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Stability Yields Success for Morrow

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins -- If all goes to plan, this summer will be a little bit less hectic for Joe Morrow than the last one was.

Last summer, toward the end of his first professional season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin’s, Morrow was shipped out of Pittsburgh’s organization to the Texas Stars, Dallas’ AHL affiliate. But he wasn’t there for long. After a month and a half in Dallas, he was flipped to Boston — along with Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser — in a blockbuster deal on July 4, 2013.

This summer, he expects, should be a nice reprieve — but in this league, you never know.

“Nothing’s set in stone,” Morrow said with a laugh. “Who knows? … but I really do look forward to having kind of a [normal] summer and being able to relax a little bit for the next week or two.

“And then — just the meetings I’ve had with [the team] and the things they’ve told me to do and to work on, I can start doing that within the next couple weeks and work towards next year.”

Providence’s season has been over for less than a week, but already, Morrow is thinking about the next one.

All in all, 2013-14 was a success for Morrow. In his second professional season, he registered six goals and 23 assists for 29 points in 56 games. But making the adjustment to a new system meant that he got off to a slower start, in his words, than he would have liked.

“There are definitely some adjustments I had to make, whether it be just little systematic things that I’ve had to deal with in the past, and Pittsburgh doesn’t necessarily play a similar style,” he said. “It was a lot different in the defensive zone and things like that.

“It’s not too hard to adjust to things — if you can kind of play this sport, you can kind of play it wherever. It’s not going to change too much, but just the way they do things around here — there’s nothing really lackadaisical about it.”

Bruins Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney said that Morrow understandably needed a transition period in order to get acclimated to Providence’s game. Now, the coaching staff is seeing him evolve into an important component of this team.

“Joe has played for three different teams in a short period of time, so adjusting to ‘how the Bruins defend’ took some time,” he said. “However, once he understood and committed to the system, Joe’s game elevated. Joe should feel much more comfortable coming to camp in the fall to be able to push our defensive core.”

The start may have been tough, but once he understood what he had to improve in order to fit into the Bruins’ system, Morrow was off and running.

“I feel like I started kind of slow to the year — it was hard coming into a different organization, trying to get to know the people and know how everything works, so that was tough,” he said. “But after I kind of got that under my belt, my year got better and better. I feel like I had a lot of good stepping-stones throughout the year and kept progressing, and just the feedback I got from [the organization] was really good. They told me they were confident in everything I did — every defensive aspect of things that I was supposedly supposed to work on and things like that were really good — so yeah, I feel like it was a pretty successful year, and everything they’ve said to me has been positive.”

Sweeney said he has seen a steady improvement from Morrow this year.

“He is a talented, smooth-skating D-man that can run a power play and also defend against any lines when he is on top of his game,” Sweeney said. “I think the coaching staff and Joe worked hard to have him improve on his decision making with the puck as well as his defensive reads. When Joe plays with conviction without the puck and he uses his legs to escape forechecking pressure, he is a big part of our team’s transition game.”

Success is never easy to come by. You have to work for it, and Morrow is no exception. This year, for the first time in his career, Morrow battled a serious injury for the first time in his career, sustaining a knee injury in early February that kept him out until late March.

It’s never a fun part of the game, but it is, for many, an unavoidable part of the game.

“You can ask any hockey player — it’s no fun sitting in the stands and watching your team,” Morrow said. “It just kind of hurt. [It] puts a little pain in your stomach. I’ve never really had to deal with injuries before; I’ve always been pretty injury-free, so it definitely was a different aspect of my career.”

But it wasn’t all negative. The silver lining is that now, Morrow knows that he has what it takes to come back after he goes down.

“To be able to overcome that — and to have the people around me supporting me, and everybody in this organization help me with that — made it easier,” he said. “But I can only wish for no injuries in the immediate future.”

Morrow returned for the final 10 games of the regular season, just in time to help the P-Bruins make a much-needed push to squeeze into the playoffs. Then, it was time for every player’s favorite time of year.

“It’s a whole different level of play,” Morrow said of the postseason. “During the regular season, sometimes, when you play 76 games or however many games you play, it kind of blends in, one after the other. But right when you get into playoffs, you have something to fight for. You have to earn every second that you play, and you really have something to work toward, and it’s different. It’s great to be able to play in the playoffs.”

Providence ousted Springfield in the first round, despite going down 2-1 in the series. The P-Bruins staved off elimination in two straight games, winning a critical Game 5 to advance to the conference semifinals.

In that first-round series, Providence proved that it had the character necessary to win when the stakes are highest, a theme that has characterized this team throughout the course of the regular season. No matter how many injuries came their way or how much adversity they faced, they found a way to persevere.

The same goes for Morrow. An upper body injury kept him out of Providence’s final two postseason games. Instead of battling with his teammates, Morrow had to watch them fight through Game 7 against Wilkes-Barre — his former team — before ultimately falling, 5-4.

Providence fell behind early when Penguins scored five times in the first 7-plus minutes of the second period, but just as they have all season long, the Bruins dug deep and fought when it mattered most. They scored four unanswered goals over the final two periods of the game to pull within one, and though they were unable to complete the comeback, they once again proved that they have the character it takes to fight. That, Morrow said, makes the future bright — not just for him, but for the whole team.

“We had a phenomenal team this year,” Morrow said. “Every single guy on that team, you’d pick to have on your team and go to battle with. It was impressive, seeing — just in Game 7, even when you’re down by five goals, and to make that big of a push and come back within one goal and come so close to tying — it was really eye-opening to the people you have in the room and to the whole organization, and the staff, and anybody who was really associated with that team.

“It was a really [characteristic] group of people, and they’ll really fight till the end and I’m sure it [ignited] people’s spirits and it will help people in the future. That people really saw that, and pushing it to Game 7 and with all the injuries and everything — they definitely battled.”

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