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July 7, 2014 | 8:41am ET
Panthers add experience in Morris to staff
By David Strehle, TheFourthPeriod.com

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- With nearly 30 years of coaching experience under his belt, a source confirmed Sunday that Mark Morris will officially be named one of Gerard Gallant's assistant coaches with the Florida Panthers sometime early this week.

The source said it will be announced that Florida GM Dale Tallon has signed the 56-year-old to a two-year contract.

"My window for opportunity to advance in the business is a little different than most," Morris said in a telephone interview Sunday. "I just turned 56 this spring, so I've got to make the most of my time and strike while I have the opportunity. There were situations that I inquired about, but this one seemed to be the best match for me and for the Panthers organization."

Conversations at the NHL Draft seemed to go a long way in the hiring process.

"I got a chance to meet (new Panthers' head coach) Gerard (Gallant) at the draft, and we seemed to hit it off," Morris said of the whirlwind past couple of weeks. "Then I got the call. It's been kind of a crazy month. In one breath you don't know if you're ever going to coach again, then all of a sudden you find yourself with a new organization, one with lots of promise."

As to his responsibilities with his new organization, Morris said he'll find out more over the next few days.

"I'm headed to Florida tomorrow to discuss that with Gerard to see what his plans are," he said.

Having parted ways with the Manchester Monarchs after serving as the club's bench boss for the past eight seasons, Morris had been seeking employment for the first time in nearly a decade.

Dean Lombardi, President and General Manager of the Los Angeles Kings, felt the timing was right for Morris -- who became the first head coach to ever record more than 300 wins at both the professional (338 at Manchester) and collegiate (306 at Clarkson University) levels -- to make the jump to an NHL coaching position.

"We appreciate the job Mark has done for us in Manchester. The team's success on the ice during his tenure and his contributions in helping prepare our young players to be successful at the NHL level have been key contributors to the success of our organization as a whole," Lombardi said in a May 7 statement on the Kings' website. "These ideals will continue to be a priority for us going forward, and we wish Mark the utmost success as there is no doubt he is ready for the next step in his career.

That next step of which Lombardi spoke was a move is behind the bench in an NHL city.

"I was real fond of the previous stops I've had, in particular the college hockey," Morris said. "There were a lot of good things that happened there, and then in Manchester, that was another really good stop. It's a wonderful city, and the people treated me first-rate. I think I was able to leave my mark on those two organizations.

"I probably could have stayed on in the capacity that I was in but from a personal standpoint, I still want to learn. I still want to be involved and want to reach the highest level."

Having coached at Clarkson for 13 years and Manchester for eight more, Morris has not moved around much at all.

"I think that the newness of it all is exciting for me," he said. "I've only had a couple of different stops along the way throughout my career, and this one is particularly exciting. It's at the National Hockey League-level... I had a brief stint with the Vancouver Canucks when I left Clarkson, Marc Crawford brought me on board and I got a chance to there for short-term. It was a lesser role, but that was my first taste of the National Hockey League. It was the first opportunity to be on the ice with those guys on a daily basis, not just be out there with all the youth but try to work with the staff to bring that chemistry together so that good things happen on the ice."

The coach had been very busy since the offseason began following the Monarchs' surprising first round ouster at the hands of the eighth-seeded Norfolk Admirals, and his search took him to many cities.

Morris had spoken with new Washington head coach Barry Trotz about the open assistant coaching positions and was told he is "in the mix." He interviewed with Ron Francis for the Carolina Hurricanes head coaching post, interviewed for assistant positions with both the Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets, and even interviewed with the Calgary Flames regarding the head coaching position of their new AHL-affiliate in Adirondack.

"It's a mad dash for guys trying to find a spot, it's like musical chairs," he described the race to fill coaching vacancies. "I was just looking for a good spot to land."

That certainly seems to be the case in Miami. The best fit eventually came to fruition after he spoke with Tallon regarding job openings in Florida.

"In my early discussions prior to his being hired, Dale had commented on the fact that I had worked with Willie Mitchell," Morris said of the former King, adding that his work with youngsters that went on to play big parts on the current Los Angeles blue line also went a long way. "The fact that I'd had (Jake) Muzzin, (Alec) Martinez, (Slava) Voynov, all those guys are now with the Kings.

"I have a lot of respect for Dale Tallon," Morris said of the opportunity to work with a franchise that's entering a very crucial stage of development. "I watched him work his magic there in Chicago, and obviously that's paid great dividends. I know this is a big year for the Panthers with the new additions they picked up, I think it's exciting times because there is a good blend of veterans and young guys."

Morris has a deep pool of knowledge garnered through the years to draw upon, and has worked with some excellent hockey minds along the way.

"Obviously the Kings have employed a real solid defensive system," he said. "I think Dale liked the fact that I'd had the opportunity to work with three different coaching staffs there as well. I learned a ton from Marc Crawford and Mike Johnston in the early part of my tenure with the Kings organization, and had the opportunity to watch Terry Murray, see how he operated and how well he taught guys how to play defense, and learned a ton from Darryl's (Sutter) systems. John Stevens, Davis Payne, and Jamie Kompon, all those guys along with members of the development team.

Morris even gathered ideologies from his own staff.

"The two assistants I had, Scott Pellerin and Freddy Meyer, also, gave lots of input and brought their knowledge," he said. "I think a combination of the things that I've learned along the way and my experience was attractive for Dale. It's also a group that sees value in what I bring."

In addition to Mitchell -- who coincidently was coached by Morris at Clarkson -- the list of current and former-Kings players who were guided by Morris while in Manchester -- many of whom won a Stanley Cup with the club in 2012 and several who contributed to a second championship this past spring -- include Kyle Clifford, Dwight King, Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Martinez, Muzzin, Voynov, Martin Jones, Jonathan Quick, Tanner Pearson, Linden Vey, Tyler Toffoli, Mitchell, Jonathan Bernier, Davis Drewiske, Andrei Loktionov, Scott Parse, Brad Richardson and Kevin Westgarth.

"I'm extremely pleased for them, the entire Kings organization, and what those guys have been able to do to contribute," Morris said of his former pupils. "We saw flashes of brilliance at the American League level with all three of those guys, just like we did that helped out with the 2012 Stanley Cup. It's really great to see those guys provide the depth and the energy that's necessary to go the distance."

And Morris believes those lessons he taught will continue to serve the players well in their careers moving forward.

"I'm awfully proud of what we were able to do with the players and help them along the way. I think they'll continue to have that attitude, that you're going to face adversity in your life and it's how you react to it that ultimately determines your character and the how the people view you as a coach or as a leader."

The coach used a sign to promote his philosophies with young players, giving them something to ponder regarding their respective futures as hockey players.

"I had put something up in the locker room, and it said 'Embrace Your Future'", Morris said. "I thought that was the perfect mantra to have for a group that ultimately it's up to the individual as to when he decides to put his ego into his hip pocket, stop cheating on the offensive side of pucks and become complete players and be able to play the full 200 feet. The guys ultimately make it and stick are the guys that have really bought into becoming more complete players."

That's his vision with the young players in Florida.

One thing is for certain, and that is his experience with youngsters in the AHL should definitely translate well with a young core group in South Florida that includes the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov, and Aleksander Barkov.

That list will likely grow by another name following the draft in Philadelphia, when Florida picked up the top player available.

"I went on YouTube just to familiarize myself with (first-overall selection Aaron) Ekblad," Morris said. "Man, can that kid ever fire a puck! He's a special talent, and it'll be fun watching his game grow. He's a special player, no question about it. Hopefully he has a long, healthy career, and continues to build his game from where it's at."

That's an area he believes the signing of Mitchell as an unrestricted free agent will be invaluable. It's something the veteran should have some familiarity with, having picked up some things from one of the greatest defenseman ever to play the game.

"I like the idea of taking a veteran guy like Willie Mitchell to teach him the things he's learned along the way," Morris said. "When Willie came back from working with Larry Robinson early on in his career, he had a chance to work with Larry. The first thing I said to him was 'What did you learn?' All he did was rave about the importance of stick position and things like gaps, and other little tricks. Larry was one of the best in the game. Who better to learn from? Now Willie has an opportunity to take on a couple of young guys as one of the better defenders in the NHL, at the top of his career and coming off a couple of Stanley Cups to help sell the message as well."

Just as he spoke about Tallon, it was obvious that Morris also has the utmost respect for Gallant.

"You look at the success that Gerard has had in his tenure as a coach, and you look at the job that he did in Montreal, all the way back to the St. Johns IceDogs days," Morris said of Gallant. "He had a cup of coffee for a short time in Columbus, and self-admittedly he didn't think he was ready. But he had a chance to coach in the NHL. He's a people person, and he's obviously driven. He had a great playing career, and has had great success. I'm sure he's been well-schooled to get him to where he's at, and it'll be kind of neat for me to kind of observe, but also to pitch in what I can and pass along the knowledge I've gained along the way and try and contribute in a positive way knowing the path that it took the Kings to get where they got to."

And for a Panthers franchise that has qualified for the postseason once since 2000 and just four times ever in their 20 seasons of existence, creating a winning atmosphere will be vital.

"When your big club is winning Stanley Cups, I think that validates your body of work," he said looking back on his time in Manchester, and peering ahead as he makes the trip south. "Hopefully that's a good indication as to the type of work that I do, and the winning culture that's created. We had a real good run there for eight years, lots of good fortune combined with lots of elbow grease and hard work. To look forward to this is exciting stuff."

David Strehle is the Philadelphia Correspondent for The Fourth Period.


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