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Morrissey's season-long odyssey nears end in AHL

by Alyssa Dombrowski

During the 2013-14 season, 19-year-old Josh Morrissey's storied journey on the ice has taken him from Winnipeg Jets training camp to a Western Hockey League campaign in Prince Albert, the World Junior Championship in Sweden, and now the American Hockey League's Calder Cup Finals with the St. John's IceCaps.

"Quite honestly, it's all happened so fast that it hasn't really sunk in yet," said Morrissey, who made his professional debut with the IceCaps, Winnipeg's top development affiliate, at the end of the regular season after the Raiders were eliminated from the WHL playoffs. "Along the way in your career, you don't have that many chances to win championships at any level, so I'm trying to take it all in, enjoy every day and do whatever I can to try and win."

The 6-foot defenseman joined the IceCaps fresh off his third season with Prince Albert, during which he led all WHL blueliners with 28 goals and ranked second with 73 points in 59 games. The talent that led him to become Winnipeg's first pick (No. 13) in the 2013 NHL Draft is evident even in the early stages of his pro career, according to St. John's coach Keith McCambridge.

Josh Morrissey led all WHL blueliners with 28 goals and ranked second with 73 points in 59 games. (Photo: Colin Peddle)

"He's obviously gifted with regards to how he sees the ice, how he moves the puck and the plays that he can make under pressure for such a young man," McCambridge said. "He has a quiet confidence about him that you can obviously see when you meet him, but you can also see come through in the way he plays his game.

"The way he's fit in really well with the group after not being here pretty much the whole season speaks volumes about his character."

After tallying just one assist in eight regular-season games with St. John's, Morrissey has posted two goals and nine points in 18 games during the Calder Cup Playoffs.

"My eight games in the regular season were a bit of a transition period," Morrissey said. "Coming right up from junior, you're used to the way the game is played down there, so it took me a little bit of time to get used to it.

"I felt better and better as I went along throughout my first few weeks. A big part of that was just feeling like a part of the group and the coaching staff giving me the opportunity to go back out there after I made a mistake, to play and feel comfortable as time went on."

The IceCaps defeated the Albany Devils, Norfolk Admirals and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to reach the 2014 Calder Cup Finals, where they currently trail the Texas Stars 2-1. Despite his short amount of time with the team, it's clear to Morrissey why the Eastern Conference champions have found success this postseason.

"You don't get this far without having a really close group of guys," he said. "I could see it from the first time I was in the dressing room. Throughout the entire roster, including the coaches and trainers, everyone wants everyone else to do well. For me, that made it easy to blend in."

Morrissey, who hails from Calgary, Alberta, served as team captain in Prince Albert this season. Although his role has changed since joining the IceCaps, his mentality remains unwavering.

"I think I approach the game the same way," Morrissey said. "I'm kind of a lead-by-example type of guy and I try to work hard every day, so I guess that part doesn't really change … but in the room, I'm listening a lot more now rather than talking as much as I was [with Prince Albert]."

Equally as resilient is Morrissey's capability to play to his potential each night, despite having skated in more than 100 games since the start of training camp nearly 10 months ago.

McCambridge said the Jets felt confident Morrissey's work ethic would carry him through a prolonged season.

"It's something that management was well aware of, but they felt there was a big upside to having him play playoff hockey," McCambridge said. "That outweighed the amount of games that he had played this season."

They were right.

"There are times where, understandably when you're playing that many games, you get a little tired," Morrissey said. "But when you get to this point and are into the Finals, it's not too hard to get yourself pretty amped up."

Rather than wear the rookie down, McCambridge points out Morrissey's contest-heavy season has done quite the opposite.

"I haven't seen it affect his game," McCambridge said. "In fact, I feel like the more he's played here, the more comfortable he gets playing in these high-intensity games. He hasn't slowed down at all; he's gotten better and better with each time he's been on the ice."

Morrissey explained his thought process with the rationale of a seasoned veteran.

"You kind of say to yourself, ‘There aren't that many periods left here in the season,'" he said. "Whether it goes four games or seven, I just try to give it my all every shift. When the season's done, there will be lots of time to rest."

With that mentality, his natural skill and this postseason's high-stakes experience in hand, Morrissey's career is only just beginning.

"I can head into training camp next year knowing I've played with and against some of the best upcoming prospects," Morrissey said. "It gives me some confidence, and no matter what happens I can draw on this experience to help me in the future."

Games 4 (if the Stanley Cup Final has completed), 5, 6 and 7 of the Calder Cup Finals will air live on NHL Network in the U.S. and on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio.

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