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Flames' Morrison excited for first outdoor game

by Dave Lozo /
Brendan Morrison, despite being born and raised in the Vancouver area, has played nearly as much outdoor hockey as someone who spent their life living near the equator.

Just about every NHL player with Canadian roots speaks lovingly about playing on frozen ponds and lakes as a child. They talk about rushing home from school, getting their homework done and skating until it was too dark to see the puck.

Despite his background, the Calgary Flames' center doesn't have that type of experience when it comes to playing hockey in the great outdoors.

"To be honest with you, growing up in Vancouver, I didn't get too many opportunities to skate outside," said Morrison. "I clearly remember I had three chances ever. It just doesn't get cold enough. Those three times stick out vividly in my mind. It was a lot of fun. Just shinny hockey. You'd play for hours. That's what I remember.

"It was just random. We had a couple of snaps there in Vancouver when it was cold for the entire week. Quickly word gets out that there's a pond frozen over and all of a sudden there's a big game. It's never a situation like in Alberta or Saskatchewan where there'd be a permanent outdoor rink. It just never stayed cold enough.

"It was just one of those things as soon as it was cold enough and you got the OK from the fire department, you'd go and play. It didn't happen often."

Morrison's history of being tantalizingly close to outdoor hockey but missing out goes back to his time at the University of Michigan. He spent four seasons in Ann Arbor, his final one in 1997. Four years later, Michigan and Michigan State played outside in front of 77,803 people at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

That contest, dubbed The Cold War, was the largest crowd to ever witness a hockey game at the time. A new record will be set when the two schools meet again at Michigan Stadium in December in what's being called The Big Chill.

"That would've been fun," Morrison said. "Even this year, too, they've got The Big Chill at The Big House. They've already sold over 100,000 tickets. That's going to be a great experience, too."

The 35-year-old Morrison finally will get a chance to play in a memorable outdoor game that won't involve the fire department confirming the ice is safe when the Flames host the Montreal Canadiens at the 2011 Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium.

But it's an opportunity that nearly didn't happen for him.

After a 12-goal, 30-assist season with the Washington Capitals in 2009-10, Morrison had a hard time finding employment this summer. He agreed to a tryout deal with the Canucks, where he spent eight seasons between 1999 and 2008, but the two parted ways at the end of training camp.

Morrison didn't have to look for work long, as the Flames signed him to a one-year contract. But even with the Heritage Classic already on the schedule, Morrison said that wasn't on his mind when he agreed to his deal.

"When I actually signed my deal, I blanked on it. I forgot all about it," confessed Morrison. "Then I was going through the schedule and I was like, 'Oh, they got the outdoor game. It's going to be awesome.' I'm pretty excited about it. I'm not going to lie to you -- it's going to be a lot of fun. It's one of those games that you'll remember forever."

After being cast away by his hometown Canucks, Morrison has delivered for the Flames -- he's fourth on the team in points with 15 (4 goals, 11 assists). Even before the Canucks decided against signing Morrison, he always had the Flames in the back of his mind as a potential landing spot.

"This came on the radar during camp," Morrison said. "I knew Calgary had a couple injury problems. They got in touch and said, 'We don't know what the situation is in Vancouver, but if things don't work out, we're interested.' So I knew there was something potentially on the horizon and I'm thankful they gave me the chance."
"To be honest with you, growing up in Vancouver, I didn't get too many opportunities to skate outside. I clearly remember I had three chances ever. It just doesn't get cold enough." -- Brendan Morrison
That chance has led to a potential once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in the second NHL outdoor game in Canada. Morrison said he's already getting inquiries from friends and family members about tickets to the historic contest, but he's more concerned with the weather.

After all, Morrison is used to the balmy climate of Vancouver.

"The last week here, I talked to my wife yesterday. The car temperature gauge was minus-31 (Celsius)," Morrison said of the weather conditions of Calgary in late November. "That's cold, man. I've never experienced that. The entire week never got above minus-20. So, yeah, I definitely have some fears about that."

Those are fears Morrison is very happy to face in order to play outdoor hockey for the fourth time in his life.

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