Most kids who dream about one day playing hockey
envision themselves as Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr or maybe even Mike
Richter. The dream ends with visions of
triumphantly carrying the Stanley Cup leisurely around the ice after a hard
fought championship victory.
Not so for Michael Morrison.
Mike, or “Mo” to his teammates, never dreamt of being
a goaltender in the NHL. Edmonton’s
seventh round selection at the 1998 NHL Entry Draft was always focused on his
target goal of playing Division I hockey, preferably for the Boston University
Terriers. But just as he reached that
achievement in a slightly different manner than he had envisioned, Morrison’s
long-term goal has also been altered with time.
After spending four years with the Maine Black Bears,
Morrison is confident that he can follow the footsteps of others who went to
the same school before turning professional.
The list of former Maine players who have gone on to NHL success
includes Keith Carney, Scott Pellerin, Mike Dunham, Garth Snow and Eric Weinrich. The list also includes Martin Kariya
who has followed older brothers Paul and Steve to the same college. Morrison hopes to join his close friend Niko
Dimitrakos, of the San Jose Sharks, on the list of Maine graduates to
professional hockey success.
The 24-year-old Boston native is now squarely focused
on the NHL and believes in his heart that he has what it takes to be more than
what some have already pegged him to be; a career minor leaguer. Morrison is currently with the AHL Toronto
“He may never be a No. 1 in the NHL, but I wouldn’t count him
out to be a backup someday with someone,” said Oiler scout Chris McCarthy. “He’s got heart, and he’s a competitor.”
was one of mine,” McCarthy continued. “I was the only one to see him his
got good size, and moves well for a big guy,” McCarthy described. “He has
good quickness, and challenges shooters but he needs work with controlling
rebounds, and staying focused with the task at hand, but he’s learning that now
and is giving it his best effort to be a good pro.”
got a great attitude, and is very likeable,” concluded the Boston based
scout. “Nothing really fazes him and he learns from his mistakes. I
think he has potential, he’s a good Boston boy!”
Hockey’s Future was able to speak with Morrison
before the Roadrunners left for a weekend set of games against their division
rivals from Manitoba.
HF: How are things going for you and the team in
general right now?
MM: Things are going well but we’re busy
travelling a lot right now with our schedule but it’s going well. I’d been chilling out on the bench for the
last ten or eleven games (before the weekend) so it was finally good to get in
there, break a sweat and show them that I can still do it. We got two good results on two wins that I
played in so I’m just hoping to have a good week of practice and carry that
into next weekend.
HF: Where did you grow up?
MM: I grew up in a city two minutes north of Boston
called Medford. It’s a little suburb
city right outside of Boston and a few pro hockey players have come out of
there like Shawn Bates, Keith Tkachuk and the Sacco brothers.
HF: Is that where you played your minor hockey as
MM: Yeah, that’s where I played organized
recreational hockey as a kid and then I played high school in another suburb of
Boston called Needham and then went to college. I didn’t really play juniors; I went from high school to
HF: As a kid, what steered you to hockey
when many of your friends might have drifted towards baseball or football?
MM: My father was a goalie so he always had an
interest for it so it was always on TV in the house. I kind of lived on a quiet street and across my house I had a
pond that was frozen every winter. It
was kind of hidden so no one really knew it was down there so I had it all to
myself to just go out and skate and work on things on my own and not be
distracted with hundreds of other kids out there. I was constantly on my skates all the time and I think that
having my father coaxed me into being a goalie too and so it was like having a
goalie coach tucking me in every night.
HF: How far did your father play hockey?
MM: He played until the college level in
Massachusetts and then he started coaching junior college and that was the
length of his career.
HF: With your dad’s past as a goalie
could his encouragement at times, done with the best of intentions, still
sometimes become a little overpowering?
MM: You said it very well when you said he intended
well in all that he said but it definitely was hard at times too. My father was very disciplined bringing me
up on and off the ice and there were many times when I’ve had some embarrassing
arguments on the ice and I was never one to talk back to my father so I was
always the kid who ended up in tears in front of my friends. You know that’s just how it happened and I
think he was just trying to teach me lessons and maybe he went about it wrong
in those days but it definitely turned out for the best for me. It showed me how much he believed in me and
how much potential he saw in me and as I look back on in now he was right. He saw talent in me and he just didn’t want
me to sit around or screw off and not develop what I had.
HF: I actually can identify with some of
what you are saying and I remember nights after games that I played well where
the conversation at supper afterwards would always be about the two pucks that
did get by me.
MM: Yeah that was the same with me. Many, many bad rides home from games
and believe me I often dreaded getting into that car, I would much rather have
gone home with one of my friends. At
that time it was hard to listen to but as you get older and mature a bit you
realize that it’s actually good for your game.
Even if you do play a great game and get a win you shouldn’t be
satisfied because there’s always little things that you could have improved on
to make that game perfect. Like a
pitcher in baseball, goalies are looking for that perfect game so it really
teaches you to never be satisfied.
HF: What steps led you to play at the University of
MM: I really wanted to go to a Division I school, my
dream was to play at Boston University and I had a chance to fulfill that dream
but the full scholarship wasn’t there so I had to go where the money was. I wanted to repay my parents for all that
they had done for me and Maine came in very quickly and they had a wonderful
coach up there named Shawn Walsh who I had followed growing up. He was very adamant about getting me up to
that school, they recruited me in about two weeks. He didn’t waste anytime it was either ‘you’re going to come or
you’re not going to come – let us know’ and they gave me a good scholarship
package to get there. I thought it
would be a good opportunity for me to get out of Boston and away from my
friends for a bit to the seclusion where I could concentrate on my studies and
hockey. Along with succeeding in hockey
I wanted to graduate with a diploma to have something to fall back on if this
hockey thing doesn’t turn out like I hope.
HF: Would you say Shawn Walsh was a major influence
on your career?
MM: He was my coach for the first three years of my
college days. He was a legendary
college coach and I say ‘was’ because he passed away from cancer at the start
of my senior year on the first day of practice. He really meant a lot to me and he taught me a lot about myself
and confidence, having that never give up attitude. He was very hard on me, very similar to my father. He just drove me to be very mentally strong
and I think his development of me for those three years has really prepared me
for the pro level because I basically had an NHL coach for three years. This guy was, I don’t want to say he was a
prick, but he was! He was very
dictatorial and he really made me mentally strong. When I run into coaches now who get mad or yell at me I can
handle their criticism a lot better than I probably would have if I had never
had Coach Walsh in my life.
HF: For your first three years at Maine were you
basically the back up?
My first year we had a great goalie that won the National Championship
for us and the next two years me and the other goalie were the same age and he
kind of took over each of those years until my senior year. In our last year together I basically took
over and played that whole season. I
needed that in order to continue my career and prove to someone that I might be
worth investing in.
HF: Statistically you had a very good career in
Maine, was the team always a strong one?
MM: We’ve always had very good teams and we’ve made
it to Elite Eights and Frozen Fours and we won a National Championship my first
year and we lost in the championship in my senior year so we always had a
strong team. We had a lot of good
competition out there but as a team we worked very well together.
HF: Last season in Columbus [ECHL] was your first as
a pro, were you the back up there too?
MM: No, I’d say we split the season although he
played maybe five games more than me.
HF: What was your experience as a professional rookie
like last year?
MM: It wasn’t much of a good season down there. Personally I think it went well and, like I
said, I think the coach I had in college definitely helped me not to lose my
mind. We were a losing team and I
wasn’t in an area that I was too fond of, I mean I had bigger dreams than being
in the ECHL. You’ve got to make the
best of the cards your dealt and I learned to do that and I knew it was going
to be a long year because of the losses we were putting up but I tried to get
better on a personal level.
HF: Where do you think you fit in long term with the
MM: This being my second year of pro hockey it’s
tough to predict. I can only focus on
what I’m in control of. I don’t know
what the brass in Edmonton thinks about me, I can just try to show them that
I’m working my butt off and I’ll do anything, anything, they want me to
do to get to that level. I’ll fill
water bottles or I’ll tie skates it doesn’t matter. I never dreamed of being a pro hockey player. I wanted to play Division I in college and
pro was just a bonus. Do I think I can
play at the NHL level? Absolutely! There’s not a doubt in my mind that I can,
I’m only 24 and I think my next two years are going to be my best years. I think I’m just constantly getting better
and every day I just learn and add ideas from other people into my
repertoire. As for how I fit into their
future I don’t really know, it’s confusing.
They have good prospect goalies and you never know who could come into
the picture at the last second and who’s to know if there’s even going to be a
league next year. I’m just going out
and trying to stop pucks because all I can control is Mike Morrison.
HF: How under-appreciated is the job of a back up
MM: I don’t really even think if you’re being
appreciated or not. I certainly don’t
appreciate being a back up goalie and I find it hard to even admit that I am
one at times. Technically you would
have to say that I am the back up here in Toronto. I hate saying that, I don’t
think I should be but that’s just the way the politics of this game work. We have a veteran goaltender in here in
Stephen Valiquette and he has a little more experience so you might have to
give him the nod over me. I go with
results and I look at the win column to see which goalie is winning more and
who’s winning percentage is doing well and whom the team is playing better in
front of. I take pride in that and when
my number gets called I put a good product on the ice, I always have at every
level I ever played at. I constantly
prove people wrong year after year and I have no plans on stopping that. Being a back up is a job that you sometimes
have to do and hopefully when your number gets called you can get out there and
prove yourself and then the other guy’s the back up you know?
HF: What kind of influence on you has
Pete Peeters had as Edmonton’s goalie coach and how often do you actually get
to work with him?
MM: He’s actually pretty good about coming here to
work with us. He just left here the
other day and was on our road trip for the last week and a half. It’s a funny story because when I was about
6 or 7 years old my mother worked for Brian Burke and he used to be Pete’s
agent. I used to idolize Pete when he
played for the Bruins and I loved watching him play. I got an autographed picture from him back then and it still
hangs on the wall to this day in my bedroom.
It was quite a thrill to find out that he was the goalie coach in
Edmonton. I love working with him
because he’s a very calm and soft-spoken guy and I think his teaching style is
tailored very well for the style of game that I play. He’s taught me so many things that have made my game
exponentially better and the sad thing is that I haven’t mastered all of those
tricks yet. I’m still working on
tomorrow and I’m trying to get them down better and better because I can see
the improvement in my game already and I haven’t even mastered what he’s told
me. He has a good patience because he
knows that when he shows you something you’re not going to pick it up right
away – it’s going to take two months for you to figure it out. I love working with him and anytime I get a
chance to pick his brain is always a thrill for me.
HF: Thinking back to when you were
drafted, Edmonton is about as far away from your home as you can get with an
NHL city. Did that register with you on
draft day and how did you feel about being selected by a Northwestern Canadian
MM: Getting drafted by the Oilers was a huge thrill;
I’ll never forget that day. In one way
it was probably one of the worst days of my life because I was sitting around
waiting for news. It was back when they
used to do the draft in one day. I’m a
good friend with Mike Milbury’s daughter who was at the draft that day and I
was trying to have her call me when she heard my name and no one called me up
until about nine o’clock at night. At
about 9:30 Chris McCarthy from the Oilers scouting staff called to tell me and
it was a huge thrill. Seventh round or
first round I couldn’t care less I just wanted to get drafted because I thought
it would be the ultimate compliment to have on my resume. When I heard it was the Oilers it didn’t
really surprise me because they had a pattern of selecting college kids,
especially from out East. I loved
watching Grant Fuhr and I was very familiar with the Oilers because they used
to consistently beat up on the Bruins.
They’re a great team, an exciting team, and so far the two years that
I’ve been with the organization I can honestly say that I like everybody and
that people have been pretty nice to me and have shown me that they care. I just hope they keep an eye on me and
realize that I’m willing to do anything to please them and that I’m working my
ass off everyday to get to Skyreach or Rexall now.
HF: You mentioned earlier that at 24 you
are still considered young, especially in a goaltending position. It seems like it takes longer for goalies to
break into the league. Is that because
there are fewer jobs available so you have to wait around for other goalies to
retire or is it a case of goalies taking longer to mature and develop to be NHL
MM: I think that definitely a huge reason is the fact
that you can only throw one guy out there at a time so that is going to cause
you to wait longer. I can only speak
for myself but I think being a goalie is a complicated position. Even though you’re only standing in one spot
and only have to guard a 4×6 hole, you stand there for 15 years of your life
you’re going to break that space down a lot and every angle of it. So I think that at this level all of the
goalies are good and now it’s just mental, 90 percent of the game is decided on
who has the best mind for the game, who’s thinking two steps ahead of the other
guy. From my stand point, that’s
what is going to make me better is my mind is now starting to finally
pick up all the stuff I didn’t know before.
My whole life I think I played goal strictly on sheer talent and my
brain I just left in the locker room but now I think I’m finally bringing that
brain out to the ice and I’m using it.
Talent is talent, there’s only so much of it you can have so now you
have to use your brain to make up for the rest of it. I think by just constantly thinking about this position and ways
to beat the system in order to make those saves, it takes time and you learn
more and more each year and you mature and learn how to cope with the mental
side of it. I think that’s part of the
HF: What would you say has been your biggest
accomplishment to date in hockey?
MM: To me I would have to say getting a full
scholarship to a Division I school because that was my dream. I never dreamed to be a pro hockey player, I
never did. Actually, you know
what? I’d saying being drafted [is the
biggest accomplishment]. College is
something that I held deep in my heart that I wanted to achieve more than
anything but I think getting drafted, when it happened I was so pleasantly
surprised that I realized that I could tell my kids one day that ‘your dad got
drafted by an NHL hockey team’ and that’s a pretty cool thing to be able to
say. Whether you play in the NHL or you
never do it’s something you can kind of put that feather in your cap and know
that you reached that goal. When you
get to this level and you realize so many players get drafted who don’t make
it, it might not seem like such a big accomplishment. But if you’re on the outside looking in people can look at that
and say ‘wow you should be really proud of that’ so I would say being drafted
by the Oilers is a huge accomplishment.
HF: On the flip side, have you had a big
MM: There have been many games that I’ve lost that
I’ve been disappointed in but you’d have to be in the moment to understand
why. I don’t think I’ve had any really
big disappointments but you’re not going to make it through hockey or life
without having some disappointments.
You’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some but that’s what
makes you better, you come out the next day thinking ‘screw it, I’m going to
work even harder so that doesn’t ever happen again’ and then down the road you
get knocked down again. I don’t think
I’ve really had any big disappointments and any that I have had, I’m glad I did
have them since they’ve made me better because of it.
HF: How long is your current contract?
MM: It comes up at the end of this year.
HF: The most games you’ve played in a
season is 38 and that was last season with Columbus. You’ve touched on this already but do you believe you can handle
playing over 60 games a year that a starter has to play?
I think now for sure but if you asked me that last year I would have
said ‘yes’ but I would have failed at it completely because I wasn’t used to
the travel. Now that I’ve learned how
to take care of my body, how to eat and how to pace myself between games I know
that I can do it. I’m a pretty healthy
kid; I’ve never really gotten injured ever (knock on wood) and as far as
playing 60 games – that’s what I want.
I’ve been a back up goalie too much and to be honest with you [laughs]
I’m a great back up goalie and I can’t believe I’m actually saying
that! At any moment in time I’m ready
to go out there and prove people wrong but a starting goalie is what I’ve
always wanted to be and a starter is going to play 60 games. I definitely know I can do it and I have all
the confidence in the world to know that I can do it well so I’m just hoping
that someday I can get that chance.
HF: In Toronto, besides you, there is
also Steve Valiquette and the injured Chris Madden. Can it get a little awkward with three goalies around?
MM: It was awkward in the beginning because I was
probably the third guy so it was tough for me because I thought I was on my way
out of here and I probably wouldn’t be kept.
I just tried as hard as I could for this coaching staff to get rid of me
and I got my ray of light and took advantage of it. It definitely would be weird if Chris were out there practicing
everyday because [laughs] it sucks having three goalies on the ice for
practice! Chris, even though he’s been
injured and kind of doesn’t know what he might be doing, he’s still be really
supportive of Valley and me. As far as
having Valley to work with, I’ve been fortunate in my college career and also
in Columbus to have some great partners.
It makes the season a lot longer and tougher if you’re working with
someone you don’t like and all the goalies I’ve worked with I have liked,
respected and I wish them well. I want
to beat them every day that we got out onto the ice, and they know that, but I
wish nothing but the best for them.
After speaking with Hockey’s Future, Morrison started
the both games against the Manitoba Moose and split the series but earned a
shutout in the first of the two games.
After the weekend, Morrison’s lead the team’s goaltenders with a team
best 2.81 GAA and .903 save percentage.
Morrison’s 7 wins have come in 16 games so his winning percentage is
also better than Stephen Valiquette’s who has just 8 wins in 27 games.
Perhaps there is a goaltending controversy brewing in
Toronto and that would be exactly the way Mike Morrison would like it.
Talk about this article on the Oilers section of the Hockey’s Future