Josh Morrissey played his 108th game of the 2013-14 hockey season last night in Texas, but instead of slowing down, the future Winnipeg Jets defenceman appears to be flourishing with the heavy workload.
“He’s played well for us,” said coach Keith McCambridge of the St. John’s IceCaps’ rookie. “He’s shown no sign of dropping off the way he’s playing.
“In fact,” said McCambridge, “he seems to be getting better with every game.”
The 13th overall pick by the Jets last June suited up for the IceCaps in Game 1 of the Calder Cup final Sunday night. The game in Cedar Park, Tex., was another in a journey that began in Winnipeg at training camp last fall, continued to Prince Albert, Sask. and the Western junior league’s Raiders, to Malmo, Sweden at the world juniors and finally to St. John’s where Morrissey has continued his season after the Raiders were bounced from their playoffs.
Despite his tender age – he only turned 19 in March – the Calgary-born Morrissey has emerged as one of the IceCaps’ best defencemen as the team tries to win St. John’s first American Hockey League championship.
McCambridge reasons part of why Morrissey has been able to withstand the rigours of the long season is due in part to his supreme skill, and skating which even now would be considered at the upper echelon NHL level.
“With regards to wear and tear, he’s been fine,” McCambridge said. “He’s not a guy who takes a lot of heavy contact. He’s an elusive skater who is not putting himself in a bad position where he really has to take those heavy hits.”
The Jets organization is well aware of the busy season Morrissey has had – “that’s something that has been discussed,” acknowledged McCambridge – but with a maximum of seven games left in the season, there’s no turning back now.
“Playing in the Calder Cup has been nothing but a huge benefit for Josh Morrissey and the organization,” said the IceCaps’ coach.
“And Josh Morrissey has now gone from a player who would have gone into Winnipeg’s camp trying to feel his way around in terms of performing against big, strong players to a player who is going in there in September believing and understanding he can play at a real high level.”
McCambridge isn’t the only one who thinks Morrissey has gotten better as winter has turned to spring and summer (in Texas, at least).
The player agrees, too.
“Although I’ve been a little bit worn down at times with the long season,” Morrissey said, “I’ve felt better every day. And for me, it’s kind of cool mentally to know that because of the long season, it would be easy to feel tired. But I’ve felt really good in the games.”
Morrissey says he’s been holding up well thanks in part to his conditioning and proper diet and rest, but staying in the game from a mental standpoint has proven to be a bit of a challenge.
For the past 10 weeks, he’s been living in a downtown St. John’s hotel, although he can be often found hanging out with teammate who live nearby.
“Games are easy,” he said. “I’ve had enough practice at it this year that I know how get myself ready mentally. I feel pretty good in games.
“But it’s definitely been a grind. Some days you have to do a little extra to get yourself ready for practice.”
No doubt, it’s been quite the year for Morrissey, starting with the draft, his first training camp, an NHL exhibition game with the Jets, the world juniors where Canada finished fourth, and now the AHL’s post season.
And for Morrissey, this Calder Cup run has been the biggest plum yet.
“It’s the first time I’ve had a chance to win a championship,” he said. “I’ve had great seasons in Prince Albert, but we’ve never won a championship. There were no championships in midget or bantam hockey.
“I’ve had great experiences with Hockey Canada winning at the under-18 level, and I’ve won tournaments here and there as a kid. But you realize they don’t come around that often.
“My Dad told me the other day to really enjoy every second that I’m here. Because you don’t get that many chances to win. I’ve found that out a little bit in my career.”