Josh Morrissey (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Morrissey has the experience and vision to make a difference. Expect him to be a horse at the world juniors for CanadaBy Daniel Nugent-Bowman Canadian coach Benoit Groulx might worry about some players who will make up his world junior roster. He’s at ease that Josh Morrissey won’t be one of them. Groulx took in the opening game of the Subway Super Series in Saskatoon and was smitten by the improvement of his returning defenseman. “What I saw is a different player,” said Groulx, an assistant on Canada’s 2014 team. “It was a more mature, more confident player. He seems ready to take on an important role at another level.” What Groulx saw in Morrissey were his trademark offensive skills – his smooth skating stride, crisp passes and ability to quarterback a power play. That the Winnipeg Jets first-rounder from 2013 did those things more instinctually was the difference. “When you go to a tournament like this, every guy wants to be the No. 1 guy and be playing 30 minutes,” Morrissey said. “That’s what I’m working towards.” It’s what he’s been working towards since scoring Canada’s lone goal in a 2-1 loss to Russia in the bronze-medal game last January. Morrissey had three points in the seven games.
He was summoned by the American League’s St. John’s IceCaps after finishing his Western League season as captain of the Prince Albert Raiders. He posted two goals and nine points in 20 playoff games and was a valuable member of a St. John’s team that reached the Calder Cup final. That run capped off a 98-game campaign (which includes WHL regular season, AHL regular season, WJC, WHL playoffs, AHL playoffs).“I was really happy with how much I grew last year,” he said. But Morrissey doesn’t accept the status quo. He sets personal goals. It’s something his dad, Tom, taught him to do when he was growing up in Calgary. The 2013 Canadian Hockey League scholastic player of the year keeps them front of mind. Morrissey accomplished his objective of making Canada’s national junior team after being drafted 13th overall by Winnipeg. His next mission was to crack the Jets roster this season as a 19-year-old. Morrissey was one of the final cuts. The start of the WHL season hadn’t gone according to plan, either. And the 6-foot, 185-pound blueliner is his toughest critic. Although Morrissey was averaging nearly a point per game by the start of the Super Series – 16 points in 19 contests – he wasn’t satisfied with his offensive contributions. So he tried other things to vault the middling Raiders, who fired former Ottawa Senators coach Cory Clouston in October. Morrissey is the lead-by-example type, whether it’s watching extra video, monitoring his diet or hitting the gym. Groulx wants to see that mentality from Morrissey before and during the 2015 tournament. “It’s not what you can bring for others,” Groulx said. “It’s that you’re doing the right things every day.” This will be the sixth time Morrissey will wear Canadian colors. He’ll be looking to avenge his country’s second fourth-place showing in as many years at the world juniors. He does, however, have gold medals from the Ivan Hlinka tournament and the world under-18 championship. “All those things add up to say Josh should have a good tournament,” said Hockey Canada head scout Ryan Jankowski. “But you have to perform as a 19-year-old when there’s more pressure. Everything tells us he’ll be able to do that.” Nothing would mean more to Morrissey. In the summer, he trains with Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle, whom he calls ‘Mr. World Juniors.’ He’s aiming to have a defining moment like his friend did. “That’s something I’ve dreamed about in the driveway,” Morrissey said. This feature appears in the Jan. 5 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.