by Alyssa Dombrowski || for NHL.com
During the 2013-14 season, 19-year-old Josh Morrissey’s storied journey on the ice has taken him from Winnipeg Jets training camp to a Western Hockey League campaign in Prince Albert, the World Junior Championships in Sweden, and now the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup Finals with the St. John’s IceCaps.
“Quite honestly, it’s all happened so fast that it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Morrissey, who made his professional debut with the IceCaps, Winnipeg’s top development affiliate, at the end of the regular season after the Raiders were eliminated from the WHL playoffs. “Along the way in your career, you don’t have that many chances to win championships at any level, so I’m trying to take it all in, enjoy every day and do whatever I can to try and win.”
The 6-foot defenseman joined the IceCaps fresh off his third season with Prince Albert, during which he led all WHL blueliners with 28 goals and ranked second with 73 points in 59 games. The talent that caused him to be Winnipeg’s first pick at 13th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft is evident even in the early stages of his pro career, according to St. John’s head coach Keith McCambridge.
“He’s obviously gifted with regards to how he sees the ice, how he moves the puck and the plays that he can make under pressure for such a young man,” said McCambridge. “He has a quiet confidence about him that you can obviously see when you meet him, but you can also see come through in the way he plays his game.
“The way he’s fit in really well with the group after not being here pretty much the whole season speaks volumes about his character.”
After tallying just one assist in eight regular-season appearances with St. John’s, Morrissey has posted nine points (2-7-9) in 18 games during the Calder Cup Playoffs.
“My eight games in the regular season were a bit of a transition period,” said Morrissey. “Coming right up from junior, you’re used to the way the game is played down there, so it took me a little bit of time to get used to it.
“I felt better and better as I went along throughout my first few weeks. A big part of that was just feeling like a part of the group and the coaching staff giving me the opportunity to go back out there after I made a mistake, to play and feel comfortable as time went on.”
The IceCaps defeated the Albany Devils, Norfolk Admirals and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to reach the 2014 Calder Cup Finals, where they currently trail the Texas Stars two games to one. Despite his short amount of time with the team, it’s clear to Morrissey why the Eastern Conference champions have found success this postseason.
“You don’t get this far without having a really close group of guys,” said Morrissey. “I could see it from the first time I was in the dressing room. Throughout the entire roster, including the coaches and trainers, everyone wants everyone else to do well. For me, that made it easy to blend in.”
Morrissey, who hails from Calgary, Alta., served as team captain in Prince Albert this season. Although his role has changed since joining the IceCaps, his mentality remains unwavering.
“I think I approach the game the same way,” said Morrissey. “I’m kind of a lead-by-example type of guy and I try to work hard every day, so I guess that part doesn’t really change … but in the room, I’m listening a lot more now rather than talking as much as I was [with Prince Albert].”
Equally as resilient is Morrissey’s capability to play to his potential each night, despite having skated in more than 100 games since the start of training camp nearly 10 months ago.
McCambridge says the Jets felt confident that Morrissey’s work ethic would carry him through a prolonged season.
“It’s something that management was well aware of, but they felt there was a big upside to having him play playoff hockey,” said McCambridge. “That outweighed the amount of games that he had played this season.”
They were right.
“There are times where, understandably when you’re playing that many games, you get a little tired,” said Morrissey. “But when you get to this point and are into the Finals, it’s not too hard to get yourself pretty amped up.”
Rather than wear the rookie down, McCambridge points out that Morrissey’s contest-heavy season has done quite the opposite.
“I haven’t seen it affect his game,” said McCambridge. “In fact, I feel like the more he’s played here, the more comfortable he gets playing in these high-intensity games. He hasn’t slowed down at all – he’s gotten better and better with each time he’s been on the ice.”
Morrissey explains his thought process with the rationale of a seasoned veteran.
“You kind of say to yourself, ‘There aren’t that many periods left here in the season,’” said Morrissey. “Whether it goes four games or seven, I just try to give it my all every shift. When the season’s done, there will be lots of time to rest.”
With that mentality, his natural skill and this postseason’s high-stakes experience in hand, Morrissey’s career is only just beginning.
“I can head into training camp next year knowing I’ve played with and against some of the best upcoming prospects,” said Morrissey. “It gives me some confidence, and no matter what happens I can draw on this experience to help me in the future.”