Easy to 'Think the World' of Marsh
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Joe Marsh, St. Lawrence's head coach since 1985, officially announced his retirement last spring. This week, the school and the program will honor him with Joe Marsh Night.
Marsh's accomplishments as coach are there for everyone to see. But to anyone who didn't interact with him regularly, it's hard to properly summarize Marsh as a man in just a few words.
Certainly, there are many others who were with Marsh far more frequently than I over the years. But I've interacted with him more than enough times to understand, particularly since my "career" covering college hockey started in 1988-89, the year after St. Lawrence went to the national championship game.
Any reporter or broadcaster who ever spoke with Marsh will tell you the same thing — he could fill the tape or notebook with one question, and not with just fluff, but with real thoughtful stuff. Over the years, I learned I didn't need to prepare anything more than two questions for him to fill my pre-game interview segment. I had many of those kinds of interviews with Marsh over the years.
In the early-to-mid '90s, I was attending the ECAC Tournament banquet regularly, and Marsh was always the highlight. His legacy is as more than just a comedian, but it's hard not to remember how often he had his audience rolling, wise-cracking about one thing or another.
One of my most important dealings with Marsh was when he was chair of the NCAA men's ice hockey committee, circa 1997. With the college hockey world still very much in the dark about how NCAA Tournament selections worked, I interviewed him at length about the process, and shed a lot of light on it. It was a conversation that kick-started my life-long obsession with informing people about the process, and how it could be changed.
That year, we met up at the Frozen Four. Like me, Marsh isn't very fond of flying, and had driven from Canton to Milwaukee, as I did myself, from Pennsylvania. We shared a number of off-the-record laughs.
When my two kids were born, I remember daydreaming of a day they could be college hockey players. I thought that, if the day ever came, there was no coach I'd rather them play for than Joe Marsh. My kids chose soccer instead, and may never play college sports, but the sentiment stands.
Then 9/11 happened. Marsh lost two former players in the attacks on the World Trade Center. We had a conversation that sticks in my mind, about sports and life, and it being a "teachable moment."
The point here is that, the combination of Marsh's ability to relate through humor, combined with the obvious emotion and care he brought to interacting with young men, was so evident. He is, of course, not the only college hockey coach to ever care about his players beyond the rink, but he seemed to do it more passionately and effectively and evidently than anyone else.
After I stopped broadcasting Cornell games in 2004, and with St. Lawrence not in the national spotlight for a while, I didn't speak to him as frequently. But the most memorable moment in that span came at the 2009 ECAC Tournament, when St. Lawrence needed to defeat Princeton to make the NCAAs. Instead, it could only get a tie, then won in a shootout.
"It would’ve probably been just as meaningful for (Princeton coach) Guy (Gadowsky) and I to go out and have a quick round of canasta at center ice."
I'd encourage you to read his whole remarks from that day, but it perfectly encapsualtes how he merges humor with serious remarks in order to make an impact. Though it might be hard to get the full effect without putting in your own Marsh-like Boston-accented inflection.
His peers, of course, reacted fondly to Marsh after news of his retirement was announced.
"Joe to me, without him even knowing, was kind of mentor," Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. "Our teams have always had tremendous games against them. He's passionate, funny and a good coach. I loved how our teams competed. ... I have a lot of respect for how he handles himself. The coaching fraternity has changed over the last 25 years. Guys don't talk to each other as much, recruiting has become that much more cutthroat. Guys like Joe, I grew up playing against him and coaching against him. He's a tremendous man and a great coach, and our league is going to miss him sorely."
Said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet, "I think the world of him. I've learned so much from him. He's a dear friend and he's just a guy I looked up to, because he has things in perspective. Every game we'd play, we'd stop at center ice and chat ... we never talked about the game, he always asked about my kids by name, and my wife. In the heat of the battle, there's a guy who had everything in perspective. There's no more competitive guy, he's really fiery, but he gets it.
"I sat besides Joe a number of times (in meetings) and it was like being in school, because he could just make you laugh and not be caught doing it. So I've got tears down my face and he's just dead-panning. I was actually running a meeting once, and in the heat of doing something, he's sending notes and little caricatures."