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Morrow proving leadership by battling through injury

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

Those who watched Brenden Morrow quickly skate off the ice in San Jose a week ago clutching a towel to his face while he bled profusely most likely figured that, at the very least, his night was over. 

Brenden Morrow Highlights
Instead, not only did the Dallas Stars captain return to the ice after about 15 minutes of playing time wearing a full face shield, he was a force to be reckoned with and inspired his teammates to battle back from a one-goal deficit to tie a game they eventually won in a shootout. 

As impressive as that was, Morrow then underwent surgery last Wednesday to straighten out the broken nose he suffered and was back on the ice Thursday night, playing a spirited physical game, connecting for his first goal in 11 games, and shining all over the ice. 

“They just straightened it, tried to make it aesthetically look a little better, I guess, so it’s not on the side of my face,” Morrow said of the operation. “I was out, I didn’t feel a thing. I may not have felt great if the game was that day, but I had a day of rest and it wasn’t that bad.”

And then Morrow delivered an outstanding two-goal effort in Sunday’s 4-3 overtime win over Detroit, including the equalizer late in the third period. 

Seriously? Is this guy even human? It’s almost like he’s been better since the injury. While hockey players are known as a tough bunch, this definitely stretches a bit beyond the code of ‘playing through pain.’

“That’s Brenden, right?  That’s the kind of guy he is, he’ll do anything he can for his teammates,” said third-year winger James Neal. “Not many other guys would be able to take a puck in the face like that and be able to come back and keep playing the way he plays, being physical and getting big goals. I can’t say enough about him. That’s why he’s our captain.”

“He’s handled it perfectly. He’s played really hard,” added defenseman Stephane Robidas, who has also experienced his share of broken noses from taking pucks in the face. “He’s always going 100 percent and throwing his body around and blocking shots and doing the little things. That’s why he’s our leader. He leads by example. It’s not that easy what he did, to come back in that same game with the cage and the broken nose, he showed a lot of character.”

Coach Marc Crawford also points to the exemplary leadership Morrow has displayed as perhaps the most important by-product of his heroic return. 

“He continues to just impress with his character and his leadership,” Crawford said. “That is leadership right there. Okay, he got hit with the puck and really was sore and played the rest of the game in San Jose. But then he comes back and has to have an operation, which I’m sure wasn’t very fun, and he’s sore. There’s no two ways about it. He’s uncomfortable, we’re uncomfortable for him just watching him, but that’s leadership. He’s going out and leading by example, and that really spirits on everyone else. You can’t help but be somewhat motivated when you see your captain come out and play the way that he does.”

Here’s what happened: San Jose defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic attempted to clear the puck out of his own zone from along the boards and lifted the puck up off the glass and into the nose of Morrow, who didn’t have enough time to move out of the way.

“I saw it at the last second,” he said. “It hit the glass and I kind of lost it in the crowd a little bit and saw it at the last second, but it was too late.”

Predictably, Morrow just shrugged off the praise as if it’s simply part of the job.   

“The bleeding, they were able to stop it, I guess,” shrugged Morrow, who now has 91 hits on the year, ranking second on the squad and 16th in the NHL, while averaging 18:27 of ice time, including a season-high 22:58 in Detroit. “I’m sure I’m not the first one, look at Robi. I’ve had a few other things this year that I think are worse than the broken nose that I’ve played through, it’s just not on my face, so no one sees it. It’s not that big a deal. It’s what we do. It wasn’t that bad.”

Perhaps not, but what makes his return even more impressive is just how revved up his performance has been since coming back. Morrow had struggled a bit offensively before the injury, going 10 games without a goal and registering just one assist over the previous six contests.

But one day after surgery, Morrow came out strong Thursday against those same Sharks, finally finding the back of the net, netting an important goal in the final minute of the first period to tie the game up 1-1. The 6-foot, 209-pound native of Carlyle, Saskatchewan also was a physical dynamo, delivering a whopping 11 hits. 

After the two-goal outing in Detroit, Morrow has three goals in his last three games, and all three came in different fashion (a quick-release wrist shot, a deflection in front of the net and a off-speed backhander between the pads), demonstrating his considerable offensive talent.

“I didn’t feel energized, but I think in the past, I don’t know if it’s more focused, but when I am bumped and bruised and scraped up, I seem to be a little bit more involved,” admitted the humble 31-year-old 11-year veteran.

“To (play that well and) feel as bad as we all recognize he must be feeling,” marveled Crawford, a former player who suited up for 176 NHL games for Vancouver from 1981-87. “I’ve had my nose broken a couple of times and I’ve had it reset and it’s no fun. But I didn’t have to play the next night. It would be the equivalent of getting hit in the face with a baseball bat at your cubicle at work and getting someone in the office to stop the bleeding and then say, ‘Okay, now get back to your desk, we want you to finish the rest of the day.’ 

“It’s amazing what he was able to do in San Jose and equally amazing what he was able to do (Thursday) night. Looking at our club that night, we didn’t have a lot of forwards that had a lot of energy and a lot of juice and he was one of them. That’s leadership. That’s exactly why he wears the C.” 

That inspiration seemed to carry over to the back-to-back road contests the Stars had this weekend, gutting out a huge 2-1 victory in Columbus Saturday and rallying from a 3-2 third period deficit to tie Detroit with 3:14 remaining in regulation on Morrow’s backhander, a game Dallas won in overtime.

While the decision to get back on the ice was a relatively easy one for Morrow, a tougher one was choosing which type of face shield to wear. The night of the injury in San Jose, he wore a full visor shield and he’s continued to wear it since, picking that over the full shield with the bars that Robidas has worn on occasion over the past couple of seasons.

“I couldn’t see through the cage,” Morrow said. “I tried it (Thursday) morning, and the bars, when the puck’s coming, you kind of lose sight of it through the bars. I didn’t like it. I’m claustrophobic, so I didn’t like either of them very much, but the bars didn’t work for the lines of sight.” 

“I couldn’t play with the shield like he’s got,” countered Robidas. “I can’t play with it, because it gets foggy, you get snow on it, you can’t see, and if you got to clean your visor, you always have to unbuckle it. That’s why, with a cage, you don’t have to worry about it. I’m kind of claustrophobic and you can’t really breathe as well in that. That’s why I like the cage better. You see the bars at the beginning, but you get to the point where you don’t see it. It’s like the goalie, they got that in their face. You get to a point where it’s just part of your equipment.”

Morrow now has 12 goals on the season, along with 20 points, in 33 games, which is definitely a better pace over a full season than his numbers from last season (20 goals, 46 points), but his reduced production prior to the injury had been bothering him. He understands how important it is for him and his usual center Mike Ribeiro to provide a second scoring line on a regular basis, to take some of the heat off the top trio of Brad Richards, Neal and Loui Eriksson.

“Well, 10 games without scoring, you’re always questioning yourself a little bit,” he acknowledged. “The chances were still there and I knew eventually, they were going to go in. We’d like a little more production from our line, especially from teams that are checking Richie’s line so well. You’d kind of like to lighten the load a little for those guys and we’re just not consistently doing a good enough job. So I think we were feeling a little bit of pressure, so hopefully getting that one will relieve some of that, and we’ll be able to go out and play a little loose and start finding the back of the net more consistently.”

Crawford wasn’t worried about his captain, pointing out all the ways Morrow was contributing even without finding the scoresheet. 

“Brenden’s the leader on the team, he hits, he goes to the net, he’s got net presence,” said Crawford. “I’m always of the belief, if you’re not getting chances, then worry.  He was getting so many chances, you knew it’s only a matter of time before they go in.”

Now that he’s regained a bit of his offensive confidence and is perhaps a bit more dialed in because he has to be in order to overcome the nose injury, it’s a good bet that Morrow will continue to be a positive force for the Stars, both on the ice and in the dressing room.

“It doesn’t have to be pretty, it can be something that just bounces off a leg,” Morrow said of how getting that first goal after a slump can open the floodgates. “And then it’s, ‘Okay, I got one,’ so you’re not thinking about it so much, pressing for goals, gripping the stick tight. You can just go out and not think and that’s usually when the most success comes, when you’re not thinking.” 

“I guess when you get injured like that, you try not to think and that’s what he did - just go hard,” said Ribeiro. “That’s just the example he shows everyone. He’s not a guy who talks a lot in the room, but when things like that happens and you get a bruise, you think about it twice before complaining about it. You just put your gear on and go play. He’s just a great example for everyone and we just need to follow that.”

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