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It Took Years For Gordie Mark to Coach Youth Hockey, but it Only Took One for Him to Lead a Team to Nationals

By Trent Singer, 04/04/24, 10:00AM MDT


Mark will lead the Vegas Junior Golden Knights 14U girls team to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, at the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- It had been about two full decades since Gordie Mark officially hung up the skates, but the game wasn’t ready to let him go just yet.

For the past several years, one of his friends had been constantly bugging him to help with the Vegas Junior Golden Knights 16U youth team.

Eventually, Mark succumbed to his friend’s persistent badgering, and a few days after joining the team for a practice late last summer, his friend called with another proposition.

“He’s been after me for six or seven years, and I finally relented and thought it would be fun,” Mark said. “Three or four days later after I agreed to do it, he called back and asked me if I wanted to be the head coach of the girls team. We just went from there.”

In his first year as a coach at any level, Mark has guided the team to triumphant heights.

After leading them to a 16-0-0 record in the Pacific Girls Hockey League, the Golden Knights earned the No. 1 seed in mid-March at the 14UAA playoffs, where they qualified for a spot on the national stage.

Now, they’ll look to take home a banner this week when they play in the 2024 Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier II 14U Tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Every game from every national tournament across the country is available to watch via live stream and on-demand exclusively at

“I was fortunate. I’ve got a great group of kids, great families,” Mark said. “The kids have gotten along great. The parents have been great, and I don’t think I could ask for a better situation. The girls have worked their tails off to get better.”

While coaching hockey is a new endeavor for Mark, the game itself has long been a part of his life.

Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Mark played in 85 games at the NHL level from 1986 to 1995. He was selected in the sixth round, 105th overall, in the 1983 NHL Draft and spent three seasons in Kamloops playing junior hockey in the WHL before getting his first professional opportunity with the Maine Mariners of the AHL in 1985-86.

In 55 games with the Devils, Mark racked up 10 points as a defenseman, and he then signed with the Edmonton Oilers in 1992-93, playing mostly with their AHL affiliate. He did eventually get called up for 30 games from 1993-95.

Mark spent the last 15 years coaching a travel softball team, a stint that began while his daughter was playing and continued after she graduated. Now 59 years old, Mark thought his hockey days were all but finished.

He recalls a meeting from late last summer after he had accepted the position to take over the 14U team, in which his friend and an administrator of the Pacific Girls Hockey League were present.

The administrator said the Golden Knights had about a five percent chance to make nationals, as he thought there were four teams in the league ahead of them.

“We played all four of those teams up in Pacific Districts, and we beat three of them,” Mark said. “I guess we did all right.”

Among the group of 17 Golden Knights who will be making the trek to Sioux Falls for nationals is Lizabeth Smith, who was a figure skater before she ever picked up a stick.

When she was younger, her brother, Landon, played hockey. Therefore, in an attempt to be “cool” like her older brother, she quickly made the switch when she was about 6.

Now in her third year of playing travel hockey, Smith has zero regrets.

“The experience is unreal honestly because nobody really believed in us, but we had this team, and we believed in us,” Smith said. “We knew we could make it, so it’s just such an unreal, shocking experience. I’m so excited to go, and I know the team is super excited as well.”

Whether it’s at practice, hanging out at the hotel or traveling countless miles across the country to compete in tournaments, what she cherishes the most are the lasting memories she and her friends have made along the way, including that singular moment last month when they punched their ticket to nationals.

“We were so thrilled,” Smith said. “Words couldn’t even describe it. We honestly didn’t believe it at first.

“It took a minute for it to click, and we were like, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to nationals.’”

Ahead of nationals, Smith and her teammates have done plenty of fundraising to help make their trip come to life, including an open skate several weeks ago in which supporters were invited to join the players on the ice.

Back when the season got underway, Smith admits the lack of familiarity with her new coach made everyone a little skeptical, but a lot has changed since then.

“He has been the best coach by far for this year,” Smith said about Mark. “He has helped us learn so, so much. There’s nothing to do but thank him for helping us get to nationals.”

The success of the Golden Knights 14U team goes hand-in-hand with a hockey market that continues to boom in Las Vegas.

Near the tail end of his playing career, Mark spent a season with the now-defunct Las Vegas Thunder of the IHL in 1996-97. Prior to taking over the 14U girls program last summer, Mark hadn’t been back in the area, but he recognizes how much the NHL’s Golden Knights’ success has created an explosion at the youth ranks.

“There are so many kids playing in the house league programs now,” Mark said. “There are competitive boys teams. The girls program is starting to gain some ground and get more players to make that stronger, but honestly, we could use twice as many ice sheets as there are in Vegas right now and probably still be short on ice times.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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