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Morrissey becoming one of NHL's best young blueliners

21-year-old reflects on rookie campaign, the experience playing on Winnipeg's top pair & more

by Mitchell Clinton @MClinton007 / WinnipegJets.com

Josh Morrissey's first NHL game was everything he could have dreamed of growing up in Calgary.

The list reads like a scenario played out in driveways across the country.

The date was Mar. 5, 2016. Morrissey was in the starting line-up, against the Montreal Canadiens, on Hockey Night in Canada. Just under three hours later, he experienced his first NHL win after the Jets skated to a 5-1 victory.

"I was nervous on the way to the rink, then after I woke up from my nap - which surprisingly I slept pretty well - once I got into the arena, and as soon as I hit the ice maybe got through my first shift, I felt calm," the 21-year-old Morrissey said.

"A lot of that has to do with the other guys on the team. A lot of young guys obviously, but playing with Tyler (Myers). I mean it's self-explanatory, he's an unbelievable player but an unbelievable person."

The defenceman played 15:54 over the course of 23 shifts that night. What made it even more special was Morrissey was able to experience all of it with his parents in attendance at MTS Centre.

"Any player knows that their parents are the number one reason they make it, and how much sacrifice they made," said Morrissey. "Early morning practices, coming to watch you play on the road in junior hockey, the financial commitment obviously that comes with being a hockey player.

"Everything they did to help me get here, to have them there in attendance, you have your milestone things over the course of your career, obviously your first game is up there with any of them."

Video: WPG@OTT: Morrissey beats Condon off deflection

And like every player in the Winnipeg Jets dressing room, Morrissey didn't escape some good-natured ribbing from Dustin Byfuglien that night.

"I heard a few guys say 'well you're 1-0' and Buff jokingly said 'the NHL is pretty easy isn't it?'" Morrissey laughed. "But we all know that's not the case."

In fact, just getting to the NHL was anything but easy for Morrissey. He knew he'd have to earn a spot on Winnipeg's roster, and did he ever work for it - both on and off the ice.

He was selected 13th overall by the Jets in the 2013 NHL Draft. In that 2012-2013 campaign, Morrissey's resume was impressive. WHL and CHL Scholastic Player of the Year, an Ivan Hlinka gold medal, a World Under-18 bronze medal, and a roster spot in the CHL Top Prospects Game were all added to his career accomplishments that season.

But the work was only beginning. Over the course of the next two seasons, Morrissey would play with the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders and Kelowna Rockets, the AHL's St. John's IceCaps, and suit up for Canada at both the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship each year.

Add it all up, and Morrissey skated in 166 games, going all the way to the AHL's Calder Cup final with the IceCaps in 2014, and winning World Junior Gold and a WHL title in 2015.

All that hockey came in handy this past November, when the Jets endured a gruelling stretch of 17 games in 29 days.

"I've definitely had some pretty hectic years and a lot of games. It helps prepare you. I think definitely as a young guy in the NHL, I'm still learning every day here," Morrissey said.

"You're obviously not playing against the caliber of players or the strength of men every day, but definitely the schedule prepares you. You're traveling a lot. You have to find a way to be ready to play and be consistent every night."

Video: ASK A JET | Josh Morrissey

One of the best ways to be consistent and handle players bigger and heavier than him on a nightly basis was to take care of himself off the ice. Enter Dr. Craig Slaunwhite, Winnipeg's Director of Fitness.

"We sat down with him, we explained what our expectations were and our desire for him to put on good, lean mass," Slaunwhite said. "He's taken that advice…
and he's seeing the results now."

Slaunwhite, now in his third season with the club, says every athlete has the potential to put on weight, but there are many factors that can make it a challenge.

"Some guys, if they already have bigger, thicker frames, it's going to be easier for them to put on weight. If you have your prototypical tall, skinny athlete it's going to be a challenge for him to put on weight," said Slaunwhite.

"What we do is emphasize the good kind of weight. I felt often players get told they need to put on weight, just as a general term, and that can sometimes get confused. Maybe they put on bad weight just to get to a number, so they can tell their coaches or management that 'hey, I weigh this amount.'"

Morrissey came into the 2016-2017 campaign with 195 pounds on his six-foot frame. The perfect size to deliver thunderous checks like the one on Chicago's Vinnie Hinostroza, but also get up in the play and generate offence.

"Playing defence is about experience, a lot of it, minutes on the ice, playing against different kinds of opponents," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. "For a guy that would probably have on his resume I'm an offensive defenceman, and we believe it's there, he's going to get a lot of chances to play because he's so solid in his own end.

"We know there is going to be some offence there. But we've got lots of time for that to come out when he's playing as well as he is."

There was a glimpse of that offense on Nov. 15 against the Chicago Blackhawks, when Morrissey wired home a one-timer from the top of the circle to score his first NHL goal.

"Obviously you score it, and it's exciting, and the crowd is going wild, and you realize you've scored your first goal, but then it's back to work in 30 seconds," Morrissey said. "After the game, knowing that I accomplished that, and that's something you dream about your whole life, it's pretty special."

Video: CHI@WPG: Morrissey one-times his first NHL goal

Morrissey hopes there are more special moments to come as his NHL career continues. He's seen his ice time continue to increase from 14 to high as 21 minutes as he and Byfuglien go up against the opposition's best each game.

But it's a lot easier to put in the work when coming to the office is fun.

"It's a great group of guys. The leadership is great. Wheels, Buff, and Scheif, and all the guys, not just wearing letters, have been great with us young players," said Morrissey. "I think what's been huge is the young guys stepping in have just came to work every day, tried to get better, tried to learn, the coaching staff has been teaching us a lot and trying to get us better every day."

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