The Unretirement Plan: SLU’s Marsh Intrigued by Working With Dartmouth Women’s Hockey

  • Joe Marsh, former men's hockey coach at St. Lawrence (N.Y.) University, will begin a six-month interim appointment to guide the Dartmouth women's team on Sept. 1. Courtesy of St. Lawrence Sports Information. St. Lawrence University — Tara Freeman

  • Joe Marsh, former men's hockey coach at St. Lawrence (N.Y.) University, will begin a six-month interim appointment to guide the Dartmouth women's team on Sept. 1. Courtesy of St. Lawrence Sports Information. St. Lawrence University sports information photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/11/2017 12:11:01 AM
Modified: 7/11/2017 12:11:02 AM

Hanover — Joe Marsh was on the phone to discuss his recent appointment as interim coach of Dartmouth College’s women’s hockey team when he called out to two of his six grandchildren, who had ventured to the end of the dock at his vacation home in Fryeburg, Maine.

“Hey, guys!” Marsh hollered. “Leave the loon alone.”

Apologizing for the interruption, the 65-year-old restarted the conversation. 

“They’re 3 and 5,” he said of the little ones. “That loon’s a big bird. It probably looks about 10 feet long to them.”

Some observers wonder if Marsh is crazy to take a detour from five years of retirement to guide the Big Green. Abandon the good life for what might be one of NCAA Division I’s worst teams this winter? However, the longtime St. Lawrence men’s hockey coach said he’s looking forward to the gig, made possible when second-year Dartmouth coach Laura Schuler was chosen in April to guide the 2018 Canadian women’s Olympic team.

“It sounded really intriguing to me,” said Marsh, who compiled a 482-418-75 record during 27 seasons with the Saints. He missed the 2011-12 season and stepped down after it because of a chronic arthritic condition that’s since come under control.

“I’m sure I’m going to learn as much from the players as they do from me. You don’t win championships in one year, but everybody wants this to be a smooth transition in their development.”

Dartmouth reached the national semifinals three times from 2003-05 but was 7-21-0 overall and 5-17-0 in ECAC play last winter. The Big Green improved its victory total by one from the previous campaign, but its combined 13 victories the past two seasons is the fewest during such a stretch since the program gained varsity status in 1977.

The Big Green finished in a 10th-place tie with Brown in the 12-team ECAC standings last season and missed the conference’s eight-team postseason tournament for a second consecutive year. That’s the first such scenario since the Big Green initially reached the event in 1989.

“Joe’s a smart guy who knows what he’s stepping into,” said Dartmouth athletic director Harry Sheehy, adding that he was startled to find Marsh open to taking the job. “But I would expect the team to get better over the course of the year.”

Upon hiring Schuler and knowing that, as Canada’s incumbent national team coach, she might land the Olympic job, Sheehy said he expected Schuler’s Dartmouth staff to include a veteran who could step in if she left. Sheehy said last week that Schuler instead elected to hire Chris Cobb, who had one previous year of Division I experience, and Courtney Sheary, who came from the prep school ranks.

“I’m never going to micromanage who someone brings in as an assistant, because it’s the head coach’s rear end on the line,” Sheehy said. “Joe brings maturity and experience, and I think he provides an absolutely perfect interim situation for us.”

Dartmouth recently graduated its top two scorers and four of its top six from a team that last winter had its lowest offensive output in more than a decade. The Big Green averaged 1.35 goals per game and had only two players with 10 or more points. The six-member senior class combined for 47 of the squad’s 96 points.

Among those who graduated is standout goaltender Robyn Chemago, a three-year starter. The candidates to replace her are Christie Honor, 1-6-0 with a 2.87 GAA and a .902 save percentage in nine college appearances, and junior classmate Shannon Ropp, who played once as a freshman and hasn’t seen game action since. 

Incoming freshman Kayla Wormsbecher competed for a Toronto Aeros program that’s delivered Dartmouth some of its best players in recent years. However, she’s listed at 5-foot-4, and only one of last winter’s top 20 Division I goaltenders in terms of save percentage was that short.

Marsh is a Massachusetts native who attended Phillips Exeter Academy, where he skated for future Dartmouth men’s coach George Crowe. He went on to play briefly at the University of New Hampshire during the mid-1970s and became St. Lawrence’s coach in 1985. He took the Saints to the national finals once, the semifinals twice and won eight ECAC regular-season titles and five conference tournaments. Marsh was the national coach of the year in 1989 and 2000.

He was known for excellence, but he was also renowned for his temper. After highly ranked St. Lawrence lost at lowly Dartmouth and participated in a 1988 line brawl, he screamed at his team so loudly in the locker room afterward that he could be heard in rooms on the rink’s second level. He also once angrily knocked an armload of sticks down some Thompson Arena stairs and broke his hand after punching a paper-towel dispenser in another ECAC arena.

“I had no idea they made those things out of recycled battleship steel,” Marsh joked.

However, he then turned serious.

“There were times my emotion was needed and times it boiled over and wasn’t warranted,” the coach said. “This is an opportunity for me to make some adjustments in the way I act. I’m not going to be ranting and raving, but there’s a modicum of intensity in this sport, so I’m sure I’ll be animated from time to time.

“I promise I will be respectful of the position I’m in. I want to help, and I’ll do it with deference and respect. These are intelligent women, and the challenge is for me to be there for them.”

Dartmouth opens the season Oct. 20 at Harvard. The Crimson won only five games last season but two of them were against Dartmouth by a combined score of 7-2.

Notes: The 2018 Winter Olympics are scheduled to take place Feb. 9-25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. … Marsh said he will be under a 6-month contract that begins Sept. 1. … Sheehy said executive associate athletic director Brian Austin, a longtime Marsh fan, first brought up the coach’s name as a possible interim candidate. … Crowe, 81, was spotted looking fit and tan last week in a West Lebanon grocery store. … Marsh said he coached at New Hampton and rarely missed a game at Thompson Arena when Dartmouth men’s coach Bob Gaudet was playing for the Big Green during the late 1970s. … The difficulty of Dartmouth’s women’s hockey schedule has been lowered a bit for the coming campaign. Off the slate are power Boston College (28-6-5 last season) and Northeastern (22-12-3). Added in their place are Division III Holy Cross and UConn (14-18-4). … Sheehy said he recently took the top members of his department to play at the semi-private and exalted Taconic Golf Club, the land of which is owned by Williams College, where he was previously the men’s basketball coach and then athletic director. … Pat Salvas, a member of Dartmouth’s sports information staff, researched the fact that the Big Green’s head men’s and women’s hockey coaches for this winter have combined for 864 victories. Next closest in the ECAC is Harvard, with 655.

Tris Wykes can be reached at or 603-727-3227.

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