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Heat Report - 24.01.17

Defenceman Kenney Morrison is eating up the minutes with improved play

by DUSTIN COWELL @dustin_cowell /

Lost in a weekend full of hat-tricks, playmakers and teddy bears was the continually steady play of Heat defenceman Kenney Morrison. 

Coming on the heels of a 2015-16 campaign that saw the undrafted defenceman struggle to remain a consistent member of the lineup, the 24-year-old Morrison has emerged as one of the more reliable forces on a much-improved backend for Stockton.

"The more you play and the more ice time you get the more confidence you're going to build," said Morrison of his time this season. "Last season was a big learning year for me - both on and off the ice. This year I'm more focused on doing the right things on and off the ice and continuing to build that confidence."

Those "right things", as Morrison puts it, refer to tougher play in his own zone and smarter plays with the puck - two areas in which the Western Michigan grad has improved leaps and bounds according to Heat assistant coach Todd Gill.

"He's come a long way maturity-wise," said Gill. "Sometimes it takes players a little longer and obviously he's a little older than the rest of the guys we have here, but he believes in himself now.

"Three-quarters of this game is confidence and when you believe in what you're doing and having some success, things have a way of coming together. We wanted him to quit worrying about points and just be a good defender.

"He's been doing that and is one of our more reliable guys on the penalty kill, especially."

Certainly high praise from someone of Gill's stature, himself boasting a resume that includes over 1,000 games in the NHL and two decades of pro hockey experience as a defenceman. 

But Gill isn't the only NHL veteran that has seen the growth in Morrison's game. 

Fellow Heat teammate and recently signed defenceman Keith Aulie has played the majority of this season on Morrison's left and has noticed firsthand how Morrison has raised his level of play almost nightly.

"I think as he continues to grow in the pro game, he's learning what his role is going to be," said Aulie. "Maybe in college he was a different kind of player than he is now and he's realizing some of the things he has to do to make it to the next level.

"He's getting tougher to play against in our zone all the time and he's gained a lot of confidence in becoming a tough defender.

"With the confidence you've seen him get up the ice and make plays in the offensive zone as well."

For Morrison, having a sturdy veteran to lean on has been one of the more important pillars in his unmistakable development this season.

"He's been great with me on the ice and in the locker room," Morrison asserted. "He's easy to play with and we communicate really well together.

"He's a Saskatchewan boy too, so that helps out."

As for his offensive game coming around, Morrison has climbed into third among Heat defencemen in points (9) after starting the season with just one goal in his first 16 games - all while remaining a stalwart presence in his own zone.

Morrison is developing into a solid puck-moving, physical defender with no shortage of potential and has certainly added his name to a long list of Flames prospects along the blueline.

Last Week's Heat

Mark Jankowski scored the first hat trick in Heat team history and his first career hat trick Friday night against Bakersfield in a 6-3 win for the Heat … Jankowski now leads the Heat in goals (13) and points (29) in his 33 games played … LW Hunter Shinkaruk earned team record 4 assists Friday night in his first game back from an upper body injury that forced him to miss six games … Morgan Klimchuk (2 assists) provided his sixth multi-point game of the year Friday, tying the team lead in multi-point games with Jankowski and Linden Vey … LW Matt Frattin scored the goal Saturday night that sent teddy bears flying to the ice at Stockton Arena, as the Heat hosted Teddy Bear Toss against Bakersfield.

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