Josh Morrissey didn’t feel right for a few days and the Winnipeg Jets couldn’t risk the health of the cardinal member of their defensive group.
Call it a sacrifice to serve the greater good.
Morrissey was held out of the lineup for the final two games of a season-opening, four-game road trip after colliding with a teammate — believed to be Anthony Bitetto — during Sunday’s warm-up prior to a meeting with the New York Islanders. He practised with the team Monday in Pittsburgh but was scratched for Tuesday’s matchup with the Penguins.
The jolt was enough to warrant concussion protocol, although Morrissey made it clear Thursday morning he passed all the tests and was primed and ready for the Jets’ home opener against the Minnesota Wild.
“I was never diagnosed with a concussion. In today’s day and age in the NHL, especially with our team, they do a very good job of taking the right precautions. I wasn’t diagnosed with a concussion or anything like that, which is why I’m able to play here (Thursday). I didn’t have any of the typical symptoms.” – Josh Morrissey
“I was never diagnosed with a concussion. In today’s day and age in the NHL, especially with our team, they do a very good job of taking the right precautions. I wasn’t diagnosed with a concussion or anything like that, which is why I’m able to play here (Thursday). I didn’t have any of the typical symptoms,” Morrissey said.
“By all accounts, going through the protocols that you have to, there’s precaution being put into place. Everything was clear and great. But as frustrating as it is as a player to be held out of games, I think it’s something the league has taken big strides in.”
Indeed, the 24-year-old first-round draft pick is the steadying influence on a blue line in flux, particularly with Dustin Byfuglien still deciding if he has the desire to continue his NHL career. Against Pittsburgh, in particular, a back end of Neal Pionk, Carl Dahlstrom, Bitetto, Sami Niku, Ville Heinola and Tucker Poolman did a solid job against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in a 4-1 victory.
That’s a big ask over a long stretch for the Jets. Yet, the team is no position to gamble when even the slightest of symptoms present after a collision — by Morrissey or a Jet by any other name. So, he reluctantly watched from the pressbox.
“Appropriately overly cautious. That’s exactly right. We have tests in place for players and he passed all the tests that said he could play, except he didn’t feel right. That’s enough. We’re not taking that risk with anybody,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “Anything related to how a guy feels like that, where it’s a grey area and he could go from, ‘Geez I don’t feel well,’ to, ‘Hey, I’m out for three months,’ we’re not taking any chances.”
The heady, puck-moving defenceman said the cautious approach was initially difficult to handle, but he’s grateful others are looking out for him.
“In the moment, it’s very frustrating as a player. But at the same time, you thank the people that are in those situations because it’s just not something you want to mess around with. I thought the team handled it really, really well,” Morrissey said after the morning skate. Later, he was paired with Pionk on the top defensive unit against the Wild.
“You play a contact sport, but you don’t anticipate getting something going on in the warm-up. I’m happy to be back. Maybe I’ll make sure I do my chin strap up a little tighter (Thursday) night.”
Morrissey had the most productive season (six goals, 25 assists) of his young career in 2018-19, despite having it cut short by injuries. He missed the final 20 games of the regular season with an upper-body injury but returned for the playoff series against the St. Louis Blues.
“In the moment, it’s very frustrating as a player. But at the same time, you thank the people that are in those situations because it’s just not something you want to mess around with. I thought the team handled it really, really well.” – Josh Morrissey
Peering down as your teammates do battle comes with its own level of discomfort, he said.
“It’s tough. Probably my biggest goal into any season is to try to be able to play as many games as you can. As a player, your goal is to never miss a game. It’s not fun sitting out,” said Morrissey, a popular player with teammates and fans. He endeared himself to the Jets faithful further by signing an eight-year contract extension in September that has an average annual value of US$6.25 million.
“Unfortunately, at the end of last year, I missed a bunch of games. It’s not fun. But at the same time, you try to be a leader in the room and do what you can to support the guys that are in there. Obviously, we’ve got a young back end in those two games (Islanders and Penguins) and I thought they did really, really well.”
Hurt inadvertently by one of his own, Morrissey shot back at those seeking an explanation on how it could happen during a few benign warm-up drills.
“Was there a really good media buffet up there or something? Nobody saw the warm-up that game? Just a little collision, can’t confirm any players. Not going to throw anyone under.”
Assistant sports editor
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