Q&A with Joey Mormina

By Al Alven

An intriguing blend of size and athleticism, defenseman Joey Mormina has forged a solid collegiate career at Colgate University. At 6’6, 230 lbs., the Montreal native has always been a standout player, both on and off the ice.

The Flyers’ final selection of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft (6th round, 193rd overall), Mormina has shown marked improvement in each of his four seasons with the Raiders. He established himself as the team’s go-to defenseman as a junior, logging monstrous amounts of ice time (sometimes upwards of 30 minutes a night) and adding an offensive dimension to his game.

As a senior, he is currently enjoying his best season yet. Mormina has earned rave reviews from observers for his steady defensive play against opponents’ top line combinations night in and night out. Statistically, he has tallied 13 points (5 goals, 8 assists) and 42 PIMs, and is one of only five Raiders to have appeared in all 34 of the team’s games thus far.

Over the course of his NCAA career, Colgate has gone from being a perennial ECAC doormat to a bona fide national power. That matter of coincidence has not been lost on anyone who has closely followed the Raiders men’s hockey program over the past few years.

Colgate captured this season’s ECAC regular season championship with a 14-5-3 conference record, earning a first round playoff bye for the second consecutive season in the process. The team, which finished with a 22-9-3 overall mark, is preparing to host Brown University in a second round, best-of-three game quarterfinals series this weekend.

Hockey Future met up with Mormina earlier this week. Among the topics he discussed were his collegiate career at Colgate, his thoughts on the Raiders’ postseason chances and his potential future with the Flyers organization.

HF: What would you say have been the keys to the team’s success this season?

JM: Well, we’re definitely a very close-knit group. I think the fact that we have nine seniors and five juniors, we have a real veteran presence on this team. That kind of experience is important at any level of hockey, especially college hockey. Also, our style of play, we’re a very defensive-oriented team and we have one of the top goalies [Steve Silverthorn] in the country. He has made all of the big saves this season. Whenever you have a goalie that plays on that level, you have a chance to win every night and it really helps the team’s overall confidence. So, we’ve been in every game we’ve played. That has helped us put together a very strong regular season and earn the first round bye in the [ECAC] playoffs.

HF: How would you describe the team’s mindset heading into the postseason?

JM: We have a big series coming up, two out of three against Brown. Our focus is just to take it one game at a time, go out and play hard, and see what happens. We are confident enough that we feel that if we play our game and dictate play, we will be satisfied with where we end up. We’ll take it right through the weekend and, hopefully, into Albany next week.

HF: You mentioned the veteran nature of the team. What kind of advantage will that give you in the conference playoffs?

JM: The fact that we’ve been there before as a group gives us an advantage and a lot of confidence heading into the playoffs. We had a first round bye last season also, so we know what to expect and how to react to that situation. So, we’re not concerned about the layoff. But, having made it to Albany last season, we got a taste of what that was like. We want to make it back and we understand the kind of hockey we have to play to make it to that point in the season. That experience is definitely going to help us this weekend, and it’s definitely going to help us once we get to Albany.

HF: What are your thoughts on the match-up with Brown?

JM: I think we are actually pretty similar teams. They have very strong goaltending, play solid defense and have a good power play. So, I think we match up pretty evenly. It’s going to come down to who plays their best game each night. They’ve got some really good offensive players. That [Brian] Ihnacak kid put up some great numbers this year [23 points in 28 games], so he’s definitely going to be a threat. It’s just going to come down to who gets the bounces, and hopefully it will be us.

HF: How would you rate your overall performance up to this point in the season?

JM: I’m pretty happy with the way I’ve played this year. I mean, there’s always room for improvement, but I think I’ve had a pretty good year. I’ve usually been matched up against the other team’s top line, so I’ve kind of had to play a pivotal defensive role that way. But, I’ve also been used a lot on the power play, so I’ve tried to help contribute in that way also.

HF: What has your role been on the power play?

Well, I’ve been playing at the point, just trying to move the puck around and put it on net. I’ve really had to learn to play the game well at both ends of the rink. My responsibilities have increased throughout the season, and it’s really been a lot of fun.

HF: Coach Vaughan likes to rotate his defenseman over the course of a game. Who are you most comfortable playing with?

JM: We do rotate a lot, but I’ve been playing primarily with Justin Spencer since around Christmas. We’re usually paired against the other team’s top line, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job together.

HF: How would you describe the chemistry between you and Justin?

JM: We feed off each other really well. It’s just a matter of getting used to playing with someone. Once you are comfortable with a defensive partner, you gain a lot of confidence. We have a really good feel for where each other are on the ice. We communicate well, and that has helped us become a very effective pairing.

HF: You’re a big guy, but you seem to play more of a finesse game. How would you describe your style of play?

JM: I’m definitely a defensive kind of defenseman by nature. Like I said, I’ve had to adjust and play on the power play. But, my primary game has been in the defensive zone, making good decisions, using my head out there, smart passes, working on the penalty kill. Pretty basic stuff like that. Nothing fancy, nothing overly physical. Just going out every night and trying to get the job done.

HF: Obviously, you were blessed with exceptional size.

JM: Yeah, it really comes in handy. My long reach allows me to get to loose pucks and disrupt or break up plays, and things like that. At the same time, I’d still like to get much stronger and be able to use that part of my game to more of an advantage. There is some room for improvement there.

HF: How would you describe the evolution of your game, from your freshman season to today?

JM: I’m definitely a lot more confident than I used to be. I used to rely on just playing defense and that was it. Once the puck was out of the zone, I just didn’t worry about it anymore. But, I think I’ve learned to really move my feet. To play good defense, sometimes you have to do more than just play good in your zone. You have to try to contribute offensively, you have to do the little things. I think that’s one of the things the coaches have preached here over the last few years. Do the little things right, and that’s going to help out in the long run. I’ve definitely gotten bigger and faster. But, primarily, I think it’s just confidence. Just playing a lot and having a chance to learn from my mistakes since I came in as a freshman. The experience I’ve gained has really helped me out.

HF: How would you define your career at Colgate to this point?

JM: The first couple of years, we really struggled. We were in the low rung of the league. But, a lot of us learned from our mistakes and we turned the program around. Even during the struggling years, we had some pretty big wins. So, I’d say that we always stuck with it, and really turned this team into a contender during my time here. And, I’ve been proud to be a part of that.

HF: What were some of the big wins you alluded to?

There are two that really stick out in my mind. During my sophomore year, we beat Cornell when they were ranked No. 2 in the country at home in overtime. It was a great win for us, really gave us a lot of confidence and showed us that we could play at that high level, against the top teams. The other game that stands out was also during my sophomore year. It was the first game of the conference quarterfinals against Dartmouth. It was a great game. We eventually beat them in [4-3] in four overtimes. It was exhausting, but we didn’t care at the end. It was an incredible win for our program. Dartmouth actually went on to win the next two games and eliminate us from the playoffs, but we proved with that one win that we were becoming a really strong team.

HF: How old were you when you started playing hockey?

JM: Typical Canadian story. We had the rink in the backyard, you know, the whole deal (laughs). I learned to skate when I was about three or four. And I started playing organized hockey when I was about six. I played hockey and I played a bunch of other sports. But, then there came a time when I started playing hockey in the summer, year round. So, I had to make a choice, and I chose to stick with and pursue hockey.

HF: Growing up in Montreal, were you a Canadiens fan?

JM: Actually, I used to be a Canadiens fan. But, eventually, I started to really like Ray Bourque as a player, so I became a Boston Bruins fan. When he was traded to Colorado, I kind of went back to the Canadiens. Right now, I would say that I’m a Canadiens fan.

HF: So, Ray Bourque was your favorite player?

JM: Oh, definitely. I idolized him while growing up.

HF: What was it about him that you liked?

JM: Well, he was from the Montreal area, for one. He was a great player, obviously, one of the best players I ever had the chance to see. Just the way he played, the way he carried himself both on and off the ice. He was a great role model, a great hockey player, and I fell in love with the way he played.

HF: Any other particular favorite players?

JM: No, not really. Bourque was the one guy. I really looked up to him and he inspired me quite a bit. There were some other big influences in my career, particularly my parents, but Bourque was the one pro, the one NHL guy that I really admired.

HF: Who were some of your earlier hockey influences?

JM: Oh, definitely my parents. No questions. They just did so much. They drove me to every practice, every game while growing up. They were always there. They drove me to all of the camps, the schools, the summer hockey tournaments, everything. They were always willing to do anything for me. Basically, they gave me the chance to anything I every wanted to do in hockey. They really believed in me. Without them, I don’t think I’d be where I am today.

HF: The Flyers drafted a player by the name of Bob Mormina back in 1983. Was that your father?

JM: Actually, no, but that’s a funny story (laughs). That Bobby Mormina is actually my godfather. He is a first cousin of my father. It’s funny. Because of the same name, people always ask if he is my father. I get that all the time. It can definitely be a bit confusing.

HF: Ah, that clears everything up.

JM: Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure my dad would love to think that he was drafted in the NHL (laughs).

HF: I’ll bet. So, what kind of an influence was your godfather on you? Have you talked to him about also being drafted by the Flyers?

JM: Well, he was drafted by the Flyers, like you said, back in the early 80s. We haven’t really spoken about the Flyers much, actually. He kind of quit, didn’t really have a long career in pro hockey. He has always supported me in my career, though. He’s given me a lot of good advice, pointers and things like that.

HF: You were drafted by the Flyers back in 2002. Do you remember where you were and how you felt when you heard the news?

JM: I was sitting at the breakfast table. I was watching something on TV, but it wasn’t the draft because it was the second day, so that’s not televised. My mom was upstairs, following the draft on the internet. Eventually, she came running down the stairs and told me I was drafted by the Flyers. It was a pretty exciting moment, to be sure.

HF: What kind of contact have the Flyers kept with you since that time?

JM: They called me that summer to invite me from camp. I haven’t really spoken to anyone in the organization since that summer, though. But, I have a family advisor, and [the Flyers] have had more contact with him than with me directly.

HF: How closely have you followed the Flyers over the past few years?

JM: Well, I did follow them pretty closely when the NHL was playing (laughs). I’d watch them and I’d know what was going on.

HF: Do you see yourself fitting into the Flyers plans? If so, how?

JM: I’d definitely like to eventually get the chance to play for them. But, in the near future, I’d like to hopefully make the Phantoms and get a chance to try out for that team. I don’t really know what’s going on with the lockout right now. I guess once that thing gets settled, then we’ll have a better idea of where I fit in. A lot of those guys who should be in the NHL are still in the AHL right now because of the lockout. So, it’s still really hard to sort all of that stuff out.

HF: You’re obviously on the outside looking in, but what is your sense of the longevity of the lockout. Do you believe we’ll see a resolution soon?

JM: It’s one of those things where, sitting at home, we really don’t know what’s going on. We don’t really know how the union feels and how the players feel. It’s hard to take sides. I just hope they come to an agreement for the sake of hockey, nothing to do with my future. As a fan of the game, you want to see those guys get back playing. Hopefully, they don’t wait until August or September. Hopefully, something gets done soon. I mean, I think they’re trying, but I really don’t know.

HF: As someone who was born and raised on hockey, how does it make you feel that the Stanley Cup will not be raised this June?

JM: It’s definitely going to be hard. I mean, just thinking about it is tough. We used to come home from practice sit down, do some work and watch hockey. Especially over the summer, I’d always get together with some guys and watch the Stanley Cup finals. Going into every summer, that’s just something we always did. So, it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be very different. This summer, to be going home and not being able to watch the playoffs, not be able to watch Hockey Night in Canada and listen to that music, well, it’s just difficult to imagine. I’ll definitely remain a fan, though. I’m not going to change my love for hockey because of this. But, it’s going to be a very weird summer, that’s for sure.

HF: What are the things you feel you need to do to take your game to the next level? You mentioned getting stronger earlier. Anything else come to mind?

JM: Definitely, getting bigger and stronger is the most important thing for me. I really need to put a lot of work into that area this summer. Just getting physically stronger. At the next level, those are some grown men there. And I’m still kind of maturing. So, I think, definitely, off the ice I have to get stronger. On the ice, I want to get quicker on my feet. I have to play with more consistency and, really, that has a lot to do with conditioning and such. So, it all comes back to that for me.

HF: Coming full circle here, do you have any final thoughts with your collegiate career at Colgate winding down?

JM: Well, it’s all about the team at this point. Personal goals don’t really mean anything. As a team goal, we definitely want to win a championship. We feel that we are as good a team as any team in our league. And, we feel like we have a great chance to win it all in two weeks.

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