As the Edmonton Road Runners prepare to open their first ever training camp in the City of
the battles over roster spots are expected to be fierce. On the surface it appears that the fight over
the two goaltending jobs may already be over, however, upon deeper examination
the matter seems to be anything but a slam dunk.
Training camp will officially begin for the players on
September 29th when they report in for
fitness testing, with on-ice sessions beginning a day later. Barring last minute additions, the club will
have 35 players on the ice vying for the opportunity to represent
newest professional hockey team. Of
those 35 players, three will be goaltenders, including returning Road Runner
puck stoppers Tyler Moss and Mike Morrison as well as rookie Jeff
The fact that all three are still in the organization is not
shocking but it certainly was in question just a few months ago. Drouin-Deslauriers was
signed at the 11th hour before the June deadline that would have seen
his rights returned to the draft pool.
Both Moss and Morrison were free agents this past summer and in a year
where an exceptional number of contracts around the league were not renewed, both players re-signed
with the Oiler organization fairly recently.
The smart money is riding on Drouin-Deslauriers being the
starter for the AHL club and that Moss has been brought
back to tutor the youngster and help prepare him for his eventual rise to the
NHL. As a result, Morrison will likely be sent to new affiliate Greenville Grrrowl of the ECHL.
Life is not always fair but if it were, deciding things in net wouldn’t be nearly as cut and dried as that.
Clearly Drouin-Deslauriers is the
organization’s top minor league goaltender and the player that the Oilers want
to start the majority of their AHL affiliate’s games this season. After a solid, often times impressive, junior
earned him attention from
National program, J.D.D. is looking at the 2004-05 season with an excited
Drouin-Deslauriers knows there is pressure on him to
perform, the pressure comes from the team and its fans but more so from within
“The pressure is always there but I try to
just stay on Earth and be focused and give all I have,” he said at the recent
rookie camp. “I have high expectations
but I’ll try to keep it simple and not try to overdo everything. I have a role to do and so I’ll just play my
role and not pay attention to what else might be going on.”
Geoff Ward, head coach of the Road Runners, is already a big
fan of his newest goaltender and camp hasn’t even
“I know (Edmonton
goaltender coach) Pete Peeters and everyone else in
Edmonton is extremely excited about Jeff, I haven’t myself seen him play games
except on TV but by all accounts he’s a tremendous goalie and we’re looking
forward to getting him here,” the bench boss told Hockey’s Future this summer.
The 6’4 native of
St. Jean-Richelieu, Quebec is expected to play better than half of the games
this year and for a rookie with so much on his plate, it is extremely important
to get the right player to come in as Drouin-Deslauriers’ back up.
It is widely expected that veteran support for the rookie
will come in the form of career minor leaguer Tyler Moss.
up) goalie will have to understand that he will play X amount of games but the
majority will go to Deslauriers,” Oiler VP of Hockey Operations Kevin
Prendergast first told Hockey’s Future back in August. “We need somebody who will be happy with that
role and help Jeff from that role.”
By resigning veteran AHL goalie Tyler Moss, the Road Runners
feel they have just that kind of player.
“I know he worked with Alex Auld in
and then seeing when he came into our team how he helped Mike Morrison while at
the same time setting a good example with his mental toughness and his
preparation,” Coach Ward commented recently.
“I think the biggest thing he has to offer Jeff is helping him with the
transition to the pro game, how mentally tough you have to be and how hard you
have to prepare yourself to play. He’s a
fierce competitor and he takes a lot of personal pride in his preparation so I
think Jeff will have a tremendous role model.”
Moss, now 30, was originally drafted
back in 1993 and has since bounced around from there to
year for Peter Sarno at a time when both Tommy Salo and Ty Conklin were injured
and a depth goalie with at least some NHL experience was
The wildcard currently in the mix is last year’s Road Runner
back up and he’s on a mission to better his
situation. Morrison’s present situation
is quite reminiscent of training camp a year ago where he believed he also was penciled in as the third netminder. Back then it was
Steve Valiquette, Kristian Antila and free agent
Chris Madden who were competing with him for a job. Morrison eventually won the
gig after Madden suffered an injury and Antila was demoted
to the ECHL.
By the end of
campaign, Morrison had firmly planted himself as the club’s reliever and even
watched the starter, Valiquette, be replaced by Moss
two-thirds of the way through the year.
Statistically speaking, Morrison was the best goaltender the
Road Runners had last year. Over the
course of his 27 appearances Morrison had a record of
shutouts. Morrison’s save percentage,
.913, goals against average, 2.52, and winning percentage were all better than
the stats of Moss who finished the season at 17-24-5.
“With having a veteran like Steve Valiquette over me last year I knew that there would be a
limited amount of games I would play,” began Morrison. “Usually you bring (the back up) goalie in to
give the starter a rest and I want to be able to answer that call. I don’t want to say
I surprised the team with a win, I thought there were some very key make or
break games at different points of the year that by chance I happened to be the
goalie that was in the net. Whether it
was by default or because I had earned it, I felt that in the majority of those
games I came through in a big way by giving the team a boost, a much needed win
or a big save.”
All in all it was a good year for the
but despite his personal success, it’s hard for Morrison to say he’s fulfilled.
“I can’t say I’m satisfied with our
season but with the chances I was given, I thought I proved myself and backed
up the confidence I had in myself.
I think I proved to (the Oilers) that they should re-sign me, which was
my goal, to prove to them that I belonged and that hopefully I could come back
for another year and show them again that I can do it at this level. They’ve given me that opportunity after I
earned it last year so overall I think, yes, last year was a success.”
It’s not just Moss and Drouin-Deslauriers who are standing in Morrison’s
path to regaining his status with the Road Runners. It’s also the
mindset of the organization. Back in
July, before Morrison had signed his new contract, Geoff Ward foresaw the
possibility that the goalie could lose his position.
“We had talked at the end of the year
about putting Mike in the ECHL as the No. 1 guy and seeing how he could carry
the ball for a full year,” said the coach.
“I think we saw enough things from him that we got more excited about
him as the year went on, he showed us the potential
that he does have. Sometimes you
may have to take a step back to take two steps ahead and (the ECHL) might be an
opportunity for Mike to solidify a lot of the good habits that he needs to have
to become a great goalie at the pro level.”
Given the choice between being the
starter in the ECHL and playing 20-some games in the AHL, it didn’t
take Morrison long to decide.
“That’s a great question but I’d say I’d
want to be in the American League,” he stated.
“It’s tough with the ECHL, it’s a whole different attitude down on that
level and it seems like the atmosphere isn’t always a positive one as far as
wanting to help players get better, to have confidence in themselves and to
keep working hard.”
Morrison toiled for a season with
than spectacular numbers.
“I need to be in a positive area with
discipline and attitude and that’s what I really loved about being in
year. Every time you came
to practice nobody was fooling around, everybody was serious, they were there
on time, and the whole operation is just run a whole lot smoother. The bottom line is that you yourself want to
get better and I know that I’m going to get
better in the AHL whether I play a game or not.
Just practicing with these guys and
having the goalie coaches come down here is more helpful than me being in the
ECHL. I’m not a big ECHL fan as you can
tell but I just think the AHL is run a lot better and your teammates just add
to that puzzle of being positive and everyone trying to get to that next
It’s a hard work ethic and self-discipline that has propelled Morrison
far past his childhood dreams of playing Division I hockey and into the
professional ranks. During a brief call
up to the Oilers last year, Morrison completely took in the experience
which only served to fuel his fire even more.
“I backed up a couple games for
be able to go up there and just say to yourself ‘for the time being, I’m in
the NHL!’, that’s something I’ll be able to tell
my kids someday. Now that I’ve seen that
level, seen those games, sat on that bench and seen how it’s run, I know I’m
not far off and I know I can do it so it just gives me that much more
incentive to go out there this year.”
The biggest memory that the former Maine
Black Bear keeper took away from his NHL experience came during the morning
skate before a clash against the Red Wings.
“I remember Ryan Smyth stayed out with me
for an extra 20 or 25 minutes to work on some things,” Morrison recounted. “Seeing that right there, being in such a
great rink and playing with such a great player like Smyth, he’s the highest
paid player on the team and he’s the last one off the ice on a game day before
playing the Detroit Red Wings. That
really put something in my head and I thought ‘this guy could have
justifiably been the first guy off the ice but here he is out here with me!’ Seeing shirts with Yzerman
me feel really comfortable and brought me into the group.”
At the same time, Morrison knows he’s
behind the 8-ball when it comes to regaining his spot on the AHL roster so
during the offseason he played in two separate summer
leagues in the Boston area and faced a myriad of shooters including several
names familiar to Oiler fans.
“I played in a couple different leagues
but both of them had some very good shooters in them and there were some former
Oilers around too like Bobby Allen, Mike Grier, Marty Reasoner and Tom Poti.”
It will be an uphill battle if Morrison
is going to surpass either Moss or Drouin-Deslauriers but he believes there are
important differences between the three goalies, particularly due to their
different levels of development.
“I think we’re all at different points in
our career,” Morrison began. “Moss has
learned the game, he’s played for a long time and he knows the intricacies that
he needs to do to get by and bring that check home. Jeff is a young prospect and as good as I
think he is right now, he’s going to learn a lot in the next few years
and we have the coaches and the goalies to help him do that.”
“With me, I think I’m at my peak in my
performance, my talent level and my confidence.
With my age I’m right between the two of them
and I think I’ve really hit an incline in my learning curve. I know how to play a long season and I think
I can institute that, along with the tricks of the trade I’ve
learned from guys like Pete Peeters, into my game. I’m excited about
this year and I think it’s a really good opportunity for all of us AHL guys
with the lockout and everything. If you
ever wanted to show your stuff, this is the year to do it! I think my playing ability and my game is
ready to all come together now.”
“The way I like to look at it is that I’m
the underdog here so if I call myself the third guy in line maybe that’s just
what motivates me more to succeed and prove people wrong,” he said. “I’m going in there like I’m the last guy,
the sleeper, and I’m going to try and turn some heads. There are plenty of good goalies out there
and if you want to get to the next level you are going to have to beat out some
good goalies and these are two guys I will have to beat out and be better than
if I want to play.”
Mike Morrison is convinced he can do the
job, his performance last year certainly supports that opinion, all that’s left is to prove it to those who make the
decisions. The prospect of playing in a
hockey mad city like
hockey area but once you get North over the border, you could be on a farm or
in a city and you can’t help but feel the spirit of hockey in that country,” he
described. “Moving up to
the people there who have some kind of idea who we are, just playing in
it’s all very exciting. I told my mother
and father the other day that I’m really looking
forward to playing in the same crease as Grant Fuhr! That’s a great rink with a lot of
“With this lockout you’re going to have
Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish watching practices and hopefully I’ll hook up more
with Pete Peeters; anytime I can get that it’s gravy.
I love the game for what it is and I give myself no choice but to get
better. It’s exciting to think that and
see what lies ahead.”
‘What lies ahead’ for
Morrison begins in earnest at the end of the month and what happens then is anyone’s guess. Obviously
M.M. is hoping for a little R.R. time.
on this story at the Oilers section of the Hockey’s Future
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s
Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.