It’s been a month now since the events that changed and scarred America, and it’s still not easy to digest.
That’s especially true for those who have been directly affected. Among them is St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh, who begins his season tonight with a heavy heart.
Two of Marsh’s ex-players, Rich Stewart and Mike Pelletier, were among the thousands killed on Sept. 11 while working in the World Trade Center. They worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, the London-based firm that lost all 700 of its employees that were in the buildings.
— Joe Marsh
Stewart and Pelletier — both members of the 1988 team that went to the NCAA Finals — may not have been family members to Marsh, but they were part of the tight St. Lawrence extended family. Perhaps that sounds trite and cliche, but it still rings true.
“That team is very close,” Marsh said of a squad that included such future NHL players as Jamie Baker and Mike Hurlbut. “There’s been a tremendous response from those that played here. Many have called here, and that made me at least feel good.
“It’s like calling home. It makes that connection.”
Marsh was in Alexandria Bay, just across the border into Canada, at a benefit golf tournament when he heard the news of the attacks.
“We play every year on the second Tuesday [of September] for multiple sclerosis,” said Marsh. “A bunch of ECAC coaches play — Don Vaughan (Colgate), Mark Morris (Clarkson), myself … usually Dan Fridgen (RPI) and Mike Schafer (Cornell) play, but not this year.
“It was just starting and all that stuff came in. We didn’t realize all that happened, but I knew a bunch of our guys were down in that neck of that woods. I just hoped [they were OK], but we weren’t so fortunate.”
Eventually, Marsh got word on Stewart and Pelletier from Pete McGeough, who was the captain on that ’88 team.
No less tragic was the additional news he heard, that the hockey world also lost Mark Bavis on that tragic day. The former BU forward, college assistant coach, and NHL scout, was in one of the hijacked planes.
“I was with Mark, and sat with him at a tournament the weekend before,” said Marsh, “Boy, I’ll tell you, I could sit with that guy all day.”
Marsh is one of hockey’s most beloved coaches. His abilities behind the bench are matched by his ability to crack up a room with that Boston-accented wit. But he also takes very seriously his role as an educator.
With that in mind, he soon turned his attention to communicating with his team. After all, it’s not just a hockey team, but a group of young men, at a school of higher learning, whose future was suddenly thrown into major upheaval.
“It’s a pretty teach-able moment,” said Marsh. “You’re at a point in history that’s one of the most significant days in U.S. history. They have all read the impact Pearl Harbor had, this is the same type of thing.
“We wanted them to be aware. They need to be informed. It directly affects a lot of them.”
St. Lawrence opens its season Friday night against Michigan Tech, with hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament for a fourth straight season. Enough time has passed to allow the passion for sport to be renewed, but the world has changed in profound ways, and that won’t be forgotten.
“We’ll still play with passion. People will enjoy that. It’s a good diversion from more harsh things, and that’s a good thing,” said Marsh. “But we all can do some soul-searching in terms of what this means in the grand scheme of things.
“I put energy into what I do, it’s my job. It’s not gonna solve world hunger, but you work hard no matter what your job is. Hopefully people get enjoyment out of it.
“Playing a sport and competing at a high level has tremendous educational value, and I firmly believe that. It’s not the end result, it’s how you go about it. I think we’ve tried to do that to some extent, but now maybe we think things out even more so. Am I looking at guys who may be wearing a different uniform one day? I’ve always said it kiddingly — ‘You guys are worried about the [NHL] draft, you’re lucky it’s not a real draft.’ Now it could be.”
Going forward, hockey is in a unique situation of being the most global of any of the four major team sports played in the United States.
“Our diversity gives our players more a sense of being part of a global family,” said Marsh. “More than anything, that’s what we have to come to grips with and start understanding. The world is smaller.”