Interim women’s ice hockey coach Joe Marsh inherits rebuilding team from Laura Schuler

by Ashley DuPuis | 10/16/17 2:30am

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The women's ice hockey team looks to rebound from a 7-21 campaign which was one of its worst seasons in recent memory.

by Carolyn Silverstein / The Dartmouth

In June, athletic director Harry Sheehy announced that Joe Marsh will serve as the interim women’s ice hockey head coach for the 2017-18 season. The announcement came in the wake of head coach Laura Schuler’s appointment as head coach of the 2018 Canadian women’s Olympic hockey team. Schuler’s selection as the head coach for Canada makes her the first former national team player to serve as the team’s head coach at the Olympics. Named Dartmouth’s head coach in 2016, Schuler took over the program from long-time head coach Mark Hudak for the 2016-17 season before temporarily stepping down to lead Canada. Although Marsh will be the team’s third head coach over the last three years, the team remains optimistic about the season and continuing to rebuild and improve after finishing 7-21 overall last season.

“In terms of the transition … it’s been nice to watch this program develop and maintain some consistency,” assistant coach Morgan Illikainen ’15 said. “Having three coaches in three years can definitely be hard at times; however, I think everyone’s done a great job of just maintaining that work ethic, maintaining that tradition of excellence that Dartmouth women’s hockey is proud about, and I think that they’re doing a great job and have a positive attitude about it.”

Senior captain Hailey Noronha ’18 echoed similar praise of the players and coaching staff amidst the transition.

“Every coach is going to have their own systems, like the way they want us to play on the ice,” Noronha said. “But then there’s still cultural identity that we need to uphold so that’s kind of what the upperclassmen have been doing.”

Marsh brings a wealth of experience to Hanover. Before coming to Dartmouth, Marsh served as head coach for St. Lawrence University’s men’s hockey team for 27 years. He led the team to a program-record 482 wins, two regular season Eastern College Athletic Conference hockey titles and five tournament championships. Marsh was also named National Coach of the Year twice in 1989 and 2000 and received the Tim Taylor Award for ECAC hockey’s top coach four times in 1989, 1992, 2000 and 2001 — the most in league history. 

Schuler welcomed Marsh’s appointment as a positive step for the team, noting that both she and Marsh have talked extensively on the team’s vision. Both coaches believe the transition will be smooth. 

“[Marsh] has a pretty good understanding of what our team is like and how we do things here,” Noronha said. “He hasn’t stepped into a complete head coach role, but he respects how we do things here, so he knows when to step in and when to step out.”

For Marsh, the positive response has been mutual. 

“They’re great kids,” Marsh said. “I don’t even feel like I’m coming to work. I love it here. I see a lot of smiling faces, and that is really refreshing. It’s really been a lot of fun so far.”

Marsh will join a coaching staff that includes assistant coaches Illikainen and [Chris Cobb]. Illikainen is a new member to the Big Green coaching staff but brings a sense of continuity to the team as a former Dartmouth player and alternate captain. Cobb has been with the Big Green since the 2016-17 campaign and will have an increased presence in the operation of the program in Schuler’s absence in order to assist in a smoother change.

“I think one of the things that will sort of help [the players] is that Cobb has done an outstanding job [in facilitating the transition],” Marsh said. “He’s really kept the organization basically what it was with [Schuler]. They’ve got a good thing in place in terms of their overall model of how they want to operate.”

Marsh noted that he doesn’t want to change too much of the program.

“I’m coming in just trying to fit into [the program], and I’m not looking to make any changes,” Marsh said. “I’m only here for a year, so I don’t have any agenda or ego in this. I want to follow their model and follow their lead.”

Carolyn Silverstein | The Dartmouth

Dartmouth notched a 3-2 preseason win over the College of the Holy Cross, scoring in the opening minute of overtime.

While Schuler tries to coach Canada to a gold medal, the women’s hockey team will carry on in Hanover, continuing to strive for excellence on the ice. In conversations with both coaches and players, it is clear they all hope to make the season one of progress of which Schuler will be able to build off of when she returns for the 2018-19 season.

“We’re in a rebuilding stage from last year, so I think our main goals are in terms of improvement,” Noronha said. “Just as long as we improve each year that’s definitely a goal of ours, like we want to become a winning program, and I think that we’re working towards that and have a good start this year.”

The Big Green kicked off the season with two preseason games this past weekend. On Friday, Oct. 13, Dartmouth faced the College of the Holy Cross for the first time in program history, winning 3-2 in overtime. Two days later, the team took the ice again in its annual exhibition match against McGill University. Dartmouth fell 7-2, a fall from last year’s 2-2 tie against the Martlets. The Big Green will officially open the season on Friday, Oct. 20, at Harvard University.

Looking forward, Marsh is hopeful. He was quick to highlight that the process in becoming a winning team does not happen overnight. 

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I think the kids realize that,” Marsh said. “We know we’re going to have to be a real hard-working team, but I think the girls have an understanding that to be a top-tier team you can’t cheat the process. You’ve got to take it one rung at a time.”