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Four months ago, Fred Parker was a first-year assistant under Clarkson men’s hockey coach Mark Morris. Morris was a fixture at the university after taking the Golden Knights to the NCAA tournament nine times in 14 seasons.
Parker, meanwhile, had spent the previous season as the acting coach of the Ottawa Junior Senators.
Parker had a sweet gig, so to speak. He was working for an experienced, well-respected head coach, and his team was talented enough to finish near the top of the ECAC.
But that was before Nov. 2, when an incident occurred between Morris and junior wing Zach Schwan during a scrimmage before that night’s game at St. Lawrence.
The university accused Morris of using “physical force and threatening conduct” during the confrontation and fired him Nov. 15. Morris has reportedly filed suit for over $10 million in damages.
It was, and still is, a worst-case scenario for virtually all involved.
But hockey teams don’t like to quit, and Clarkson completed its schedule despite the off-ice distractions, with Parker as interim head coach.
The Golden Knights finished the regular season below preseason expectations, understandably, at 12-18-3 overall, but had some high points, including a 4-0 shutout of the potentially NCAA tournament-bound Providence Friars and a 3-3, come-from-behind tie with No. 12 Harvard two weekends ago.
Clarkson finished seventh in the ECAC and hosted No. 10 seed Vermont in the first round of the playoffs last weekend. But true to the unpredictable form of Clarkson’s season, the home ice didn’t help much—UVM swept.
“It’s a tough season to sum up,” Parker said from his office earlier this week. “A lot of things happened—a lot of things that no one expected to happen—and I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t disappointed with the way things ended up, and how we were treated by the officials [last weekend].”
“That was just a microcosm of how the year went. Friday night we didn’t show up to play, then Saturday night we showed up, worked hard, outworked them, but then it got taken away by the refs,” Parker said, referring to the 30 penalty minutes his team was assessed in Game 2. “They stuck it to us pretty good, and they kept sticking it to us.”
Though frustrated, Parker told his players after the final loss that they played admirably given the circumstances adding that, “Adversity makes great men.”
“We saw everything this year,” Parker said. “We saw a penalty shot in overtime [taken by Harvard’s captain Dominic Moore], we had a penalty for too many men on the ice when the other team was getting called for a delayed penalty, and we had a linesman calling penalties on us for seven minutes in a row.”
Parker addressed Clarkson’s senior class specifically after Saturday night’s game, giving them “full marks for keeping it together as well as they did.”
“That’s not the way you want to finish your career, but that’s the situation we had to go through,” Parker said. “You know, there were five teams that didn’t have the problems we did, and they finished below us. That shows what type of individuals they are, that we did as well as we did.”
The Clarkson players were equally appreciative of Parker’s efforts.
“This whole team really respects Fred Parker,” captain Kevin O’Flaherty told USCHO.com after the season-ending loss. “Sometimes it seems like Fred didn’t get a fair shake. I appreciate what Fred has done. He’s taught me a lot as a player and as a person.”
But perhaps the most telling indication of Parker’s performance has been the reaction of other ECAC coaches to the way he handled himself.
“I give him tremendous kudos for the job he did,” said Union coach Kevin Sneddon ’92. “He was in an extremely difficult situation, and we’ve got to take our hats off to him. He deserves a lot of credit, and I think he has the mutual respect of every coach in this league. He is a class act and very professional, and the way his players responded to him just shows how much respect they have for him.
“Things will work out for him one way or another, whether it be at Clarkson or some other program,” Sneddon said.
That should be sorted out soon.
Clarkson public relations official Anne M. Sibley said Monday that a decision as to Morris’ permanent replacement should come within the next two weeks but declined to give names of candidates under consideration.
However, reports over the weekend indicated that the university has already whittled the field down to four—all former Clarkson assistants—including former Harvard and current Boston College assistant Ron Rolston.
The report indicated that Parker is not a candidate.
When asked about his future at Clarkson, Parker said, “I don’t know what’s going to go on, to be honest. All I know is that it’s 11:45, and in 15 minutes I’m going to go to lunch. Then I’ll come back in a hour, work for the rest of the afternoon, and go home.
“We’ll see where it goes from there.”
—Staff writer Jon P. Morosi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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