DALLAS - The last time the Dallas Stars got such a late start on summer vacation, Brenden Morrow was a 21-year-old rookie trying to make a name for himself in a locker room filled with seasoned pros. He was such a boy among men that he asked one of his teammates for permission to date his daughter.
Now Morrow is 29, the team captain and Guy Carbonneau's son-in-law. Most importantly, he's just finished a playoff run in which he clearly marked himself as the face of the franchise.
"He's become the leader on and off the ice of this team," coach Dave Tippett said. "He's the guy that will will the other team to quit. He will will his teammates by just challenging them with his work ethic. If he's going to lead and play the way he does, everybody else better jump on the same bandwagon. ...
"The way he plays with a commitment to winning, it's just how our organization wants to be perceived."
Although the Stars were eliminated from the Western Conference finals Monday night, Morrow was the main reason they lasted so long. He's also the best of several reasons fans can be optimistic about where this team is going after so many years of playoff frustrations.
"We know how much work we put into it and I think all of us are willing to do it again," Morrow said following a 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. "It's going to make us hungrier and we're going to come back even stronger next year."
The best work was from Morrow, who scored a team-best nine goals in 18 games, averaged more minutes than any other forward and was tied for second in points with 15.
He also had two game-winning goals, both in overtime. The first let Dallas steal Game 1 of the second round in San Jose, setting a tone for the series. The other came in the fourth overtime of Game 6 against the Sharks, the defining play of the Stars' post-season.
When Dallas trailed Detroit 3-0, Morrow rallied his troops, refusing to be swept. He had a victory-sealing goal in Game 4 and kept alive hopes for a historic comeback with a Game 5 win.
"Brenden Morrow to me is what you want leading your team," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
The Stars made their deepest playoff run since 2000, the season Morrow began in the minors and ended in the Stanley Cup finals. The two series they won also said a lot about Marty Turco, verifying that management was right in relying on the goalie.
The front office was shaken up early this season, with Doug Armstrong pushed out and the general manager's job split between Brett Hull and Les Jackson. That change showed the status quo wasn't good enough, and the team seemed to respond before those guys made any major moves.
Their biggest was sending young backup goalie Mike Smith to Tampa Bay for Brad Richards. They also rewarded Mike Ribeiro for a breakout season by signing him to a contract extension.
Now put it all together: Morrow, Richards and Ribeiro still in the heart of their careers; Mike Modano, Sergei Zubov and Jere Lehtinen (the holdovers from the '99 Cup champion squad) still going strong in their late 30s; Turco in goal and some young players who started making an impact this post-season.
It's certainly a good start, especially after all the highs and lows they went through together the last six weeks. Actually, take it back to March, when Dallas won only two of 11 games, blowing a division lead and sinking to the fifth seed.
"It's exciting to see such a core group together that did what they did," Richards said. "This is going to hurt for a while, but it's going to be a lot of fun to start a new quest next year with the experience that some of the young guys went through and even some of the other guys that haven't gone this far yet.
"It's invaluable. It's a process. Detroit didn't get where they are by just building a team and starting in the playoffs. They've had their heartaches, too. We're going to be a lot better for it."
Morrow will make sure of it.