For Matt Marquardt, one door is closing, but a new door has opened up in the hockey world and he is eager to get started.
The 34-year-old North Bayite, a veteran of 13 seasons of professional hockey, made the decision this summer to hang up the skates on his playing career. But he was still excited to cut his summer short in early August to head out and prepare for a new season on the Pacific coast.
Marquardt, a seventh-round draft pick of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets in 2006, is taking up a position behind a major junior bench, joining the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds as an assistant coach.
“After an extensive search, it became obvious he was our guy,” Thunderbirds general manager Bil La Forge said in a team media release.
“He has enthusiasm for development and is a welcome addition to what we believe is a very strong staff.”
The strong connections and relationships the affable Marquardt developed with hundreds of teammates, coaches and staff through 16 seasons of major junior and pro hockey helped him garner consideration for the job. He will work with head coach Matt O’Dette, a former teammate with the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder in 2009-10, one of five ECHL stops in Marquardt’s storied minor pro career. Fellow long-time pro Kyle Hagel, with whom Marquardt crossed many paths in the AHL and ECHL over the last 10 years, is the other Thunderbirds assistant.
“I’ve always had an interest in the coaching and developmental side of things and working with younger players,” Marquardt said in a recent phone conversation, noting he has taken on player-coach type responsibilities in recent seasons as a veteran player.
“It’s a great opportunity and I’m excited to get started.”
During his final stop in Europe with the Dundee Stars in Scotland, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the power forward served as a player-assistant coach.
Marquardt, who came up through North Bay’s minor hockey system but was not drafted to the OHL, played three seasons of major junior in the QMJHL, breaking in with the 2006 Memorial Cup-host Moncton Wildcats.
The six-foot-two winger scored 100 goals in three QMJHL seasons split between Moncton and Baie-Comeau, before embarking on a pro career that took him to four AHL cities (268 games), five ECHL clubs (260 games), and five seasons in Europe (249 games in Germany, England and Scotland). In all, he scored 185 goals in pro hockey, winning an ECHL Kelly Cup championship with the 2012 Florida Everblades, garnering an AHL Man of the Year nomination with the 2013-14 Charlotte Checkers and immersing himself with fans, teammates and coaches wherever he went.
Through it all, he maintained a strong connection to North Bay, buying a home and returning to the city each summer to skate alongside and mentor some of North Bay’s fellow junior, collegiate and minor pro players. He has been working with some of the next generation of players as the head instructor of the Complete Hockey Training summer hockey school for the past several summers.
In Seattle, Marquardt is heading to a city brimming with excitement for hockey, as the Kraken take the ice this season as the NHL’s newest expansion franchise. (Kraken GM Ron Francis was Marquardt’s GM with the 2013-14 AHL Charlotte Checkers, the farm club of the Carolina Hurricanes).
The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the 2020-21 WHL season, but the Thunderbirds did play 23 games (10-12-1) in a truncated schedule with four other U.S.-based clubs. The Thunderbirds won the WHL championship in 2017, one year after losing out in the WHL final. This year’s Thunderbirds roster includes three NHL draft picks.