Morrissey reflects on all-star nod Honour has Jets standout blue-liner thinking of late father
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First came the good news: Josh Morrissey’s incredible season so far had been rewarded with his first-ever all-star designation.
Then came the wave of emotions, sweeping over the 27-year-old who has battled plenty of adversity in recent years including the death of his father, Tom, to brain cancer in August 2021.
“Certainly thinking about my dad. He’s not here to see this,” Morrissey said Friday. “He always thought that was something I could become in this league and achieve. So it just means a lot to me to know he’s watching. I’m sure he’s very proud and looking down.”
Morrissey has put up a career-high 43 points this year (seven goals, 36 assists) in just 38 games prior to facing the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night at Canada Life Centre. Only San Jose’s Erik Karlsson has better offensive numbers on the blue line.
Following his father’s diagnosis, Morrissey admitted his play suffered at times. He had just 21 points during the 56-game COVID season, where the global pandemic meant sporadic face-to-face contact with his role model and mentor.
“At that point in time, becoming an all-star seemed pretty far away,” Morrissey admitted. “Obviously there’s ups and downs in your career. Whether that’s throughout your entire career or over the last number of years for me. I’m not too far removed from a couple tough seasons with family stuff going on.”
“Certainly thinking about my dad. He’s not here to see this. He always thought that was something I could become in this league and achieve. So it just means a lot to me to know he’s watching. I’m sure he’s very proud and looking down.”–Josh Morrissey
The Calgary native looks like a completely different player this year under new coach Rick Bowness, who had introduced a more aggressive, up-tempo system that gets the defence more involved in the rush.
“It was emotional. It was exciting for me. To be recognized and get to go to the All-Star Game, that’s a pretty big deal to me,” said Morrissey.
“It was pretty cool to have Bones deliver the message. I think it was fitting. From the summer when he was hired, he’s been pushing all of us, myself included, to keep challenging and push our games forward. I don’t think I’d have that opportunity without that encouragement from him and the style of play that he’s put in here.”
Bowness said the credit should go to Morrissey, who is never satisfied with the status quo and pushes himself harder than any coaching staff could.
“I’m very proud of him and he should be very proud of himself. He’s done a lot of great things, and the great thing about Josh is that you know he’ll want more. He won’t be satisfied with this,” said Bowness. “That’s what you want to hear from your elite players, that we’re going to keep pushing and we’re going to keep getting better.”
Under NHL rules this year, all 32 teams have one guaranteed All-Star, who will represent their division during the three-on-three tournament on Feb. 4 in Florida (the skills event runs Feb. 3). There are three spots remaining for each of the four divisional squads, which will be decided by a fan vote over the next 10 days at nhl.com.
“It’s awesome. He’s a member of the D union. I feel like we’re all going to the All-Star Game when that happens,” said blue-liner Nate Schmidt. “He’s the one that gets to represent us all.”
Morrissey would love to have some teammates join the party. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck would be one obvious choice. He’s been arguably the best netminder in the NHL so far this year. Centre Mark Scheifele is also on track for a career-high in goals.
“There’s a bunch of guys that certainly could be there and should be there and have had amazing seasons,” he said. “I would love to see multiple Jets down there. We’ll see what happens. Hopefully the Jets fans get behind it. It’s my first game, so I need a couple guys that have been there before who can show me the ropes.”
BENCHMARK FOR BONES: Friday’s game marks the 2,600th that Bowness has been behind an NHL bench, either as a head coach or assistant. That’s No. 1 in league history. An incredible accomplishment for the 67-year-old. But not one he wanted to spend much time thinking about.
“It means we’re going to be playing the Tampa Bay Lightning and we need the two points,” Bowness said prior to puck drop in response to a question about what it means.
A typical coach answer, for sure. But Bowness admitted there’s one thing that keeps him going on a daily basis.
“I love the game, man. I love the game. That’s it. I just have a passion for the game,” he said.
“I know I’m not the smartest coach out there, but man, I love the game as much as anyone.”–Winnipeg Jets head coach, Rick Bowness
“I know I’m not the smartest coach. I never try to be. I try and be the best I can be every day. But it’s the love of the game. I still love the game. I still love everything about it. I love the practices. I love dealing with the players. I love seeing the players get better. I love seeing the team get better. I just love the game. That’s what’s driven me… I know I’m not the smartest coach out there, but man, I love the game as much as anyone.”
A scribe remarked that it sounds like “a pretty good job to have.”
“Yeah, when you win,” Bowness joked. “The losses get tougher as you get older, too. You take them a little more personal. It’s just a matter of coming to the rink every day and love being here. I’ve never had to do anything else because I never had a Plan B. I wasn’t smart enough to come up with a Plan B. It was hockey or nothing. Again, I’m just very fortunate, very blessed to stay in the league this long, and I never take a day in this league for granted. Every day is a blessing here and I never once have taken it for granted. And I never will, until the day I retire. I still love it, and we’re going to keep kicking.”
SWIMMING WITH THE SHARKS: The Jets have lost forward Michael Eyssimont on waivers to the San Jose Sharks.
Eyssimont, 26, appeared in 19 NHL games this year, scoring his first goal and adding four assists. With four injured players returning to the lineup against the Lightning, there was no longer any room on the roster for the Manitoba Moose call-up. Winnipeg wanted to send him back down to the AHL, but the other 31 teams had a chance to obtain him first.
The Jets lost defenceman Johnathan Kovacevic on waivers earlier this year to the Montreal Canadiens, while picking up forwards Axel Jonsson-Fjallby (Washington) and Karson Kuhlman (Seattle) via that same avenue.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.