On the eve of Canada’s National Junior Team Sport Chek Selection Camp in early December, Josh Morrissey and Madison Bowey were Western Hockey League foes. Morrissey was the captain of the Prince Albert Raiders; fellow blue-liner Bowey was the leader of the league-leading Kelowna Rockets.
By the time they arrived in Toronto, they’d learned that they’d be teammates – and possibly defensive partners – even after the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Shortly after the Raiders lost to the Vancouver Giants on Dec. 10, Morrissey was traded to Kelowna. At camp the next day the new teammates had no problem breaking the ice.
“We both had big smiles and I gave him a hug,” says Morrissey. “It’s exciting to go to a team that’s having such a good season and be a part of what they’re doing.” (An added bonus: his brother, Jake, is a Rockets goaltender.)
”We talked about it a little bit, about hopefully being able to play with each other as partners after this tournament,” says Bowey. “But right now the main focus is playing (the World Juniors) and winning a gold medal.”
Winnipeg-born Bowey and Calgary-raised Morrissey are hardly strangers to each other. A friendly rivalry started in spring and summer hockey in their early teens. Morrissey got the upper hand in their first two meetings on the national stage: the 2011 Canada Winter Games (Alberta beat Manitoba) and the 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge (Team Pacific defeated Team West).
Playing in the WHL meant more meetings each season, including one just four days before the trade (a 1-0 Rockets win).
Bowey defends hard and plays physical, says Morrissey, but at the same time he’s ripping shots from the point and one-timers on the power play “As a defenceman on the other team you’re standing in front and know it’s coming,” he says. “It’s nice that I won’t have to stand in front of too many of his shots anymore.”
Morrissey has an uncanny ability to find his teammates, says Bowey, and the strength to keep opposing players at bay at the other end of the ice.
“He’s definitely a full-package defenceman,” says Bowey. “It’s awesome to finally play with him instead of against him.”
The “with” part has already begun at the World Juniors; coach Benoît Groulx has played them as Canada’s top blue-line pairing through the first three games of the tournament. So far they’ve combined for six points and a +13.
The duo is simply picking up from where they left off, having been partners at both the 2012 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament and the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. Canada won both tournaments.
“Winning gold and standing on the blue-line in Sochi [at the U18 world championship] was pretty special, having that it was the Olympic venue a year later,” says Morrissey, who was a team- and tournament-best +10.
They’ve brought lessons learned from those past experiences with Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence with them to the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.
“The U18 tournament showed us that coming together quickly as a team is what can give you success,” says Bowey, who scored the game-tying goal in the gold medal game against the United States.
Winning two tournament-format championships has taught the players how to overcome adversity, says Morrissey.
So has losing them.
Morrissey is one of seven returning players to a Canadian team that finished out of the medals a year ago at the World Juniors in Malmö, Sweden.
“I think you learn more sometimes when you lose and have struggles,” he says. All of those experiences – which also include a bronze medal for Morrissey from the 2012 U18s – have given them the confidence to manage expectations and deal with any stumbles along the way.
Having already struck gold together twice, Bowey and Morrissey hope the third time sharing the blue-line is just as charmed.
And then after that, maybe new lessons will go west with them.
”I think anytime we get to play together it just keeps building familiarity on the ice,” says Morrissey. “Obviously our goal is to win the championship here. If we’re able to do that, we can take what we learn back to Kelowna.”