GLENS FALLS, NY -- Kenney Morrison opened quite a few eyes with a three-point performance (goal, two assists) in his pro debut after joining Adirondack on an amateur tryout basis.
People are still taking notice as he came into this weekend with five points in five games, while doing everything possible to keep the Flames’ playoff hopes alive.
Adirondack surprised Utica on Friday with a 3-2 victory that snapped the Comets’ 10-game winning streak. The Flames go right back at it tonight (Saturday) and Sunday with a pair of must-win contests at home against the Lake Erie Monsters.
“All the guys know these games are huge,” said Morrison, 23, who came to Adirondack last month following his junior season at Western Michigan University. “We’re taking it one game at a time. Tonight’s the game we’re focusing on to get two points. We just have to start climbing that ladder, go game to game and see how it goes.”
Coach Ryan Huska has been pleasantly surprised by Morrison’s approach and contributions to the team.
“When you have a new guy coming into your lineup you wonder if it’s one game, then he’ll quiet down a little bit,” Huska said. “Ken has continued to play very well for us to the point where we’re comfortable using him in every situation. The thing we’ve noticed about him so far is that he’s got a good skill set. But he understands how to use it without being putting himself or his teammates in a bad spot.”
The Flames have five games left, four at home, trailing Toronto and Milwaukee by three points for the eighth and final postseason berth.
“There’s a chance,” Huska said. “At the end of the day it’s the dressing room that really has to come together these last few games in order for us to get the points we need.”
Morrison’s impact on the ice has been made possible in no small part by the acceptance and camaraderie he’s felt off of it.
“Being comfortable in the room has been a big help,” he said. “Teammates have been really good to me. All the guys are great. (Dustin) Stevenson as a partner has been very good and helped me out on and off the ice.”
Somehow, the Flames have been able to maintain team unity and chemistry despite an ever-changing lineup. Forwards Emile Poirier and David Wolf, along with defencemen Brett Kulak and John Ramage, were called up to Calgary on Friday, and forward Christophe Lalonde joined Adirondack on an amateur tryout basis. But remaining players still got the job done against Utica Friday night. Rookie netminder Doug Carr stopped 40 of 42 shots.
“We have a good group of people and also the age group we have really helps out with new players coming in,” Huska said. “We’re a young group. So when a new guy comes in it’s not like he should be walking on egg shells around our players. They’re all the same age.”
Morrison said Glens Falls, New York’s environment has smoothed his transition to the pro ranks.
“I grew up in a small town like this so I like it a lot,” he said. “You see the same people, the same faces every day. It’s pretty easy to get around. In a big city you can get lost. There’s a lot of distractions. You don’t hang out with the guys as much and get to know your teammates. With a small town it kind of forces you to bond with teammates, which makes the team close.”
A Lloydminster, Alberta native, Morrison is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and shoots from the right side.
“There were teams talking to me throughout the year in college,” he said. “As soon as the season ended I sat down and talked to a few teams. Calgary seemed to be the fit for the present and the future.”
His contract technically doesn’t kick in until next year, so in essence he’s playing for Adirondack without getting paid.
“That sends a great message about him, how he wants to get better and wants to improve,” Huska said. “He came down here and was willing to play in that situation, and give himself a head start for next year.”
“I think he’s got good offensive instincts,” the coach added. “Kenney moves the puck well. He shoots the puck very well, and he does that without putting himself into a tough spot by turning over pucks or taking high-risk chances. The defensive side of the puck is an area where he’s going to continue to work on and get better at -- and getting stronger over the course of the summer.”
Morrison has quickly adapted to the differences between college and pro hockey at the AHL level. “I feel like it’s more of a possession game, more skill, players are better so you have to make better decisions,” he said. “Opponents are in the right position more often so you have to be a smarter player and eliminate your turnovers.”
Assistant Coach Todd Gill, a veteran NHL defenceman, has helped Morrison, too, during his brief time at Adirondack. “He’s a different coach than I’ve had before. He’s calm. I’m used to getting yelled at,” Morrison said. “So that’s a change, that’s for sure.”
Morrison played forward while growing up, but shifted to the back end during Midget hockey, at 17. “I felt it was my type of game, kind of see the plays and make things happen and jump up when I want to,” he said. “I’ve been having fun ever since.”
He credits his parents, Bryan and Darlene, and two older sisters for supporting his career at every step. In 2006, his mom took him to see an Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup playoff game against Detroit. They got home at 4 a.m. in a blinding snowstorm.
“Coming from a small town I had to kind of find friends to play with, but my sisters would always play street hockey with me,” Morrison said smiling.
A year from now, if not sooner, his entire family might be going to see him play in the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Of course, Morrison’s development would progress that much farther along if Adirondack makes the playoffs. Somehow, he’s stayed at the top of his game while continuing to pursue college studies.
“I’ve been doing some online classes and emailing in some homework the past couple weeks,” Morrison said. “I want to graduate at some point over the next couple of years. I know it’s not going to happen right away. The priority is hockey, number one.”