It has been a couple of years since a new ownership group took over operation of the Prince George Cougars, an organization that had struggled on the ice and at the box office for a good portion of the last decade.
A “New Ice Age” has become the slogan in northern B.C.’s capital, a city clamoring for WHL success. And just like any transition in sports, the current ownership inherited what was then the current roster, along with the player’s list that would form the team’s immediate on-ice future. To the benefit of the new ownership group, the previous management team of general manager Dallas Thompson and scouting aficionado Wade Klippenstein had one of its strongest WHL Bantam Drafts ever in 2012, assembling prospects that today form the core of an emerging power.
Brad Morrison is one of those key players acquired through the draft. At 6’ and 165 pounds, he is a diminutive forward with big-time offensive skills. The Cougars made him the seventh overall pick in 2012, plucking the soft-spoken Morrison from the Okanagan Hockey Academy (OHA) program that is based in Penticton, B.C.
Morrison grew up playing minor hockey in Prince George before moving south into West Kelowna (also known as Westside). After his bantam hockey days, which included a stint at OHA where he scored 97 goals and 73 assists in 68 games, he returned to Prince George for a season in the B.C. Major Midget League with the Cariboo Cougars. His prolific scoring continued as he contributed 20 goals and 30 assists in 38 games as a rookie in the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League.
According to veteran head coach Mark Holick, now in his third full season behind the Cougars bench, the 19-year-old Morrison continues to exhibit those offensive skills.
“He loves to score, loves to provide offense,” Holick said in an interview with Hockey’s Future after a gameday skate in Kelowna before a tilt against the Rockets. “We’re trying to get him to play a little more well-rounded game, but his eyes, they get pretty big when he gets the puck on his stick.
“Brad can smell the net. He’s really good when his feet are moving, when he’s skating and creating and hunting pucks. He can steal pucks, take pucks away with the best of them. He’s got a real smart stick, a quick stick.”
Holick, who played in the WHL with the Saskatoon Blades and New Westminster Bruins, knows about physical hockey. Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1986, he played hard back in the day, and over the course of his 20-year coaching career he has always expected the same from his players. While Morrison is among the smaller forwards in Prince George this season, Holick doesn’t see him backing away from any of the heavy traffic.
“We play a physical game, we finish our checks,” Holick said of the Cougars, one of the heaviest playing teams in the WHL. “We want to be a hard team to play against. Brad is a guy that loves offense, and he doesn’t need a whole lot of space. He can do some really good things with the puck without a lot of room out there. He’s got good eyes and skilled hands.”
Morrison was selected in the fourth round, 113th overall, by the New York Rangers at the 2015 NHL Draft. He continues to work toward a job in professional hockey and will get some valuable advice from his brother-in-law, Josh Gorges of the Buffalo Sabres. Gorges, who was never drafted, was a member of the Kelowna Rockets’ 2004 Memorial Cup-winning team and has turned hard work into an NHL career that has exceeded the 700-game mark.
“I know that they skate in the summers together,” Holick said of Morrison’s ties to Gorges. “For Brad to play at the next level he’s got to have some more strength and size, so it’s important getting in that weight room and seeing how guys train and how they work. Even in their summer shinny ice, I know they get after it pretty good.
“I think Brad needs to understand that to play in the NHL for as long as guys like Josh have done, it’s a job. It’s fun, but it’s a job. You’ve got to make sure you take care of your body and prepare your body for the rigors of a tough season. Brad is just starting to scratch the surface on that, so for him to get to the next level, being around guys like Josh certainly will do nothing but help him.”
Last season, whic was also his draft year, Morrison scored 23 goals and added 27 assists in 67 games. He has already surpassed those numbers this season with 26 goals and 34 assists in 68 games. Playing with Jansen Harkins (WPG) and Chase Witala, the Cougars’ career scoring leader, Morrison and the Cougars have clinched a playoff berth and will play out their final four games to determine which Western Conference foe they will face in the first round of the WHL playoffs.
HF spoke with Morrison in Kelowna prior to the Cougars 3-2 shootout loss to the Rockets. Morrison chipped in with two assists on the night.
Follow Glen Erickson on Twitter via @glenerickson51