember Coach, “We look at danger and laugh our heads off”.