While rehabbing a broken jaw in Philadelphia recently, Samuel Morin wasn't allowed to eat solid foods for a month. The 19-year-old defenceman drank a lot of smoothies and some less appetizing meals.
"Steak in a blender, chicken in a blender, everything in a blender," Morin said. "It was disgusting. Awful."
Morin's diet is solidified again and so is his life. He's back playing hockey and at six foot seven brings an element of size and strength to Canada's world junior hockey team that no one else can provide.
"He's not an easy player to play against in the corner," coach Benoit Groulx said at the team's pre-tournament camp in St. Catharines, Ont. "We need that presence on the back end that can make a big difference in tight games because when you look at this tournament it's all about winning battles in corners, winning battles in front of the net, and I think he's got the size and the stick and he's smart enough to get that done."
Morin, a first-round pick of the Flyers in 2013, came closer than most thought to making the NHL club out of training camp. Sent back to Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Morin suffered a fractured jaw when he took a one-timer from the Remparts' Kurt Etchegary to the right side of his face.
That was Oct. 12 in his fifth game of the season. Morin remembers everything about the play.
"Oh my God, worst injury I ever had," Morin said. "One-timer straight in the face, you don't see that a lot. Sometimes it deflects, but that was straight in the face. It just destroyed my jaw. I had no time (to react)."
After his steak-in-a-blender period, Morin returned five weeks later but with a full face shield. The St-Henri, Que., native had to think twice about what he did.
"My game changed in junior because when someone boarded me I cannot say, 'You want to fight?' I can't do my tough guy (act) anymore," Morin said. "For sure it changed a little bit of my game, but here (at the world juniors) I cannot fight so it changes nothing."
Morin doesn't need to fight to be an imposing force for Canada. He wants opponents to see his size on the roster and think twice when they go into the corners with him.
While the Flyers hope he can be the next Chris Pronger, Morin has two other players he feels like he's more like. One is Zdeno Chara, a similarly sized defenceman with a big shot who can play in all situations.
The other is a defenceman who was part of Canada's 2005 world junior gold-medal team, Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf.
"Dion Phaneuf, when they won the gold here, proved it: You can be a physical player. Even though he was not fighting he was hitting everything," Morin said. "I don't want to hit everything and get out of the play because I want to hit, but I think I can finish all my checks."
Canada, which opens the tournament Friday against Slovakia, will count on Morin to do just that. The defence includes plenty of puck-movers and offensive prowess, but Morin is the muscle.
"In a tournament like that, you need size, you need strength, you need speed," Groulx said. "We like the balance we have with our defencemen. I think they're all big, they can skate well, they're pretty strong. Sam brings that element."
Except Morin doesn't see himself as a one-dimensional big guy. He understands and embraces a shutdown role but doesn't underestimate his own skills.
"I think I'm a big guy, I got some skills. I'm a good skater, I've got a good shot," Morin said. "I got a long reach, I can play with the puck. I want to play like a little guy more. But I have to realize I'm a big guy and I need to make some simple plays."
Groulx scouted Morin as far back as midget hockey and coached against him in the QMJHL. He said Morin has "decent skill" and can skate well for a big man.
Teammates see that, too.
"He's definitely a great skater for how big he is and he's got a great shot and he can use his skills to manage (the puck)," defenceman Madison Bowey said. "He's not just one of those stay-at-home defencemen. He's pretty dynamic with that size."
The world junior championship opens Friday in Montreal and Toronto.
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