Familiarity draws Morrison back to Manitoba

Photo: Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images

by Patrick Williams

“That’s why I went after an American Hockey League job,” newly hired Manitoba Moose head coach Mark Morrison explained this week. “For the development part of it. I like it.”

Morrison offered that succinct response as to why he targeted the head-coaching vacancy behind the Manitoba bench. He is returning to the AHL after four seasons with the Anaheim Ducks as an assistant coach. But the move brings Morrison back to familiar territory, where he spent six seasons in the Winnipeg Jets organization as an AHL assistant coach to Keith McCambridge and Pascal Vincent.

“Well, to be honest, I’ve wanted this job probably for about 10 years of my career,” Morrison explained. “Like, it means a lot to me to be able to come back and work with, surprisingly or not surprisingly, pretty much the same staff as when I left [in 2017]. So, it shows the continuity of the organization.”

But first the 58-year-old Morrison had to land the job. When the Columbus Blue Jackets plucked Vincent from the Moose and installed him as their associate coach June 25, Morrison and the Moose began their courtship process in earnest.

Craig Heisinger [had] reached out to me and said that we might be looking for a new coach,” Morrison said in outlining those steps. “So, I guess they were preparing that Pascal might get the job [in Columbus]. And then probably about a week after that, a week to 10 days, I had an interview with Kevin Cheveldayoff, Larry Simmons and Craig Heisinger. And then I had a second interview three or four days after that, and a couple days after that I got offered the job.

“They put me through the grind a little bit.”

Since the Jets and Cheveldayoff arrived in Winnipeg in 2011, the organization has steadfastly put forth a draft-and-develop mantra. During Morrison’s time in the organization, the Jets counted Kyle Connor, Connor Hellebuyck, Adam Lowry and Josh Morrissey among their AHL success stories.

“There’s no question that [development is] one of the things [the Jets] have to do, and so it goes hand-in-hand,” Morrison said. “So yeah, I’m pretty good at developing, but you need that winning environment around to help them develop.

“For the Manitoba Moose in the development program and trying to develop a winning culture, it’s a fine line. You have to develop, and you have to win. So, I’m going to be relentless on the work ethic, on competing.”

This time around the Moose, Morrison will be fresh out of the NHL and have had an up-close look at the standard required for success. He will aim to push Winnipeg prospects to execute at an NHL-level pace – and consistently – to facilitate a successful transition to long-term roles with the Jets.

“We’re going to compete,” Morrison asserted. “We’re going to play fast. And the biggest thing for me is the execution.

“So we’re going to try to have a lot of pace in practice and a lot of pace during games where we execute, so it’s an easier transition into the NHL for them.”