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Morrissey eager to play in this weekend's Heritage Classic

"The people in the province of Saskatchewan in the cities and towns really support hockey." -Morrissey

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

WINNIPEG - Players often talk about their 'welcome to the NHL' moment.

How about playing in front of over 30,000 fans outdoors in a football stadium? For Josh Morrissey, that was his reality.

"I don't even know if I had played 10 NHL games in my career yet," smiled Morrissey, reflecting on his experience in the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic in Winnipeg.

"To be able to play a heritage game outdoors that early in my career was pretty special."

Even more special is the ability to do it again, just like the Winnipeg Jets will do Saturday in Regina, Saskatchewan when they take on the Calgary Flames.

Morrissey spent parts of five seasons in the province playing for the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League. While he won't have a big guest list for the weekend, the location is definitely special for the 24-year-old.

"It's where my dad grew up, my grandparents are from there. I didn't anticipate I'd be playing an NHL game back in Regina. It's cool," he said. "I think the whole province of Saskatchewan will be supporting either us or the Flames since they're right in the middle. It's a great hockey province and it's going to be a great game."

Video: PRACTICE | Josh Morrissey

The players in the Jets dressing room remember the game back in 2016 fondly, except for the final score. The 3-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers that year was the only thing that tainted the experience. 

However, valuable lessons were learned then - especially when it comes to equipment.

"I think the trainers are going to have a full cargo plane of extra stuff for us," Morrissey said sarcastically, referring to all the extra gear coming on the trip. "They've got it all set up. Whether it's the tinted visor, the patches you wear under your eye for the glare off the ice.

"It's actually crazy how much stuff is available for options."

Connor Hellebuyck - who started in goal for the Jets back in 2016 as well - he and fellow goaltender Laurent Brossoit have specific pads, masks, and other gear ready for the weekend to match the blue Heritage jerseys.

"I had these pads squished down for about two or three weeks. I got them a little pre-broken down," Hellebuyck said after Wednesday's practice. "I like to use them three or four times to make sure I'm used to it I guess. A new set of pads feel a little different around the ankles."

Video: PRACTICE | Connor Hellebuyck

The Jets will arrive in Regina on Friday to practice later that afternoon at Mosaic Stadium.

That first practice outdoors is important for skaters and goaltenders.

"Just getting my angles down and feeling the ice and seeing if I need to sharpen my skates a little bit sharper or not," said Hellebuyck. "I know in Winnipeg the sun beating on us for two extra hours so we weren't able to play. So just be prepared for everything."

Skate sharpening will be key, as Paul Maurice recalls a few "toe picks" resulted in Edmonton goals back in 2016.

"I think we went down three times," he recalled. "Buff caught a heel and went down for a breakaway goal. I think we had three of them and two went in the back of our net."

Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice

As fun as all the events surrounding the game are, the players haven't lost sight of the valuable two points that are on the line.

In fact, Maurice thinks Saturday's match-up could get heated. The Jets will be hitting the ice for the first time since a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. The Flames (who lost to those same Kings 4-1 back on Oct. 19) will be looking to rebound from a 5-3 loss to Washington on Tuesday - although they do host the Florida Panthers on Thursday prior to heading to Regina.

"Everybody will be a little bit snarly coming into this," said Maurice. "Both coaches are going to be 'enjoy the game. It's fun, but we don't like our last game and we have to make amends for it.'"

That just means hockey fans in Regina and Saskatchewan who support the game from grassroots hockey camps right up to the highest level will be in for a treat.

"All the arenas, the people in the province of Saskatchewan in the cities and towns really support hockey. It's in everyone's blood. It's what everyone does," said Morrissey. "The support hockey teams get there is amazing. It's the same we get here in Winnipeg and in Manitoba. It's going to be fun to go back there. I think the people deserve to have a game like that. They're such big hockey fans. It will be a great time."

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