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Good Marks for expansion

Dayton's coach has done this before

John Marks was waiting for sticks to be delivered, locker-room renovations to be completed and for his players to finish their second practice Tuesday.

He laughed it all away.

The task of taking over an expansion team in a skeptical market, and having to sift through 31 players to get to the best 20, might frazzle some coaches.

Not Marks. He's done this all before.

As coach of the expansion Dayton Gems of the International Hockey League, he's hoping to capture his fourth championship as a coach.

In 1993, the longtime NHL defenseman was hired as the first coach of the ECHL's Charlotte Checkers. In his third season there, he won a championship. In 1998, he was brought on to coach the new Greenville Grrrowl. In season No. 4, he won a championship there, too.

"In both cases, I didn't even have a hockey puck at the start," Marks said. "Sort of like here in Dayton. ... It's a process. I'm used to waiting for this or that. Sometimes shipments (of equipment) don't arrive when they're supposed to. Things like that. But I'm very excited about being here. It's a new challenge I'll enjoy."

The fans in Dayton may not wait long for success, though. There's a rich history of hockey there, including the original Gems, who played from 1964 to 1980, with the exception of two seasons. But the failings of the ECHL's Bombers, who folded after last season, have left a sour taste for many.

"Dayton was quite successful many years ago with the (original) Gems. They would get 5,500 people into Hara Arena and it sounded like there were 10,000 in there," Marks said. "The biggest mistake I think (the Bombers) made was moving to the Nutter Center on the campus of Wright State University. It's a great facility, but not necessarily for hockey. Even if you had 4,000 people there, it looked like the building was empty. The atmosphere wasn't anything like it is at Hara where we'll be playing.

"We do have to change some perceptions. There are some negatives and the previous owners have left some sour tastes. But the new owners of the Gems, (northeast Indiana-natives) Richard Bruner and Ryan Yerrick, are enthusiastic, hungry young men."

The Gems will play their first exhibition game against the Komets, at Memorial Coliseum, on Wednesday night.

Marks thinks he's got several seasons left in him, despite being 61.

"You may look at the date I was born or the gray hair and say, 'I'm too old.' But I can compete with anybody 30 years younger," said Marks, who played 714 NHL games. "I'll walk 36 holes of golf, carrying my own bag. I'll run five miles. I'll bench-press 250 pounds. Anybody want to challenge me?"

Marks has endured through several off-ice issues in recent seasons. He was the coach in Greenville when it folded in 2006, coach of Pensacola of the ECHL when it folded in 2008 and coach of Augusta in the ECHL when it folded during the 2008-09 season. In each case, Marks said, wound up owed sums of money.

"On paper, I've lost a lot of money. That certainly doesn't make me feel good," said Marks, who led Fayetteville of the Southern Professional Hockey League to a championship in 2007. "I'm a little disappointed in the ethics and how some people operate. But here we go (coaching) again and I feel comfortable here."

He'll feel more comfortable once all the equipment arrives, but late deliveries aren't enough to rattle him.

Justin A. Cohn, pro sports coordinator for The Journal Gazette, has been covering the Fort Wayne Komets since 1997. His reporting includes game stories from home and away, features about the players and personalities associated with the Komets, plus coverage of issues affecting hockey at all levels. A native of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Cohn graduated from Emory University in Atlanta. He can be reached at 260-461-8429 or by email at jcohn@jg.net.

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