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Morin gaining confidence, experience at World Championship

by Julie Robenhymer / Columbus Blue Jackets

OSTRAVA, Czech Republic -- Jeremy Morin has shown time and time again that he's willing to do whatever his team needs to be successful.

And though he's had a rough start to his professional career, he's got four IIHF medals to his name - two gold and two bronze - and is relishing the opportunity to earn a fifth with Team USA at the 2015 IIHF World Championship…and hopefully, impress Columbus and Team USA head coach Todd Richards along the way.

For Morin, his love affair with hockey started before he can remember.

"I got into hockey when I was pretty young. I feel like I was born into it because my dad played and my brother and cousins all played. So, I didn't have a chance to not play hockey really," Morin said with a chuckle. "I started when I was four years old and just fell in love with it and it's always been what I wanted to do.

"I was a big fan of just watching the game and took every opportunity to have a stick in my hand and play. I remember even playing street hockey outside with my brother and my friends. Every day after school, I'd come home, grab a stick and go play."

It wasn't until he was 12 years old that he saw hockey as more than just a game and, instead, as a way to make a living and it was partly because of his older brother Chad. It was at that time Chad left their Auburn, N.Y. home to play for the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) in Ann Arbor, Mich. and Jeremy wanted to follow in his brother's footsteps.

"When you're young, you just love playing the game and you really didn't think about who was better. It was just a lot of fun to play and that's why you did it," said Morin. "You get to a certain point though where you realize you just want to do this as long as possible and you start to practice with a bit more focus and you just want to get noticed.

"It was probably around 14 or 15 when I started getting really serious about hockey and that's when I flipped the switch and pursued hockey as something I'd want to do as a career and really put everything into it."

[HUB] Follow the Blue Jackets at the 2015 IIHF World Hockey Championship

The hard work and personal sacrifice, plus his parents' commitment to helping him succeed, paid off when he earned his own invitation to the USNTDP in April 2008.

"That was the first step I took in making a career out of this. Playing that type of hockey…It was so competitive and you were now playing with guys you grew up playing against. It was a lot of fun, but it was taking it to the next level and paved my way to where I am today," he said. "There was a lot of off-ice training that really helped me a lot. A big focus on off ice workouts and developing your body. Especially when you're 16 and 17 years old…those are big developmental years for your game and I think just learning about nutrition and how important certain workouts are away from the changes your perspective of the game and shows you that success is a lot more involved than just simply going out and playing."

After a successful first season with the program, he was named to USA Hockey's U18 National Team at the 2008 IIHF U18 World Championship as a 16-year-old and lead the team in scoring with six goals and two assists in seven games, helping them win a bronze medal. In his second season, he was named to the U18 National Team at the 2009 IIHF U18 Worlds and again lead the team in scoring with seven goals and three assists on their way to gold medal.

"As a member of the USNTDP, going to the U18's is like your Stanley Cup," Morin explained. "You play two years there all in preparation for this tournament and as a team you have this common goal. My first year we got bronze and the second we won gold in Fargo. It was a special experience and made all the hard work pay off. I will never forget it."

That summer he was drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Thrashers and suited up for the Kitchener Rangers (OHL) the following season.

While earning 83 points in 58 games for Kitchener that year, Morin again got the call from USA Hockey, this time as a member of the National Junior Team at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship. He racked up seven points in seven games and helped the team win a gold medal.

"That was another experience I will never forget. I'm still really good friends with a lot of guys on that team. It's always fun to put on the USA jersey and I take a lot of pride in it," said Morin.

He then signed his first professional contract with the Thrashers, but less than a month later, he was traded to Chicago in a deal that involved Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Sopel.

The Blackhawks loaned him to USA Hockey that December so he could don the red, white, and blue for a fourth time at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo where he earned his fourth IIHF medal in four tournaments -- this time, a bronze.

Soon after the tournament, Morin suffered a concussion and missed the remainder of the season. Over the next four years, Morin bounced between Rockford and Chicago before he was traded to Columbus this past December as he realized just how hard it was to not only make the NHL, but stay there.

"What I'm going through right now is trying to find a role and a home in the NHL and it's not easy," he said. "I didn't really realize going into pro hockey how much pressure there is and how hard it is to actually make a living doing this, but this will be my sixth year professionally and I have a new opportunity in Columbus and I'm really excited about it and am trying to make the most of it.

"I think I'm still trying to figure out how or where I can fit in in Columbus because I've only played 28 games, but it's really wherever coach and the management wants me. To be able to stay up in the NHL you have to be able to do a bunch of different things really well and be willing to change your game and play on all four lines and I think that's one of my strengths - being able to play anywhere on the second, third or fourth line. It's just really important to be versatile and be able to bring a couple different things to the table."

With the Blue Jackets eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Morin was ready to turn his focus to off-season training and earning a permanent spot in the NHL.

"I want to put on a little weight and be bigger and stronger so I can win more battles. I'm not the biggest guy and it's important for me to be strong on the puck and win those battles on the walls and in front of the net. I want to find a home in the NHL and I hope it's with Columbus," Morin stated.

But before he could start on that plan, Morin once again got a call from USA Hockey: this time, as a member of the Men's National Team at the 2015 IIHF World Championship, where he'd continue to play under Columbus head coach Todd Richards, who is serving as head coach of Team USA.

"The things he does really well are skate and shoot the puck," Richards said. "He's so aggressive on the forecheck and creating turnovers that lead of offensive chances. The good news is that he's still playing hockey and there are a lot of other guys on our team that aren't right now.

"Just being able to play at this level will help him be able to evaluate where he is compared to where he wants to go and, as coach of this team and as the coach in Columbus, I like that I get to spend more time with him and learn more about him and continue to watch him and see how he plays. This experience just gives him a little more exposure and opportunity to show what he can do."

Morin isn't taking that opportunity for granted.

"Getting to put on the USA sweater is always an honor for me and you always want to put your best foot forward and show that you can produce, but especially now with Coach Richards coaching this team, I have another reason to give it my best effort," he said. "I want to bring energy and be responsible on the ice and hopefully get some points and help the team win."

Team USA currently sits atop Group B in the preliminary round and is guaranteed a spot in the quarterfinal, and Morin hopes to keep his streak alive and earn a fifth IIHF medal.

"I think one thing we have going for us is that we're a really young team," Morin said. "There's a lot of energy and excitement to be here and taking pride putting that jersey on and everyone's buying into the system and how we need to play to be successful here.

"Obviously, most guys don't play on the big ice, so that's an adjustment, but I think the coaching staff has done a great job preparing us and if we are able to execute their game plan, we should be successful and hopefully be able to make a run for a gold medal. For right now, that is my only focus…helping this team win."

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