Mark Ferner has twice been fired as a head coach in the Junior hockey world. Perhaps the worst year of his life was the season he took the hit for the Kamloops Blazers finishing one game over .500 and missing the playoffs.
In that same time period, he lost his older twin brothers – Kelly and Keith – and his father, Ed. Mark found some comfort in a grief-filled year when he signed on as head coach/GM with the Vipers.
He and his wife, Jody, fell in love with Vernon, made friends and bought a nice home at The Rise golf resort development.
After guiding the Vipers to three consecutive Royal Bank Cup tournaments, winning two, he wanted a bigger challenge and a little more money.
He got that with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL. He knew Everett GM Doug Soetart and despite little expectation to make the playoffs, Ferner somehow got the Tips into the final post-season spot.
Past the midway point of season two in Everett, the Tips brought in Garry Davidson as GM and released Ferner. He spent last year as an associate under longtime NHL coach Guy Charron with the talent-thin Blazers, returning this year beside Blazer coaching legend Don Hay.
Now that you know where he’s been since leaving Vernon, let’s assess his second tour of duty.
Feedback from my oldtimers hockey and soccer teams in the past week have all been highly positive. They are stoked to have Ferner, who just turned 49, back. He could pull a Harvey Smyl (three decades with Chilliwack of BCHL) and spend the rest of his career with the Snakes.
“The game’s crazy,” said Ferner. “You never know what’s going to happen. We love it here; that’s why we kept the house here. Did I ever think I’d be back here this quick? Probably not. But, I always had it in the back of mind that this is the place that I love to coach. I’d love to come back here and coach. Am I an old coach by coaching standards? I’m not sure.
“I know that I said it once before that I’ll never wanna go back (to WHL), but I like to coach here and it’s something that would really, really intrigued me to really put some roots down here and if I’m able to be here 10 years, I’d really be thrilled with that.”
Ferner’s love of the game shows up on his resume big time. He played for 18 different teams. Some guys quit the game after wearing two or three jerseys.
From the Buffalo Sabres and original Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to the Orlando Solar Bears, Long Beach Ice Dogs and the Schwenningen Wild Wings, Ferner laced them up wherever they were handing out sticks and pay stubs.
He knows, understands and studies the game. He’s seen everything and can spot a shortcut in a player’s game in a heartbeat. And he’s a better coach than the first time he ran the Snakes.
“I think you’d be crazy to think you’re not growing as a coach. That’s someting I’ve always proclaimed that you’re never done learning. Have I learned things? Absolutely. I had an opportuniuty to work with two young coaches in Mitch Love and Chris Hartsburg and Doug Soetart’s still a good friend of mine. And then last year with Guy Charron (in Kamloops,) who was invaluable as far as his knowledge is concerned. And then Donnie Hay, even though it wasnt a month, it was good.
“You learn sometimes that it reassures what you know. The game’s changed a little bit and we’re gonna try and change with the game as well as far as philosphy, but the meat and potatoes of hockey is still your compete level, you have to be good defensively, you have to be good in the neutral zone. Offensively, the game’s evolving a little bit and we’ll touch on those things.”
Love is still in Everett, working under Kevin Constantine. Hartsburg moved on and signed as head coach of the U.S. Hockey League Lincoln Stars this year.
Former Viper captain Kevin Kraus, who was interim head coach at the BCHL Showcase, realizes he and fellow assistant Eric Godard are in a sweet situation like those young WHLers who coached alongside Ferner.
“Mark really wants to develop not only his team but his coaching staff as well,” said Kraus, 25. “I appreciate that because Eric and I still have a lot to learn and we want to learn from him. He’s not just having us pushing pucks. He’s already got us in discussions in the office and on the ice and he wants to know what we think of situations as well.”
Past veterans used to talk about how they never saw Ferner go bonkers, how he was always in control. It’s a trait that serves him well.
“I’d say he’s a motivator,” said Kraus. “He gets you to play the game no matter what. He’s not a yeller or a screamer. He’s not gonna scare you into playing for him. He just emotionally gets you to play for him every night and thats what he gets out of his players.”