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Morrow rehab progressing nicely

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

With much of the talk about the Dallas Stars lately focusing on the recent wrist injury suffered by center Brad Richards, it seemed appropriate to check in on one of his teammates he has joined in the trainer’s room, captain Brenden Morrow.

Morrow sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee back on Nov. 20 and underwent successful reconstructive surgery about two weeks later. And while he’s been listed as being out for the season, Morrow still holds out hope he will return at some point this year, most likely in the playoffs.

Of course, the Stars have to qualify for the post-season first, and with veteran defenseman Sergei Zubov also out for the season due to a hip injury and now Richards gone for 6-8 weeks, that task just got a little harder. With four more games left on a season-long homestand, Dallas ranked seventh in the Western Conference following their 3-1 loss to Chicago Saturday. 

“I still hope to,” Morrow said of returning this year. “We got a fight ahead of us and I’m going to prepare to be ready for playoffs and do everything I can off-ice to help the team fight their way to get there.”

Of course, the first step is for his knee to completely heal and be strong enough for NHL action again. To that end, Morrow’s rehabilitation has been going smoothly and without any setbacks, definitely a positive sign for the 29-year-old left winger.

“(It’s going) good,” Morrow said of the arduous process of rehabbing. “Same as every other day - we’re on schedule, but I think more than that, I can just say I feel good, I feel healthy.”

Recently, Morrow has been working out in the weight room strengthening the knee and the muscles around it, and is getting closer to being able to test it on the ice. 

“Still in the weight room, waiting on the okay to start the side-to-side actions and jumping and running, so everything’s pretty straight-forward right now,” he said of his recent activity. “I can lift, I can work on the strength, I just can’t work on cutting. I think at some point next month, (I’ll start skating). They usually say around three months and that will be March 2nd, so we’re still a couple of weeks away.”

Even taking into account the 33 games he missed in 2006-07 with severed tendons in his right wrist, this has been the longest stretch of his career that Morrow has been forced to the sidelines by injury. But while it has been a difficult time to endure, Morrow, as always, has soldiered through it well.

“He’s been really good - the hardest part’s probably over for him,” noted goaltender Marty Turco, one of Morrow’s closest friends. “When you go a couple of weeks or a couple of months and then you’re still not doing anything and it seems so far away to come back, he’s overcome that part with flying colors. He’s as healthy as they could have expected him to be. He’s back in the gym doing things, so he’s active. He doesn’t feel hindered other than not playing golf, he feels he can do almost anything, and that’s probably helping his mental psyche more than anything.”

One other thing helping boost Morrow’s spirits - as well as the team’s - is that he has been around the players a lot during his rehab process. Whether it’s at the facilities working out on practice days or even joining the guys on road trips, Morrow has been offering his own particular brand of advice and yes, leadership. After feeling somewhat distanced from the club the last time he had a long-term injury, Morrow wanted to be closer to the action this time. 

“I felt like that with the wrist injury a couple of years ago, but Les and Brett and Tip and the training staff have let me be around a little bit more,” he acknowledged. “Yeah, I’m on the road trips. I don’t want to be in their hair every day, so game days, I try and give them the mornings to themselves and I’ll do my rehab at the therapist’s office, and then meet up on game night.” 

“Leadership-wise, he’s tight with all the players,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said.  “A lot of times, coaches see things from afar that players don’t see when you’re playing, but I think he can be an extra voice in there. He sees the way we’re playing or the way individuals are playing or young players, what they’re doing and he can recognize situations. And a little conversation can help steer them the right way.”

Certainly, his teammates appreciate and respect his opinions, even if he’s not on the ice with them now, and also recognize the hard work he’s been putting forth to get back as quickly as possible.

“He’s been here every day, he’s been coming on the road with us the last few road trips,” center Mike Ribeiro confirmed. “I think he wants to be around the guys, he wants to get ready and make sure the guys want to push and win games so he could come back. You can feel that he’s itching, that he wishes he can be here and help the team right now, but you could see, too, that his work ethic is still there and he wants to make a comeback as soon as possible and help his team.”

Another thing that has made sitting out for so long a little easier to take - but not much - is that the Stars have turned around their season, climbing their way back into the playoff picture after being mired in last place in the Western Conference standings when Morrow went out.

“It’s not easy,” admitted Morrow, who had compiled five goals and 15 points in 18 games before the injury. “The good thing is, the team’s kind of turned it around the last couple of months. They’ve played well, so that’s made it a lot easier. You want to be able to help and be part of it, but when they’re winning hockey games, it makes it a lot easier to sit and watch.”

As of Sunday, Morrow had missed 40 games and counting, a stretch in which Dallas has fashioned a 23-13-4 record, including 12-5-2 in their last 19. That might lead some to incorrectly speculate that the team doesn’t need him to be successful, but the Stars have been able to overcome key injuries this year by having other players step into the void and thrive in expanded roles. 

“We’ve shown in the past when players have gone out, there’s been other players step in and do a very good job,” Tippett said. “I look at one of the strengths of our team as, we do play as a team and when you have people out, other people can band together and get the job done and that’s what we’re looking for. It has to be a team concept. There’s going to have to be people that have roles elevated in certain situations. I think it’s the organizational philosophy that teams win, individuals don’t. ”

One player that has done that specifically is winger Steve Ott, who has filled Morrow’s spot on the top line with Ribeiro and Jere Lehtinen and, by playing much the same rambunctious, abrasive style as Morrow, has performed impressively. 

“If I can be a quarter of the player that Brenden Morrow is, I think that we’ll definitely have a little bit of success,” said Ott, who netted his career-high 12th goal of the season Saturday and has recorded seven goals and 13 points in his last 12 games. “And that’s just by working hard, competing, getting the puck to Ribeiro and being able to have a lot of puck time in the offensive zone and you’ll get your chances.”

Whether Morrow returns to that line whenever he gets back remains to be seen, but there’s no question he’s been using the possibility of playing again this year as motivation in his rehab workouts. And even though initial estimates had him out for ‘up to six months,’ which would be mid-to-late May, his teammates have also been spurred on by wanting to make sure they’re still playing when he’s ready to return to the lineup.

“I think if we can bring the season as long as we can and hope that he can come back,” Ribeiro said. “I think it will be a boost for everyone to see him come back and bring his leadership in the room. I think everyone’s anxious to see it, but we need to be in a position so he can come back, so for us, it’s working to get into the playoffs.”

“My goal is to have him play again this year,” Turco stated. “I have a hand in that and I have every intention of seeing him lace them up again for the ’08-09 season.” 

So even though he’s not even playing, Morrow is once again compelling his team to play better, further demonstrating just how crucial his presence is to this organization.

“He’s not a guy that’s front and center all the time, but he’s very good behind the scenes,” Tippett said. “Obviously, our leader - he adds great chemistry to our room.”

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