By Alan Adams
PRAGUE - Brendan Morrison is not one to harbor ill will.
Morrison was part of Team Canada at the 2000 World Championship tournament in Russia but when it came time to play the semifinals against the Czech Republic, he was a healthy scratch.
There’s no shortage of NHLers who have had fits on their respective clubs when the coach sits them out for a big game. Players like Morrison live for big games and this one pained him to the bone.
“No, I wasn't happy," Morrison recalled during a break at the 2004 world tournament here in the Czech capital. “It wasn't a very pleasurable experience. When you play all the round-robin games and then the games that mean the most you're not a part of, you just feel distant.
“But it's a learning process and I expect this time around to be much different.”
It’s been very different.
Considering his past relationship with the world tournament, Morrison could have declined an invitation to Prague. Players have said no in the past for a lesser reason. But he didn’t hesitate to join Team Canada after the Vancouver Canucks were eliminated by the Calgary Flames in Game 7 of their Stanley Cup playoff game. Morrison traveled something like 18 hours to get here for Canada’s opening game against Austria and he has played like a true veteran.
Morrison had a goal and an assist in Canada’s three preliminary round games and he’s primed for the qualifying round. Canada plays Latvia on Friday, Germany on Sunday and the Czech Republic on Monday.
Morrison is one of the NHL’s best-kept secrets. He’s developed into a bonafide No. 1 centre, playing with
Markus Naslund, and is creative with puck.
“I expect him to do exactly what he does in the National Hockey League - just to be a dominant, tenacious, tone-setting player that leads by example," says Babcock said.
Morrison is coming off his third straight season of 60 or more points. He’s on the radar screen for Canada’s World Cup team, which will be named in mid-May. About eight members of Team Canada are being watched a little more closely than the others by Jim Nill, the General Manager of Team Canada who is working with Wayne Gretzky on selecting the World Cup roster.
If there’s pressure on Morrison to perform, he isn’t showing it.
“I want to have a good showing here," Morrison said. "I want to be a presence and I want to be a guy who's dangerous every time he's on the ice.”
The world tournament has taken on another significance because of the uncertainty whether there will be an NHL season in September.
The world tournament offers Morrison a chance to showcase his talents on the big ice and at least one European coach has talked to him about playing in Switzerland next season.
Morrison took refuge in the Czech Republic a couple of years ago during a contract squabble with the New Jersey Devils. He played in Pardubice.
“It was an experience. Not too much English in the team meetings. . . . I'm going to go play somewhere. I've talked to a few teams in Europe already. Hopefully we'll get something worked out if the season doesn't happen.
“You have to prepare for the worst. That's my approach to it. You don't want to be caught on the outside looking in if things don't work out. But again, I'm optimistic things will work out (between the NHL and NHLPA).”
In the interim, the only thing that counts is helping Canada defend its world title.
“That’s the goal,” he said.