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“It’s pretty amazing”: Morrow and Lehtinen Return Triumphantly To Dallas

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

For Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow, the excitement and pride of serving an integral role for the gold medal-winning Team Canada at the recently-concluded Olympic Games was hard to suppress.

Back in their NHL dressing room for the first time since returning from Vancouver, both Morrow and veteran winger Jere Lehtinen, who won a bronze medal with Finland, had to quickly re-set their thinking back to helping the Stars fight their way into playoff positioning down the stretch. 

Things start quickly and don’t let up. The Stars face off Tuesday night against Los Angeles at the American Airlines Center - and will pay homage to the Olympic medal winners on both teams in a special ceremony before the game - and then go on to play a compressed schedule the rest of the way, with their final 21 games of the 2009-10 season coming over the next 40 days. 

But first, Morrow reflected on the glory of reaching the absolute peak of the international hockey mountain when Canada defeated Team USA 3-2 in overtime Sunday afternoon.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Morrow said of the feeling of winning gold on home soil. “Any time you represent your country, you take pride in it, I’d done it at every level but the Olympics. To be able to go through the two weeks, the grind of a tournament like that, and to come away with gold with all the pressure and expectations, and to do it at home, in front of friends, family, it made it that much more special. It’s a dream come true.”

His teammates were all proud of the way Morrow represented them in the tournament, especially the Canadian ones. 

“It truly is just an amazing thing to watch your teammate to go through this experience,” said forward Steve Ott. “I texted him to make sure he brought the medal with him, I wanted to see it and hold it for sure. He’s truly a humble guy and he’s dedicated to his teammates, and that’s one of the biggest reasons why he’s our leader.” 

“For him, the way he played, to earn his time, to get that much ice time, to be one of the best players on the team, it’s no surprise to any of us,” goaltender and good buddy Marty Turco added, “but it was a great coming-out party for him in Canada, let’s say, for someone who has given everything he has to this organization and you saw what he did for his country - it was pretty special.”

Morrow started out as one of Canada’s spare forwards, skating a team-low 7:50 of ice time in their opening 8-0 win over Norway, but he got better and better as the tournament wore on, earning more ice and having a significant impact. He scored the game-winning goal in their quarterfinal triumph over Russia and scored another important goal in their semi-final win over Slovakia, ending the tournament with two goals and one assist, with a +3 plus/minus rating in seven games.

Morrow, who logged 16:30 in the gold medal contest, believes he can use that positive experience as a springboard to a good stretch run for the Stars.

“I hope so,” said Morrow, who hails from Carlyle, Saskatchewan and had compiled 14 goals and 33 points over 56 games for Dallas. “I got a little confidence from it, played a few different roles on that team and earned more ice time as the tournament went on, so yeah, I’m feeling pretty good about the way things went and pretty confident.” 

For Lehtinen, his bronze medal, which Finland won in dramatic fashion with a third period two-goal comeback against Slovakia Saturday night, was made even more special by the thought that it was his last Olympics.

He now has four Olympic medals in five tournaments (also silver in 2006 and bronze in 1998 and 1994), tying an Olympic record, but even though none of them are gold, he was very proud of his - and his country’s - accomplishments.

“My last medal, my last Olympics - the best hockey tournament ever in my opinion and to get a medal from there, it’s pretty huge,” said Lehtinen, 36, who has compiled 11 goals and 20 points in 32 career Olympic contests. “Of course, last time we got silver, it’s better, but still, all medals are great. You wish to get gold, but this tournament was tough, the right teams played for gold.”

The odd thing about the Olympic set-up is that Lehtinen and Team Finland were happy and excited for winning their last game to secure the bronze medal, while the Team USA players who ‘won’ silver were devastated at losing gold. Lehtinen agreed that taking home bronze was almost better than the experience of winning silver in ’06.

“Of course, when you win your last game in a tournament, you feel better - actually, it felt better than four years ago when we lost the final game and got silver,” Lehtinen acknowledged. “A couple of days later, it felt great, but of course at that moment, when it’s over, like two nights ago, it was a great feeling.”

Now, of course, the Stars’ four Olympians (including Sweden’s Loui Eriksson and Latvia’s Karlis Skrastins) have to change their mindset back to battling for the Dallas Stars and the club’s tooth-and-nail fight for the post-season. Heading into action Tuesday night, the Stars ranked 10th in the Western Conference standings, just two points back of eighth-place Detroit for the last playoff spot.

“It’s kind of a mental thing,” Lehtinen said of returning to the NHL season. “You go there and you have to switch something to play for your country, and now you go back here, but I went through that a couple of times before, so it’s not a new thing. It’s not easy of course, but tonight is a big game, so you have to switch in your mind that you’re back here. I think it should be okay. When you got a medal from there, it makes you more happy, so it’s easy to come back.”

“Huge accomplishments for all the medal winners, the guys on our team, all the guys throughout the National Hockey League - the tournament was just great,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “We’ll celebrate a little bit tonight, but once the puck drops in the game, our team has to become the Stars and our guys have to be totally focused on the Stars. We have a huge job ahead of us trying to win tonight and trying to put ourselves in a position to be in the playoffs. Although it’s been great for hockey, we now have to continue to move forward and be positive about it. Those guys are obviously going to be a huge part of any success that we have.”

The Stars headed into the break on a hot streak, going 3-0-1 in their final four games and 9-4-1 in their last 14, so the club hopes to pick up right where they left off.

“The break didn’t come at the best time, we were probably playing our best hockey before the lay-off, so we want to get right back to where we were,” Morrow said. “Marty was doing a great job stopping the puck and battling.  It’s going to be a sprint to the finish, 21 games in 40 nights and they’re all going to be important, and it starts tonight. That was fun, but it’s back to business now. I got another family to play for here.”

Crawford believes the Olympic experience will only be a positive for his medal winners, expecting their success in the best-on-best tournament to carry over. 

“Obviously, those guys have played at the highest level here over the last two weeks and I don’t think there’s going to be a fatigue factor, I think they’ll be elated,” said Crawford, who coached Team Canada in the 1998 Olympics. “And the fact that they’re playing at such a high pace, they should be able to go out there and play at a high level.  Brenden in particular, his game is a simple game, he goes in, he’s very strong on the forecheck, he’s very strong on his net presence, he’s a guy that’ll block a shot and he did all those great leadership things for Canada. For Jere Lehtinen, everyone here has seen his play over the years. Everybody had such positive experiences. 

“Having everybody come back healthy is huge, but for us, it’s very important that everybody thinks Stars.” 

It starts again tonight.

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