Last week, San Francisco Bulls’ forward Jordan Morrison took some time after a morning skate to answer questions about hockey, life and everything. Back in November, Head Coach Pat Curcio described Morrison as:
…an interesting player. He’s a guy that has flashes of offensive ability and then you want more. He doesn’t give you that but what he does give you is a great penalty killer, a guy you want to put on the ice in the last minute that you can trust. He brings leadership, he’s an assistant captain and the guys respect him. He’s a utility player with some skill. I think that he’s got the ability to score even more.
Interesting indeed. Since the publication of that quote, Morrison’s numbers have improved. In his first 21 games with the Bulls, he had five goals and ten points. In the 31 games that followed, he earned ten goals and twenty-three points. His value to the team goes beyond points production: Curcio has regularly put newly arrived players on a line with “Mo,” suggesting that he sees leadership traits in Morrison that are more complex than setting a good example with his play.
Morrison signed with the Bulls on August 7, 2012. The 26 year old center was born in Uxbridge, Ontario:
My family still resides in Uxbridge, and when I get home… well, I don’t go home to Uxbridge myself anymore, I usually live in Toronto or… I lived in Halifax for a couple summers, wherever the wind may take me, but it’s still my home.
Morrison was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the seventh round in 2004. He continued to play with the Peterborough Petes for two more seasons, winning the J. Ross Robertson Cup in 2006. When did he decide he was going to play hockey professionally?
I think it’s always an aspiration, growing up as a kid and going through the ranks of major juniors and obviously getting drafted and, you know, you always hope to play professionally some day. Sometimes you take different paths, it’s not always the path that you thought you’d take but I’m here now, liking it, enjoying it.
Morrison earned a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology & International Development Studies. He played for the Dalhousie University team from 2006 to 2008, and finished the 2007-08 season with the ECHL’s Texas Wildcatters. He played all nine playoff games with the Wildcatters before the franchise moved to California and became the Ontario Reign. Morrison spent the next season with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers, and played seven games with the AHL’s WBS Penguins. In 2009-10, he played 65 ECHL games across stints with the Florida Everblades, the Johnstown Chiefs and the Wheeling Nailers. In 2010 he played a full season with the Ontario Reign. (Eliteprospects.com)
So when in the world did he have time to finish a bachelor’s degree? It had to be through online courses, right?
No, I went to school for two years right after I was done with major juniors. I decided that instead of turning pro I was going to get my schooling done so I did that for two years straight. I did Summer, Fall, Winter for two years and then I went back after my first year pro and graduated in the summer.
As someone who did college in four years in the U.S., and knowing full-time students today who have a lot of trouble finishing a bachelor’s degree in less than five years, that sounded to me like a man in a hurry to get it done:
Well, you gotta have it, can’t play hockey forever, so you may as well have something in the back pocket right off. I’ll probably get some more schooling before I’m done.
Continuing education might be a theme in Morrison’s career. In a 2006 interview with Hockey’s Future, he talked about the importance of playing in different situations and with different players. He still recognizes that time and change are valuable for developing a player’s hockey sense:
The more you play this game, the more people you get to play with, it’s like any job, the more you do it, the more you learn. That’s definitely true over the past six, seven years now. My game’s grown in different aspects. I might not be as dynamic as a player but you learn the subtleties of the game, play with older guys and the people you come across.
In the same 2006 interview, he stated that he was working on his power play skills, but he was not a penalty-killer. He most certainly is one now, a very important part of the Bulls’ penalty kill, as well as regular on the power play:
No, I was not a penalty killer back in the day. [It's only in] the last couple of years it’s come to light. That … goes hand in hand with [learning] the ropes as you go. You might not start out in the penalty kill position. You’re kind of young and wild and you just want to score goals, and then you settle into the game and learn the subtleties of the game like I said. That involves the penalty kill for me now.
Morrison started last season with the Ontario Reign, and finished by playing 35 games in Europe. He played 12 with Klagenfurter AC in Austria and 23 with Lillehammer in Norway, including 10 playoff games.
I was playing in Austria and they brought in an NHLer and kind of just eliminated my job. I wasn’t playing as much as I wanted, kind of a fourth line role… So for development’s sake I decided I should go someplace I could play a lot, so I ended up going to Norway, played in Lillehammer for the last few months of the season. It was a great experience. Norway’s cold and expensive but it was nice.
Morrison speaks French but doesn’t speak German or Norwegian. That didn’t stop him from enjoying his time in Austria as well, even if he didn’t play as much as he wanted to:
It’s a beautiful country. [I] got to do a lot of travelling, went over to Croatia and Vienna, spent Christmas at some luxurious spa with a bunch of Canadians that were on the team and my girl who was over there. Had a great time, made a lot of good friends that I still keep in touch with.
Morrison drew some parallels between the pace of life and hockey in Europe and Scandinavia, and how it differs from the North American variety:
It’s just a different brand of hockey over there, a bit slower, the lifestyle is slower, it’s more coffee shops and cigarettes over there. It’s two different worlds of hockey. Here it’s smaller rinks, quicker pace. There it’s always hold on to the puck, try not to dump it. It’s more of a skill set over there, so as far as hockey is concerned it was a big change doing that. Seemed like kind of an eye opener. I consider myself somewhat of a skilled player, but you go over there [and] everyone’s a skilled player. Even the fourth, fifth line guys can handle the puck really well. It’s just a different game in general.
Now here he is, in San Francisco. It’s been five seasons since he played his first ECHL game. Isn’t this a rare work environment, where people spend their days doing something they really want to do?
I don’t know. I haven’t really worked in the real working world yet, you could say. But I can imagine that this is definitely different from a nine to five office job where people just want to take their work, get it done and not bring anything home with them. Where in hockey… if something doesn’t go well at night, you’re stewing about it until the next time you can go out there and talk about it with your friends, who are also your teammates, and roommates… so you don’t really get away from the game really all that much. It’s a job and a passion and a hobby.
How does he spend his days off?
Days off are few and far between. It’s a grind, this league, you know, playing three in three with travel. So when you get a day off, it’s usually laundry, get a good meal, a nap. Maybe if it’s a nice day go explore the city, relax at the beach, take in what [San Francisco] has to offer.
I asked Morrison to identify high points in his career so far. He didn’t pick one:
I don’t know. Every year has [its] high points. You always meet a couple great friends that you keep in touch with for life. I haven’t won any championships in my days, not since my last year in junior when we went to the [Memorial Cup.] After that… school… and it’s just great being around the guys every day and coming into an atmosphere where you get to be surrounded by 20 guys that all have something in common, trying to accomplish the same goal. It’s just the little things, the little road trips. No monumental things, just the day to day life that you enjoy.