One of the major positives to come out of the just-completed Dallas Stars' 2006-07 season was the emergence of winger Brenden Morrow as a key team leader in his first season as captain.In a locker room containing several players who had previously worn the captain's C elsewhere, Morrow gradually grew into his leadership role throughout the course of the year.
His influence on the club was felt most during the Stars' first-round playoff matchup with Vancouver. With Dallas trailing the Canucks three games to one after dropping two close games at the American Airlines Center, Morrow called out his teammates, claiming they needed to work harder and expend more energy battling in the difficult areas around the net.
Morrow then backed up his speech with action, as his power play goal in overtime, on a deflection while crashing the net, won Game 5 and jump-started the Stars' comeback from a 3-1 deficit that ultimately fell just short in Game 7.
"Brenden obviously is a very fiery competitor and he's not someone who's talking all the time," noted center Jeff Halpern, who served as Washington's captain in 2005-06 before coming to Dallas last July. "When he does speak, it does hold a lot of weight and a lot of merit and guys respect him a lot. If for no other reason when your captain scores an overtime goal to keep your season going, to be able to back that up with his play as well as his words is more of a credit to him. For him to step up like that is the marking of a very good leader."
"It's big, when your leader, your captain gets the big goal for you," added veteran defenseman Darryl Sydor after Game 5. "He wears his heart on his sleeve. It's good to see him score, it's just fitting that he got the goal."
Morrow admitted that publicly criticizing his teammates like that was very difficult to do.
"That's the toughest part," he said. "That doesn't come easy, you never want to do something like that. You always want to protect your teammates and when you have to give them tough love, that was the toughest part. So much of it is emotion, and at that point, you just want to win and you say what's on your mind, and that's what I felt."
His ability to inspire the club with his words and his deeds, as he played gritty, second-effort hockey throughout the series and finished tied for the club lead with two goals, earned him much respect from his peers.
"He grew a lot," said center Stu Barnes, himself a former captain in Buffalo. "I think we saw, no question, as the year wore on, he got better and better at it, especially come playoff time. You can really see that come out of him and he demonstrated what a true leader he was, in a couple of those games, he just kind of threw the whole team on his back and went, and that's great to see."
Morrow also contributed outstanding play on the ice, providing an impressive combination of abrasiveness and skill that few players in the league can match. Due to injuries, Morrow completed the season with 16 goals and 31 points, but in just 40 games. If he'd played a full year at that pace, he would have produced 33 goals, which would have shattered his career high of 25 from 2003-04, and 64 points, one fewer than his personal best set last season. He ended the regular season on a roll with 11 points (six goals, five assists) in the final 11 games.
Morrow's season was interrupted by a serious injury suffered Dec. 26 in Chicago, when he suffered severed tendons in his right wrist after a Blackhawks player inadvertently skated over his arm. Following a complicated but successful surgery, Morrow sat out for 33 games before returning in late March.
"It was tough on him being injured and wanting to be part of the team and be on the ice," noted his friend and goaltender, Marty Turco, "because he's such a big catalyst for us emotionally, and we know what he does on the ice to win hockey games."
His absence from the team for so long hindered his growth into a club leader, but Morrow worked hard to come back in top form in all aspects of his game and was clearly a force for the stretch run.
"For Brenden, after he came back from his injury there, I think he really took the reigns of the team and down the stretch, he was a strong influence on how our team prepared for the playoffs," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "It's gone to where he is the leader of our team now, and he will continue to move that forward."
"It was a tough year missing that much hockey, but I felt comfortable," Morrow said of being captain. "Later on in the season and the playoffs, it didn't seem to be a burden at all, I actually felt really comfortable with it. I would have liked better results and won more, but it's part of growing. I didn't think it was a whole lot different from the year before."
Morrow's performance in that role was the positive payoff club management was hoping for when he was given the captaincy last September during training camp, soon after signing a six-year contract extension.
"It wasn't the way everyone envisions it to happen, I guess, but that wasn't in my control," Morrow said of taking over from Mike Modano. "I had to go out and perform and do the things under my control. What was done there was done, I didn't have to worry about it anymore, I just concentrated on my duties as the captain, and that's taking care of the 23 guys on my team, and all that other stuff, I couldn't help with that." "I think nobody really looked through his eyes about what happened, how he had to deal with it," Turco said of Morrow. "I think you've got to give him a lot of credit for how he handled it and the way he worked through it. He really matured a lot, but those experiences as a young leader -- you've got to earn your stripes and this year, he grew by leaps and bounds. And this year is going to be really beneficial for this hockey club, having him and what he's gone through, to even step it up next year."
With Morrow, now 28 and entering the prime of his career, as the clear leader from the start next year, there is no telling how positive an impact he will have on the club's fortunes.
"I thought Brenden did very well," General Manager Doug Armstrong said. "I thought that this year was very difficult for him at the start, and then he had an injury-plagued season, but I thought that the message that he was delivering in the locker room and the message he was delivering to the media and then to the fans was one that we wanted delivered.
"I think for the long term of the organization, having Brenden in a leadership role was the way that we needed to go, and I'm happy with that."