As the captain and leading scorer for the University of Michigan Wolverines, Brendan Morrison has put together a storybook career over the last four years. Just a few weeks ago, Morrison assumed first place on the all-time U-M scoring list ahead of Denny Felsner with an assist against Notre Dame on February 15th. But besides racking up impressive statistics (such as scoring 28 goals and 44 assists for 72 points in only 35 games as a junior), Brendan has shown a penchant for coming through in the clutch - it was his overtime goal last spring that gave the Wolverines their first NCAA championship since 1964, and he was named Most Valuable Player at the Great Lakes Invitational tournament for the third consecutive year back in December.
This year, the 21 year-old center from Pitt Meadows, British Columbia led the Wolverines to an impressive 30-3-4 heading into the CCHA playoffs, good for a regular season CCHA title and the #1 ranking across all college hockey polls. He was named to the All-CCHA First Team for the third time, and is a strong favorite to win this year's coveted Hobey Baker Award, given to the top player in U.S. college hockey each season. After a recent practice leading up the CCHA semifinals, I caught up with Brendan for a few moments to ask about his time at U-M, and his prospects as a draft pick of the New Jersey Devils (second round, 1993, 39th overall pick).
Hoag : Growing up in British Columbia, who were your hockey idols at the time?
Morrison : My favorite team was the Oilers of the mid-80s. I really liked their offensive capabilities. One player that I try to emulate would be Gretzky... I guess almost every kid says that, but I just think he's an exciting player on the ice, really unselfish, and always seems to look out for the team's best interests first. Also, off the ice he was an ambassador for the game, spreading it throughout the United States, where it's really caught on. He's done a lot for hockey.
Hoag : Do you see any parallels there with what you and your teammates have done for hockey here at the University of Michigan?
Morrison : Well I guess we've sort of caught the attention of the student campus... talking to students now, a lot say that it's more exciting to come to a hockey game rather than a football or basketball game. I don't think you'd hear that five years ago! When you think of Michigan you think of football and basketball, but now people are starting to talk about hockey in the same breath so definitely that's a big accomplishment for our program.
Hoag : What do you see as your strongest trait as a player?
Morrison : I'd have to say just the way I see things on the ice. At times I'm able to read the play, and process things a bit sooner than the average player. I'm just fortunate to be blessed with that, I guess - it's not something you can really teach, it's something I just have.
Hoag : And what would be the part of the game that you have to work on and improve?
Morrison : Well, I think if I want to be successful at the next level I definitely have to continue to improve on my strength. That's the biggest thing right now. College has really helped me a lot - I was something like 162 pounds when I came here and now I'm 185, so I've improved dramatically, but there's room to get better. Also I've improved on my defense. Coming out of junior hockey, almost any player that goes on to college, they don't really respect their own zone too much. That's one thing Coach Berenson has really made me aware of, that if I want to move on, is defense. I think my defensive game has picked up tremendously since I've been here.
Hoag : Coming down the stretch into the CCHA and NCAA playoffs, do you have any personal goals yet to achieve? You've had quite a lot of success both as an individual and team player.
Morrison : Well, I think in the grand scheme of things the only goal I'm really focused on right now is another National Championship. That's the most important thing to me and for this team right now. Obviously another goal of mine at the beginning of this season was the Hobey Baker Award, and there's been some talk about that now, but it's hard to put that in comparison to the National Championship because that's not on the same level for me at all. That team goal is on a much higher pedestal because it's all 26 guys working towards the same goal, sacrificing the same things - it's much more satisfying to accomplish something like that than to achieve a personal goal.
Hoag : Does your preparation for games differ now that you're playing in a single-game elimination format?
Morrison : No, not too much - I try to approach every game the same way. You've just got to go out and work hard every single night. I guess now with every game being like sudden death you pay attention to detail a lot more, and you have to put everything on the line, but that's what I try to do every night, game in and game out, just go work hard and try to set an example for my teammates.
Hoag : What do you see as your biggest challenge towards moving into the pro level next season?
Morrison : Moving to any new level, you're going to have an adjustment period. The guys are bigger and faster, and like other areas of life, it's more competitive as you move up the ranks, so it's just how quickly you can adjust. Obviously, you've got to be smart about things - when you go against bigger and stronger guys you can't be battling in front of the net with some six-foot-three, two-hundred-pounds plus defenseman. You have to read off that, and consider the situation - that's going to be the biggest thing, seeing how quickly I adapt.
Hoag : Have the Devils talked to you at all this year? Do you plan on being in Albany (the Devils' farm club) next season?
Morrison : I've talked to them a little bit throughout the year, not too much, just mostly in the summer. (Devils' GM) Lou Lamoriello told me that he wanted me to leave early and forego my senior year, just so I could get into their system as quickly as possible, but I made up my mind pretty quickly that I wanted to come back to school. They respected my decision, and pretty much told me that they'd leave me alone throughout the year so I can concentrate on my duties here at school. They said they'd get in touch with me just after the season - I guess there's the possibility they could call me up for a couple of (NHL) games or try to get me into their farm system right away, but I guess when that time comes I'll have to make a decision.
Hoag : So did it catch your eye when they made the Doug Gilmour trade, and dealt away two young centers?
Morrison : Definitely! Obviously, they got a great center in Gilmour, but I guess I look at it as a positive, in that they gave up a couple young prospects, so hopefully they're looking for bright things in the future from me.
Hoag : Why do you wear #9?
Morrison : Actually, my favorite number that I wore growing up was #7, I had that my whole life, then I went to go play junior and one of the veteran defenseman had #7 so I went to #17. Then when I came here on scholarship, #7 was taken by Ron Sacka and #17 by (Ryan) Sittler. #9 was available, and I thought that was a pretty good number, so I just got stuck with that.
Hoag : Having worn the full face cage as required in college hockey, do you plan on wearing a visor in the pros?
Morrison : I don't think I will. I played with a half-shield in junior, then coming back to the cage in college, the main difference is that in college with the mask, everyone is fearless out there, and it can get real chippy at times. I remember back in junior it was never this chippy. I just think there's a lot more respect when you have no cage or visor, because the guys can get feeling invincible otherwise.