"There's so much talent in this room," said Capitals center Brendan Morrison
after a recent team practice, "I just want to complement that in any way I can."
The 34-year-old Morrison has played that role admirably over his 12-year NHL career with five teams, dominated by seven-plus seasons in Vancouver.
Consider, however, how he complemented locker rooms at the University of Michigan from 1993-97.
"It's hard to believe how long it's been since college," said Morrison, whose individual and team-related stats at Michigan may never be approached again.
Morrison's four years spanned one of the most prolific Michigan runs -- and NCAA runs -- in college history, led by Morrison, who capped his college career by wearing the "C" and winning the Hobey Baker Award.
He burst onto the Ann Arbor scene fresh out of western juniors -- a 1993 second-round pick (No. 39) by the New Jersey Devils
"At that time," said Morrison, "I was still in junior hockey, so it was considered a high pick. I hadn't gone to college and didn't play major junior."
For Morrison, college always was on the radar during his tyke-to-titan climb to the upper echelons of NCAA history.
"Coming from (Pitt Meadows, B.C.)," Morrison said, "exposure then to U.S. colleges wasn't there as much. So my family did a lot of work researching; education was always a big thing in our family. I was approached by Denver, then Michigan, and looked at Maine as well. At the time the whole process was a bit overwhelming, but I couldn't have made a better decision.
"No doubt, Red (Berenson, coach) was a major reason. He was the guy college players wanted to emulate. He was the first guy to go from college to the pro ranks."
"As much as he's a hockey player," said Berenson, "if you met Brendan on the street, you wouldn't think he's a pro athlete, let alone a real good one.
"He's real grounded and always fits into any situation."
And fit in he did as a Wolverine.
"What Brendan brought to the table," said Berenson, "was not only his individual skill, but his ability to make players around him better. His passing and chemistry with players was much better than average. He could score goals and put up numbers, but whoever played with Brendan played well. That's the true sign of a great center. And he played both ends equally, a player you could trust in any situation."
Those situations included Morrison's help in leading the Wolverines to four consecutive postseason appearances, and the 1996 national championship.
"I played with good players, no doubt," said the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Morrison, who wore No. 9 on Michigan's maize-and-blue. "It's really tough to get recognized in college and then move on (to the pros). All four years we had really good teams at Michigan surrounded by some tremendous players."
The '96 title team included Blake Sloan
, John Madden
, Marty Turco
and Bill Muckalt
, all of whom went on to have NHL careers.
"All the tournament games are the ones that really stick out," Morrison said of the four consecutive season-ending overtime thrillers.
"My freshman year we were ranked No. 1 and then lost to Lake (Superior) State, who we had beaten five times that year, in overtime (5-4). Then my sophomore year, I played with Mike Knuble
, and we lose to Maine in triple overtime (4-3, in the semifinal). The next year we win (the national title) in overtime (3-2). And then my senior year, we're ranked No. 1 again and we lose to BU in overtime (3-2 in the semifinal).
In his four seasons, Morrison had 102 goals and 284 points in 155 games.
"I missed a few games my freshman year," said Morrison. "I had shoulder surgery at the end of the season and had to play that season with a harness. And then a couple my sophomore year, but overall, it was pretty good health-wise."
That kind of durability became a hallmark of his NHL career. Going into the 2007-08 season, Morrison became the NHL's iron man. Beginning Feb. 27, 2000 with New Jersey, Morrison went on a 542-game playing streak that ended Dec. 12, 2007. The streak also included four consecutive 82-game seasons with Vancouver before the lockout in 2004-05, and two more after.
All good for the 11th-longest streak in NHL history.
A "Morrison" etching on the Stanley Cup is the final goal as he rides the tail end of a tailwind of a college and pro career that has reached significant heights.
"What Brendan brought to the table was not only his individual skill, but his ability to make players around him better. His passing and chemistry with players was much better than average. He could score goals and put up numbers, but whoever played with Brendan played well. That's the true sign of a great center. And he played both ends equally, a player you could trust in any situation."
-- Red Berenson, Morrison's coach at Michigan
He came close in 2000 when New Jersey won it all.
"I did actually expect to be traded in 2000 -- and missed the Cup win," he said. "There was a lot of talk about (a trade). Every player's dream is to win the Cup, but at that time even though I was not a part of that team, it was a good move in my career. I got to go back to Vancouver near my hometown. I was given a tremendous amount of responsibility and played with great players there with some real good runs there."
With 4 goals and 10 points in 14 games this season, Morrison now has 179 goals and 515 points in 769 games.
Of all his goals at both levels, three stick out.
"You always remember your first one -- up in Alaska-Fairbanks, my first trip as a freshman. A simple little deflection cruising through the slot.
"And (in the NHL), my first goal was against Pittsburgh -- my first shot on net. First game, first shot, first goal. You remember these things.
"And of course, the game-winner in overtime to beat Colorado College in the (1996 national) championship game."
"When teams play well, individuals get recognized,” Morrison said of his trophy case. "Very humbling; nice honors, but, again, personal awards are a tribute to a team's success."
What comes after his playing career?
"When things are done, I won't sit idle. I've got an economics degree. And the past few summers, it's been on the burner about what I'm going to do. No concrete goals right now."
Except for the aforementioned.
The Caps are on the road to another Cup run, with Morrison on a one-year free-agent contract, signed last summer.
"I need to enjoy this -- that's the big thing. Have fun while you're in the game; it doesn't last forever.
"Just win the Cup; that's the ultimate goal. I think this team can win it."