Marksmen hire Nick Mazzolini as coach, Ryan Cruthers to run operations

Author: Thomas Pope,
Date: Jun 27, 2017

Nick Mazzolini has been named as head coach of the Fayetteville Marksmen of the Southern Professional Hockey League, the team announced Friday morning. It has also hired Ryan Cruthers as Director of Hockey Operations.

Mazzolini, 32, is hanging up his skates as a professional player to take the Marksmen post. A native of Anchorage, Alaska, he spent the past eight seasons playing professionally after a collegiate career at Providence College.

He spent half his pro tenure with his hometown Alaska Aces of the ECHL. Mazzolini was the Aces’ captain in the 2013-14 season, when he scored a career-best 72 regular-season points, then added 31 more in the playoffs as they won the ECHL’s Kelly Cup championship trophy.

Mazzolini also played one year in Italy and spent the past three seasons with Lowen Frankfurt of Del2, the second-highest tier of pro hockey in Germany. He and Cruthers were teammates in Anchorage for part of the 2011-12 season, and Mazzolini said he found out about the coaching vacancy simply by “giving old buddies a call and seeing what was out there.”

“A big factor was certainly Ryan’s relationship with him,” team president Jeff Longo said. “As soon as Ryan found out Nick was interested, I saw him perk up in a way he hadn’t with any of these other candidates. Nick’s a winner; that’s certainly important to us. He’s been a captain throughout his career, and he’s 100 percent onboard with being the community asset we need him to be.”

Mazzolini replaces Jeff Bes, who opted to not return for the 2017-18 season. He will inherit much of a team that finished 36-17-3 last season with the SPHL’s best home record. Fayetteville was swept in the best-of-3 opening round of the playoffs by Pensacola.

“Things have just kind of snowballed,” said Mazzolini, who was preparing to play a round of golf with his father at 7 a.m. in Anchorage when the hiring was announced at 11 o’clock Eastern. “I’m just incredibly thankful for this opportunity right out of the gate. At this point, I’m a little bit in the deep end as a coach and just starting to swim, but Ryan and I worked tremendously together as linemates, and it’ll be great to have his support and advice.

“I’m not the best candidate out there on paper, but (owner) Chuck (Norris) and Jeff were willing to hear me out and Ryan was able to tell them about me. It’s happened so quickly. It’s still a shock and very exciting.”

Cruthers, who played seven full seasons as a pro, said the Marksmen get a solid leader in Mazzolini.

“From the day I met him as a teammate, I could see he has a sense of confidence about him,” said Cruthers, a captain in the ECHL for the Reading Royals and Orlando Solar Bears. “He’s a natural leader and he’s a vocal leader. We were both captains of our respective teams when I was traded to Alaska, and I saw a lot of the same characteristics in him that I pride myself on. ... Mixed with his hockey knowledge, he’s the perfect fit for us.”

Longo said that he and Norris “talked to probably 12 to 15 really strong candidates,” adding that he was “pretty impressed by the pool of folks that was out there.”

Cruthers owns and coaches Charlotte of the United States Premier Hockey League, and his squad won the league’s Elite division championship this spring. He said that he has children that attend the same school as Norris and Longo’s.

“Chuck, Jeff, Nick and I share a lot of the same characteristics and work ethic,” he said. “I believe in a short period of time we’re going to be the benchmark on how an SPHL team should operate and function.”

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