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Morrow's courage, drive make him perfect captain

Wednesday, 02.18.2009 / 12:10 PM / Captains, Driven by Bridgestone

By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist

"He's our captain, he's our leader. He's the sparkplug every team dreams of. He'll stand up to anybody, hit anybody. To say he's a warrior is kind of an understatement, with the attention he gets from opposing teams, the physical nature he plays with and the pure intensity that oozes from every pore of his body."
-- Marty Turco

A few minutes with Brenden Morrow make you really focus on that choir-boy look. But he's clearly a warrior, a throwback to when hockey players would play for the fun of it. He creates a presence on the ice. Impact follows him around.

The "C" on his sweater can easily be taken for the character, compassion, competitive nature, creativity and the courage he displays every time he's on the ice. He's clearly a catalyst for the Dallas Stars.

The tributes from those around him are far-reaching -- even if Morrow is currently sidelined with a knee injury:

"He's the heartbeat of this team," Stars goaltender Marty Turco told me. "He's got the ability to dominate shifts, dominate games.

"He's our captain, he's our leader. He's the sparkplug every team dreams of. He'll stand up to anybody, hit anybody. To say he's a warrior is kind of an understatement, with the attention he gets from opposing teams, the physical nature he plays with and the pure intensity that oozes from every pore of his body."

"He initiates all over the ice. He infuriates the opponents with the impact he plays with," Mike Modano said. "He's an inspiration to us."

"The scary part is that I think he's just growing into who he is," said Stars co-GM Brett Hull. "To me, the natural progression will someday lead him to being a 40-plus goal guy."

As Dallas was battling tooth and nail in a hard-fought playoff series against San Jose last spring, Stars coach Dave Tippett had all the right words to describe his captain, saying, "Before the game I asked every player to give 5-10 percent more. For Brenden that's off the charts, because he already gives about 150 percent of himself each game. To me, this is all about Brenden Morrow's evolution. He has such a purpose every shift ... in every game. He's a catalyst, he knows he can lift everybody else up with his play."

Give Morrow an assignment and he'll get the job done ... plus a lot more.

There's kind of an unpredictability to what you get from the 5-foot-11, 210-pound winger from Manor, Saskatchewan, who is sort of like a silent assassin. But there's no Jekyll-Hyde convoluted criminal mind conflict here. Brenden is more like a Chuck-Norris-you-can't-beat-me-up clone. Morrow may not be built like Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis, but he hits and plays like those ferociously competitive linebackers.

It's more of Morrow being Morrow.

"I don't know about all of that," Morrow told me. "I do know that a big hit makes you and everyone out there with you see the game a little differently. You go along and everyone is playing and everyone looks the same. Then, all of a sudden, you see someone just paste a guy. It's a shock to your system. A good shock if it's your hit. Your heart stops for a minute, if it's one of your guys who gets hit."

Playoff time? It's Morrow time. He learned on-the-job in 2000 after breaking a bone in his right ankle in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against Colorado. He was back in the lineup for Game 4.

"I remember hearing Guy (Carbonneau, a former captain of the Montreal Canadiens) say many times that the difference between being good and being a champion is being willing to make that extra effort," Morrow told me, smiling at the reference to Carbonneau, who was his roommate back then and happens to be his father-in-law now. "I wasn't trying to be a hero by playing with the bad foot. I felt like somebody had punched me, when they told me I had fractured my ankle. End of playoffs, I thought. Except, every day, I was walking into the locker room and looking at guys who were hurt and still playing.

"So I thought to myself, 'No way I'm not playing.' Think about it, you only get a few chances in life to play in the Stanley Cup Final and I wasn't going to let a little pain get in my way."

Off the ice? Morrow said, "When I was in juniors and Marian Hossa was my roommate, we'd play PlayStation every day -- and I'd have to let him win a few games so he wouldn't get too upset."

That answer showed he had compassion in addition to his competitive nature.

We hail Brenden for his self-motivation and leadership. But it turns out there more twists that led to the evolution of the hockey player we see on the ice. That was unearthed after I fired a couple of my go-to questions about obstacles a player has had to overcome to be the player he is today, plus the best advice he's ever gotten.

It should be pointed out that the obstacle question began before Morrow had to interrupt our interview before the game in St. Louis for a power-play meeting.

Said Morrow, "I was a husky kid -- 5-11, 225 pounds when I was just 16. Some players called me 'Butterball.' Junior hockey was all I was thinking about then when I left Manor for Portland. I just loved playing hockey. Never saw hockey as a career. I was a walk-on in Portland. Little did I know that when I got to Portland, Brent Peterson (head coach of the Winter Hawks who is now an assistant with the Nashville Predators) would say, 'You're not to see a shift in a game until you get yourself in shape.' I must have done a couple of million miles on the bike in the gym before coach let me play. But I learned from that that it takes more than just hockey skills to win one-on-one battles. You have to be in shape. Brent taught me, 'You have to be strong in body and mind.' "

"He initiates all over the ice. He infuriates the opponents with the impact he plays with. He's an inspiration to us."
-- Mike Modano

After losing 5-1 to the Blues, I wouldn't have been mad if he had forgotten that he said he would finish off our interview after being embarrassed in the game. But he spoke to the media as captain, speaking with all the heart and soul he shows on the ice. And then, he came over to me with a smile and asked, "Where did we leave off?"

After another few questions, there was only one more thing I wanted to know: What was the best advice he had ever gotten?

"That's a great question," he said.

A few seconds later he said, "I don't know if this was advice, but Stewart George was one of my best friends when I was growing up and I'll never forget a phone call we had in my first days at Portland. I told him I was homesick and my passion on the ice wasn't at the level I wanted. I said, 'I don't think this is going to work out. I think I'm coming home.' "

Response?

"Suddenly, Stewart's words sound stronger and angrier. He said, 'Brenden, I love you like a brother. But if you do that, I don't think you're going to be my friend any more.' "

This story on one of the best captains in the NHL, one of the most driven players in hockey, leads us to another 'C' word -- commitment.

Brenden Morrow has proven that, with a little help along the way, you can work hard enough at what you want to do with your life to become a self-motivated, self-driven leader.


Quote of the Day

I think Loui Eriksson is a player that can be even better than he was last year. I think we started seeing that at the end of the year, and he could be a replacement for Jarome as a possibility.

— Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien on forward Loui Eriksson's potential