There’s a strong likelihood the most significant season of Josh Morrissey’s NHL career came to halt nearly a month ago in Edmonton.
But the Winnipeg Jets defenceman says he made huge strides as a player and person during a 2019-20 campaign now in limbo due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Honestly, it might be the most important year in my career going forward and when I look back on my career one day, because I learned so much about myself… what drives me and how to handle adversity as well,” Morrissey said Tuesday morning.
Morrissey, who turned 25 a week ago, spoke with media by video conference from his Winnipeg home.
“Even handling let’s say a little bit of negativity around your game or some criticism around your game… looking back I honestly think I learned the most this year of any year of my NHL career,” he said. “I think I grew the most as a player and so I’m excited to get back to playing, whether it’s this season or next season and really build off that and use it is a springboard. I feel in so many aspects I learned just so much this year. I’m excited to keep building off that.”
The Calgary product, considered a load-bearing wall on the Jets blue line, had a lot on his plate this season.
The organization locked him up in training camp with an eight-year, $50-million extension that carries a salary-cap hit of $6.25-million per season, nearly double his current $3.15-million earnings. He was also named an alternative captain, immediately taking on added responsibilities on and off the ice.
Used to a pairing with Jacob Trouba, Morrissey had to find a comfort level playing with an array of defensive partners. Despite some early struggles, he had returned to playing the kind of mistake-free, heady puck-moving game that had become his trademark during the later stages of the season.
He had scored five goals and chipped in 26 assists in 65 games — he missed six games to a pair of injuries — tying his point total (31) from a year go.
Morrissey said he was honoured to wear the ‘A’ and took the job seriously. But initially some of that weight of being so heavily counted on took a toll.
“There was a lot of new positions for me,” said Morrissey, who remained in Calgary for a week after the season was postponded before heading back to Manitoba with his girlfriend. “Signing a long contract, being named assistant captain, being in a different position with a new defence partner, all those things. Not that any one thing particularly was a big change for me on a daily level but sort of the sum of everything coming at once.
“As soon as I realized that you’re just playing hockey again, you know what makes you good as a player and you were given the letter for a reason.. I realized be me, bee myself and play my game that’s gotten me to this point in my life and in my career. I started to settle in and saw improvement in my game.”
The Jets had an up-and-down season but were finding a groove at a critical time — until the NHL suspended ply March 12 due to the global coronavirus crisis. The Central Division squad had posted four straight victories (6-3-1 in its last 10 games) and held down the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference with 11 games left on their regular-season schedule.
So many scenarios have been tossed out about a possible resumption to the season down the road, such as neutral-site games in empty arenas. Morrissey said he’s open to any format that gets the Jets back on the ice.
“It would be an odd situation, but given the circumstances and what’s going on in the entire world, everyone realizes every person has had to adapt and had to make changes to everyday life,” said Morrissey, who works out each day at an elaborate gym at home. “Would it be different than normal? For sure. But it would be better than not playing, in my opinion.
“I haven’t really heard many of the details about what that would look like but I’m sure every option will be looked at, and as a player and somebody who feels like our team has really worked hard to make the playoffs, and so have all teams, it would be a nice way to play. I’d be on board for something like that.”
Morrissey heaped praised on the healthcare professionals, first responders and others working in essential services for the collective effort to keep people safe and healthy.
“A thank you to all… it’s crazy unprecedented situation. The people of Winnipeg and Manitoba have done a great job and everyone should feel proud that they’re participating in an effort to stop the spread,” he said. “We’ll come out of this, everyone will, but for now just continue to stay safe for ourselves and everyone else.”
Assistant sports editor
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