© — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
Defenceman Josh Morrissey scored another big playoff goal — just his second pro marker — for the St. John’s IceCaps Saturday night in Norfolk, Va., tying the game 39 seconds into the final frame.
IceCaps’ young blueliner playing with the poise of a veteran
NORFOLK, VA. — Josh Morrissey arrived in St. John’s for a little look-see early last month, a highly thought-of prospect whose hockey season had drawn to a close in Prince Albert, Sask.
The Winnipeg Jets didn’t want Morrissey’s year ending just yet, even though he’d attended the Jets’ training camp last fall, appeared in two NHL exhibition games, played in the world juniors, and logged tons of ice amidst the big-mileage, travel-weary rigours the Western Hockey League can provide.
So here comes Morrissey, all of 19 — he only became of age to buy a case of beer in St. John’s in late March — jumping into the IceCaps’ American Hockey League lineup without skipping a beat.
Fast forward a month and a bit, and today we see Morrissey not only playing for St. John’s, but one the IceCaps’ go-to defenceman in the Calder Cup playoffs.
Next stop — and no, don’t be surprised — Winnipeg.
He’s that good.
Coming off a 2013-14 junior campaign where he captained the Prince Albert Raiders, was a first-team WHL all-star defenceman and finalist for the league’s best rearguard award, Morrissey scored another big goal for the IceCaps Saturday night, a game-tying tally early in the third period as St. John’s drew even with the Norfolk Admirals 2-2 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.
The IceCaps would go on to win the game 5-3 for a 2-1 series lead heading into tonight’s Game 4 8:45 tonight (NL time) at The Scope Arena (930 AM, stjohnsicecaps.com).
The Calgary native also scored a biggie in Game 2 of the series last Wednesday, 2:48 into the first period on the power play as St. John’s grabbed an early lead and hung on for a 2-1 win.
It was his first professional goal.
“He’s impressive,” said Will O’Neill, Morrissey’s defence partner these past couple of games since veteran Kris Fredheim was felled by an injury.
“I mean, he’s a young dude, but man, he’s a really good player.”
Morrissey was the Jets’ first round draft choice last June, 13th overall, setting off what’s been a heck of a 2013-14 hockey season.
There was the draft, his first pro camp, a couple of NHL friendlies against the Washington Capitals and Minnesota Wild, the world juniors and now the Calder Cup playoffs.
And not only is he playing in the post season, he’s quarterbacking one of the IceCaps’ power play units.
Mention Josh Morrissey and invariably the first skill set that’s brought up is his skating, a stride that is of Paul Coffey-esque calibre.
“I think it’s his skating that allows him to play at the level he plays at,” O’Neill said. “It’s not just that he’s a good skater, but the way he skates will allow him to play here and will allow him to show he’s a smart player, show that he has good hands, has poise, a good shot.
“His feet will allow his smarts and his skill to take over and allow him to play at this level.”
Ah yes, his smarts. We’ve seen plenty of hockey players come through over the years with great wheels, but a mind that can’t catch up.
Million dollar legs, 10 cent brain, as Howie Meeker used to say.
No problem there with Morrissey, the WHL’s scholastic player of the year in 2012-13, when he managed to keep a 90 per cent average in high school despite the grind major junior hockey can provide.
Morrissey has what they call vision on the ice. He seems to find an open player more often than not, and his poise for a 19-year-old is nothing short of exceptional.
He’s the rare bird who can slow down the game to his pace and conversely, pick it up.
That’s a knack only the really, really good ones have.
“He fit right in at the end of the season when he joined us,” said veteran IceCaps winger Jerome Samson. “The transition (from junior to pro) was seamless.
“He’s been a great asset for us.”
Not that everything has been hunky dory, however.
Morrissey has had his moments, like Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final in Albany, N.Y. when a bad turnover directly led to a Devils’ goal in their 4-2 win.
The next night, Morrissey saw sporadic ice time.
“Sometimes there will be mistakes,” he says. “The first four or five shifts, I felt great in that game.
“It was one of those plays where I made a read, and it’s one of those chemistry things with our forwards — he zigged and I zagged.
“The coaches were good. They just said shake it off, that it happens to everybody. I tried to just forget about it. I guess the next night I didn’t have as much opportunity, but that’s all part of the learning curve.”
That curve, for the most part, has been on a steady 45 degree angle upwards since his arrival as Morrissey looks more and more comfortable — and dare we say better? — with each game.
“I don’t know why, but I’m a guy who, every time I go up to a different level, it just seems like I have to figure it out a little bit at first and get accustomed to the guys.
“I think I’m a pretty intellectual guy, so once I start to get comfortable, get used to the systems, I start to develop chemistry with certain players and I know where they’re going to be on the ice at certain times.
“I definitely think I feel better every time I’m on the ice. Every game, I feel I’m playing more confidently.”
So what about next season? Can Morrissey be the second 19-year-old defenceman to start for the Jets after Jacob Trouba patrolled the Winnipeg blueline this year?
He has the goods, no question there, although he will need to get stronger to bang heads with those big National Hockey League forwards.
“Time will tell,” he smiled. “I’d love to definitely make that jump. It’s my goal going forward, like everybody else.
“But I’m just trying to get better and learn every day here. I feel more comfortable and feel I’m playing better hockey every time I’m on the ice. Hopefully we can continue to play hockey for another month or so.
“Once the season’s over, I’ll have to do a lot of work in the gym and on the ice as well before I really know if I’m ready. But that’s my goal.”
Robin Short is The Telegram Sports Editor. He can be reached by email email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort