Texas Stars’ forward Travis Morin turned 30 this year, and while some might suggest he’s on the downside of his career, he believes there’s still a chancehe can earn a permanent place inside and NHL locker room.
©— Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars
The numbers keep increasing in what’s been a career year for Travis Morin.
There’s one he hopes attracts little attention.
Morin has totalled 108 points in 2013-14, including an American Hockey League-leading 88 in the regular season for the Texas Stars; 19 more in the Calder Cup playoffs, again an AHL-topping figure; and an assist for his first ever National Hockey League point during a brief call-up to Dallas.
It’s not just the stats saying Morin has had a great season, or the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL MVP.
He’s felt it all season, right from training camp. Morin’s never felt better, stronger or quicker. Those who have come up against him and those whose plans have to allow for his presence, think he is, too, including St. John’s IceCaps’ head coach Keith McCambridge, whose team finds itself with its hands full trying to deal with Morin in the Calder Cup final, which continues tonight at Mile One.
It’s all come as Morin has turned 30.
And there it is. That number. Some sort of official dividing line for sports careers, denoting the end of the climb, the beginning of the downslope.
Morin is not chafed by what the calendar tells him, although he realizes there are those who see his birth certificate and may be thinking “tick-tock.”
“I know it’s kind of a stigma,” said Morin. “When you’re in the AHL and you’re 30 and you have the dream of being up (in the NHL), there are people who figure that dream is gone.
“But it’s not for me. I still have that dream and I still believe it can be real.”
He has reasons to believe and not just based on his own feelings. They were brief — amounting to four games — but he had two call-ups to Dallas this season. The second was a one-game sip that produced that big-league assist and came two months after his birthday. And in his last few end-of-the-season exit meetings, he’s found encouragement in remarks from Stars coaches and officials.
“They always mention there’s been guys who’ve come into the NHL at 30 or 31 and have had six or seven years-careers and done well,” he said. “So you know it can happen and you think ‘Why not me?’
“It’s about getting that opportunity and taking advantage of it.”
He’s done that before.
A high school hockey star in Minnesota, Morin was the 2002 metro (Minneapolis-St. Paul) player of the year and a finalist that same year for the Mr. Hockey award, the North Country equivalent of being nominated as the top high school football player in Texas. He went on to the Minnesota State University-Mankato, playing there for four years, including a couple on a line with future St. Louis Blues star David Backes (the IceCaps’ Kael Mouillierat was also a teammate there for a season).
Drafted by Washington 263rd overall in 2004, he never progressed in the Capitals’ organization, seeing only a handful of games with Washington’s AHL farm team in Hershey, but making the most of his time with the Caps’ ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays, scoring a total of 60 goals and 176 points over two seasons and leading the Charleston, S.C.-based club to the league championship and Kelly Cup in 2009.
Ironically, that’s when his career almost stalled, but it’s also when he also learned a lot about that making the most of an opportunity thing.
Morin’s entry-level contract with Washington had ended and with a young family to support — he and his wife were expecting their first child that August — he figured he would be satisfied if he could get an AHL deal somewhere.
It didn’t come, only tryout offers.
“I never really considered Europe, especially back then, with a newborn. All I wanted was a shot over here. That’s all I was looking for, but I ended up having to take a chance.”
He hasn't regretted it.
See ‘I CAN’, page B3
Gary Gulutzan, who had just been named head coach of Dallas’s new affiliate in Austin, Tex., had coached in the ECHL with Las Vegas and knew about Morin. Gulutzan phoned him up, told him what he had done in South Carolina meant something and shouldn’t be dismissed and offered him a 25-game tryout.
“That was mid-September,” Morin recalled. “I left a couple of weeks later. My wife and my son, who was born at the end of August, joined me just after the start of the season and so we were living in a hotel room with an infant for or about a month before I signed a contract for the rest of the year.”
That was five years ago. Since then, he’s advanced to a couple of two-way NHL contracts, the second having a year remaining on it. And he’s the all-time leading scorer for the Texas.
McCambridge, who was coach of the Alaska Aces when they lost that seven-game Kelly Cup final to Morin and the Stingrays in 2009, is one who is impressed by the improvement he’s seen.
“He was always a skilled player. He was easily (South Carolina’s) best player five years ago, but I see him as more polished and poised with the puck, with vision and playmaking ability,” said McCambridge.
He’s also gaining a reputation as someone who makes other players better, although there was a time when the thinking might have been the other way, that Morin’s success came from playing with Backes, or last year in Texas with sniper Matt Fraser, now a top prospect for the Boston Bruins, or with longtime wing Colton Sceviour, who remained with Dallas after a call-up this spring.
Now, Morin skates on a line with first-year players Curtis McKenzie, the AHL rookie of the year, and Brendan Ranford, but the production continues.
“For me, I think it shows what my other wingers have been able to do,” said Morin. “They bring the best out of me and I hope I can bring the best out of them.”
So while Morin has been contributor to solid pro starts for a couple of youngsters, he’s sees them as having helped him up a career slope that hasn’t yet hits its peak.
“I think I’ve gotten better every year and I think I can be better again next season. I know I kind of turned a corner this year, right at the beginning and I’ve stayed on that path throughout the year. I’m looking to carry it through the rest of the playoffs and over to next season
“I know this is not a one-year thing. I really believe it’s been the start of something.”