The Comeback of Morris
by Matthew Conyers/CHN Reporter
Take a look at Michigan's roster and what you see resembles an AHL team.
From top to bottom, the Wolverines appear better suited playing the Providence Bruins rather than the Providence Friars. Despite posting an underwhelming record of 12-5-0 so far this season, the squad is stuffed to the gills with future professional and minor leagues players. Need proof? Just take a quick gander at the roster — Red Berenson's team fields 11 athletes already drafted by the NHL and eight with USHL experience. On top of that, seven players currently on the depth chart arrived in Ann Arbor after spending time with the heralded USA development program.
The evidence is overwhelming. If games were played on paper, Michigan might challenge Maine's legendary 42-1-1 season.
Yet, nearly a month ago, Northeastern senior Mike Morris rendered all of that experience and talent useless. In a two-night tour de force performance, Morris registered two goals and two assists, while helping the Huskies almost steal a pair of games on the road against Michigan. Anchored by Morris' inspiring pre-Halloween act, Northeastern spooked the Wolverines with a narrow 4-3 overtime defeat and 3-2 victory.
Now on any given weekend, Morris' spirited play would likely be enough to garner headlines and attract the respect of fan forums across the country. But then again, this wasn't any other weekend.
No, for Morris and Northeastern, the weekend against the pride of Ann Arbor was much more. In many ways, it was the one two-day period on the schedule that the rest of the season hinged on. With the Wolverines acting as the Huskies' biggest out-of-conference opponent, the series would go a long way in showing the squad's Hockey East foes whether they were as improved as they thought they were.
More importantly, though, the game marked the first two-day stretch of unparallel competition for the super-talented Morris since the winter of 2005. Dating back to the spring of 2005, Morris, a 2002-first round pick of the San Jose Sharks, had seen limited ice time because of a debilitating concussion in the off-season. The concussion, which occurred during an automobile accident in Boston, when combined with a head injury he originally suffered last November, caused Morris to stay away from hockey for more than a whole season.
After almost a year and a half away from the game that he loves so much, Morris made his triumphant return to the college hockey scene this year against Boston College in the Huskies' opening contest. However, it wasn't until Michigan that he regained the form that had amazed so many before. For Morris, the opportunity to dazzle with the puck once again, had been a long time coming.
"Last year, was extremely difficult," said Morris, a Braintree, Mass., native. "I learned a lot about myself and about hockey. It was tough being out and away for my team for so long. I couldn't be with my teammates as much as I wanted to be. I was alone. During that time, I learned who I was and how much I loved the game. To be back playing is an incredible feeling."
Although, he started off quietly in the team's first three games, Morris reemerged for the Huskies as strong as anyone could imagine. With the first half of the season almost complete and Northeastern 4-8-2, Morris has recorded an admirable six goals and seven assists. The numbers, however, aren't surprising for Morris, who racked up a 19-goal season his junior year. What is impressive is Morris' desire to quickly recover from the difficult concussions.
From the moment Morris was hit with the concussions he knew he wasn't going to let them hamper his hockey career. He loved this game and he loved his team.
"I didn't know what to expect or when I could anticipate coming back this season, but I knew I was going to fight hard to get back and help the team win," said Morris.
Despite a recent setback — Morris left last Friday's game against Merrimack with a neck injury, made more scary only because of his history, and sat out Saturday as what is currently stated as a precaution — Morris has shown a desire typical of his personality.
While at Northeastern, Morris has used his talent and will to morph himself into one of Hockey East's best kept secrets. In his first two seasons, Morris was continually among the short list of best players on the East coast. At the end of his junior campaign, he earned second team All-America honors. According to second-year head coach Greg Cronin, Morris is the type of player that can change a game in a second's notice.
"His ability to dominate and take control of a game is unreal," said Cronin. "He is a unique. He is an able to shift the momentum and create so much with so little. There is no doubt that he is one of the best in Hockey East, if not the country. He brings the ability to dominate to every game."
Still, Cronin and company could not spend their time caught up waiting for Morris to come back. As Cronin puts it, they just knew he would be back, and when he was they were be ready for him.
"We weren't really sure when he would come back, we just knew he would come back strong at some point," said Cronin. "At one part of the year, we were talking about the middle of the year."
At the beginning of the season both Morris and Cronin admit that it took awhile to get going.
"In the beginning there was an adjustment period for me," said Morris. "I was a little off in regards to timing and being comfortable with my decision-making process. I still felt I needed to get a better handle on the tiny things."
But then the Michigan duel arrived.
"Against Michigan, Mike just took off," said Cronin. "He displayed a confidence we hadn't seen from him since before the concussions. He was just at a totally different level. He played like the elite player that he is."
In Morris' opinion, the whole season has just been a progression.
"Each game, I've gotten closer to where I want to be," said Morris. "There seems to more coming back to me as time goes on."
During the difficult stretch last winter where Morris was forced to move back to Braintree and stop taking classes, those same teammates where there for him.
"Last year when I was out of hockey, I would be able to go out dinner with the guys and visit them sometimes at the rink," said Morris. "Still I wasn't with them as much as I wanted to be. It was tough. It was really hard not being with the guys as the season went on."
Morris' dedication to returning really isn't too surprising when you concern his love for the game and his will power. Raised in Boston's Dorchester borough, he grew up playing street hockey at a young age. Soon the street hockey gave way to a stop on one of Boston's best youth teams: the South Shore Kings.
In 1999, Morris attended St. Sebastian's School to prepare for collegiate hockey. His time at St. Sebastian quickly turned him into the player the San Jose Sharks took in 2003. Wearing a St. Sebastian's sweater, he tallied 108 points in the 59 games of his junior and senior seasons.
While at Northeastern, despite the year layoff, Morris has recorded 38 goals and 52 assists. In just a matter of games, Morris is likely to go over 100 points in his career at Northeastern. Not bad figures for a guy who forced to completely abandon hockey and his school for a year.
Now with just hockey to concrete on, Morris says he feels strong about the rest of the season.
"Right now I am really feeling comfortable and happy with things," said Morris.
Morris is also eager to prove anybody who thought he would disappear off the radar screen wrong.
"That's definitely one motivation — I want to show those people who wrote me off what I can do," said Morris. "But I've always had to prove to myself what I could do. I don't mind being an underdog. I just want to keep getting better."
Wherever Morris and Northeastern finish this season, it is quite clear already that Morris will be turning heads in more places than just Ann Arbor.