Following an up-and-down 2009-10 campaign in which he compiled 20 goals and 46 points, his lowest offensive numbers (pro-rated over a full year) since 2002-03, the Stars captain rebounded with a strong year in several aspects. Not only did he re-discover his uncanny chemistry with longtime center Mike Ribeiro
, Morrow continued to provide a gritty, physical edge and took yet another step forward in his evolution into one of the NHL’s most respected leaders.
Of his team-leading 33 goals, nine came on the power play and five were game-winners, both second on the club to Loui Eriksson
, while he also fired a career-high 209 shots on goal. The 6-foot, 209-pound native of Carlyle, Saskatchewan also dished out 225 hits, ranking second on the team and tied for 13th in the entire league, and his 76 penalty minutes sat fourth on the squad, while averaging 19:14 of ice time per contest.
His team-first attitude, though, made it difficult for him to consider the season a good one, especially considering how agonizingly close the Stars came to getting into the post-season. With a chance to leapfrog past defending champion Chicago with a win in the final regular season game on April 10, the Stars lost 5-3 to Minnesota and wound up on the outside looking in again.
To say that the way it all ended was like taking a football to the groin would be an understatement.
“It sucks,” Morrow said bluntly. “It came down, we had a chance with one game, didn’t win that one, and now it’s a long summer of what ifs and coulda shoulda wouldas. This one feels a lot harder than it did last year. Just the position we put ourselves in - great start, right up to the All-Star break. We’re sitting pretty and then start laying some eggs and that doesn’t make it easier. There’s lot of games we can look back and say we could have found some points there.”
Morrow believed that final game against Minnesota, who had long been eliminated from playoff contention and utilized a slew of minor league call-ups, was more due to how the Wild played than an indictment of the Stars’ performance.
“They played a good game,” said Morrow, who finished the season with goals in each of the last five games, when the Stars needed heroes to step up. “We probably didn’t play our best, we had a lot of hockey, it was a real emotional ride we were on. To really give ourselves a chance, we had to win four in a row to have that opportunity. We just came up a little short. I think we maybe ran out of gas a little bit, drained ourselves that last little push. But they played great, they had a real good game. They had things to play for, they wanted to ruin our party, so they had something to do with it. It wasn’t just us not getting the job done, they played well.”
Of course, the 32-year-old Morrow, who is now the longest-tenured Star with 11 seasons of service, also recognized there was a lot more to Dallas missing the playoffs than just that final-game loss.
“(It was) a lot of things,” said Morrow, who scored nine goals and 15 points in 18 games the last time the Stars were in the playoffs, back in 2008. “Injuries, I guess, were one thing - they kind of all added up at the same time, maybe not to our top scorers, but to a lot of our grit, a lot of our character guys and maybe we just didn’t have the depth in those areas to push through and battle and fight and scrounge out those points when we didn’t have a full lineup.”
Morrow suited up for all 82 games, for just the third time in his career, although he was hindered a bit by some minor injuries down the stretch. He would not reveal the specific nature of his injuries, but admitted they caused him to decline an invitation to join Team Canada in the World Championships that just finished up in Slovakia.
“I’m not going to make it this year, just a lot of bumps and bruises that need some time,” acknowledged Morrow, who helped Canada win gold at the 2004 Worlds, as well as at the 2010 Winter Olympics. “I’d like to get feeling healthy again soon and get back in the gym.”
But even more than his considerable contributions on the ice, what almost everyone associated with the club felt compelled to mention about Morrow was his leadership and how he set a great example to his teammates through his hard work and grit.
With several older, longer-serving teammates who were strong voices in the room having departed, Morrow grew even more into his own as the squad’s unquestioned dressing room leader, in his fifth season as captain.
“I think Brenden’s leadership speaks for itself,” said forward Steve Ott
, 28, who wore an A on his jersey and progressed as a leader himself this past year. “He doesn’t have to say anything, he’s a leader by example with his play. He’s not an overly vocal guy, he’s a guy that competes every single night and leads the team by every example - by hitting, by scoring, by his physicalness, by doing the right things. That’s why he’s our captain and it’s so easy to ride his coattails.”
“He’s always been like that, he’s always done it in the past and he’s no different this year, a great leader,” added 34-year-old defenseman Stephane Robidas
, who wore the other A. “He leads by example. He’s not a guy that talks much in the locker room, but when he talks, guys listen and he’s always got good comments and good perspective on things. Guys respect him a lot, just by the way he plays. He inspires us every night the way he goes about his business and the way he always shows up. He’s trying to get ready every night and that’s what you expect from your captain.”
The humble Morrow agrees with Robidas in that he doesn’t feel he’s done anything differently this season as far as his leadership is concerned.
“I just try and do the same things,” said Morrow, who was the Stars’ first-round selection (25th overall) in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. “I was given the C for a reason and I didn’t want to change a whole lot from my foundation and hopefully I haven’t. There may be some times where you have to be maybe a little more vocal and I try to do that. It’s not really in my nature, but I do the best I can. Hopefully I’ve been growing into the role a little bit, it’s been long enough.”
As captain, Morrow admits that he would like to see the Stars’ unsettled ownership saga stabilized during the off-season, but realizes the issue is beyond his realm of influence.
“Once the games start, it’s not in our mind at all, but now, we want things to happen,” Morrow said of the ongoing ownership uncertainty. “We have teammates becoming unrestricted free agents, so we’d like to see it, but it’s not in our control. We’d love to have an owner who would spend money and add to the budget and bring in some key guys and keep some key guys, but that’s something that we can’t really control. We can control training, keeping our bodies healthy, getting ready for next year and improving.”
Either way, the club’s captain will be ready to battle all-out once again next season and vows not to be sitting on the outside looking in again next spring.
“Hopefully, we won’t be here, we’ll be playing right now,” Morrow said of this time in 2012. “(The pain of missing the playoffs) doesn’t go away when we come back and you play Game 1. It’s a long season, they’re a grind - they mean something, but it’s the post-season, the playoffs, that’s what everyone plays for and what we want to get back to. We haven’t had that feeling for a long time.
“Every year when you don’t have success, there’s changes being made and there’s big question marks with our lineup and who’s going to come back. It’s going to be a difficult summer but exciting at the same time.”
Spoken like a true leader.