28-year-old defenceman Joe Morrow is currently wrapping up his mandatory quarantine in his new residence in the small Finnish town of Pori. Having just signed a contract for the remainder of the 2020-21 season, the former Winnipeg Jets blueliner is looking at the coming months as an opportunity to once again solidify his role as an every-day NHL defenceman.
Although his time spent living within the province of Manitoba was short lived, it served as one of the most memorable stops in his plentiful NHL journey thus far.
“Winnipeg was such a cool place to play,” Morrow told Game On. “There is such a positive reinforcement behind the team from the ownership to the coaches to the fanbase. Honestly, that’s what made it the most fun for me. And that’s what hurts even to this day, not being able to come back there and play for the Jets. Being able to go through that whole playoff run and just have that fanbase behind you; it was something else. And for the games that I didn’t play in, I was sitting in a box with the owner Mark Chipman and his wife Patti. It was really cool to be able to develop a relationship with them too. Winnipeg is a very tight-knit, special place that is really close to my heart.”
For a guy who had already been traded as part of the return in the now infamous Tyler Seguin deal between Boston and Dallas in 2013, making new memories was paramount to Morrow’s mindset following the news of his trade to Winnipeg in 2018.
“I woke up and had a couple missed text messages and phone calls telling me to come to the rink and grab my stuff as I was off to Winnipeg,” the 6-foot-1, 207-pound defender reflected. “I knew the Jets needed another guy on the back-end, but I really didn’t know too much about the city or the team at that time. Obviously, it gets a little bit of a poor rep due to the harsh weather and its colder temperatures. But to me, Winnipeg was nothing short of exceptional.”
“Winnipeg was a really positive community, which can be hard to find in this day and age,” Morrow continued. “I just remember walking across the street from the rink to Browns and people would honk a couple times, flash their lights at you and roll down their window saying, ‘hey man, great game, happy to have you here’. It was just little things like that which made my time in Winnipeg so special. I was so welcomed even before I showed up. It was great having fans reach out on social media, expressing their delight.”
For the left-shooting blueliner, those memories only grew stronger following his performance in Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the Jets’ opening game of the first round tied 2-2 late in the third period, Morrow one-timed a Nik Ehlers bank-pass past Minnesota Wild netminder Devan Dubnyk for the game-winner, giving Winnipeg the all-important Game 1 victory.
— NHL (@NHL) April 12, 2018
“People ask me all the time what my most memorable moment of my hockey so far has been,” Morrow reminisced. “You know, getting your name called in the first round of the draft is pretty neat, but witnessing that whiteout… man, that was something else. Getting that lucky to score that goal was by far the most prolific experience I’ve ever had. I think I rode that high for a month. I don’t know what the majority of drugs are like, but that one might top it as the best of the best. That was the coolest experience that I’ve had to this day for sure. There is nothing like it. I was just floating for two weeks. I didn’t touch the ground once.”
Although many of his memories from the NHL stem from on-ice moments, Morrow also does cherish deeply many of the community outreach programs and initiatives he has been able to participate in as a member of the Jets, Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.
“There were always a lot of guys who always had other things going on, but I think I was always one of the first to jump out on the hospital visits,” Morrow said. “Especially in Boston, they had so many massive hospitals there, and some of the coolest people are at the children’s hospitals. I loved that feeling of being able to go in there and kind of brighten somebody’s day. You work your whole life to be special at something, and once you’re recognized at that, it’s a really great feeling. To make somebody smile and be there at the right time and maybe deliver something as simple as a teddy bear, those were just experiences that I’ll never forget.”
Although seemingly enjoying the positive reflections, Morrow does still hold a few regrets when it comes to decisions made, and career paths taken.
“After skating at the Rangers camp, I joined the Devils farm team for a bit, but it was there that I sort of seemed to develop a bad mindset or just something went wrong in my brain,” Morrow said. “I was always raised to be a modest individual that took what was in front of him and kept going, but as soon as I wasn’t kind of given an opportunity and had to earn it again, I turned into a bit of a diva. I became that person that I always hated, and I didn’t appreciate what I had, which is really sad. It just felt like everything was crashing down. I was trying to battle through it and it was just in a town that I was unfamiliar with and an organization that I was unfamiliar with. I just wasn’t enjoying myself and just wasn’t happy. But in all honesty, I should have been. I wasn’t looking at positives, but just looking at the negatives. And I completely regret leaving, that’s for sure. I regret whatever bridges I burned, which is really tough. But at the time I had to make a decision. But it definitely wasn’t the right one.”
That’s right, Morrow made the choice to leave North American hockey and try his hand overseas with Dinamo Minsk of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. Despite the unfortunate circumstances related to his leaving, the experience in Europe was one for the ages.
“The KHL is a wild league with insanely talented individuals,” he said. “There were some guys I’m playing against that I could never even pronounce their names. But they were the strongest, most skilled, some of the fastest guys I’ve ever played against. There are a lot of crazy-talented hockey players over there. It’s an exciting game, it’s a big possession game. The huge ice surface just makes it a different style of play. It was quite an experience. My dad always told me that experience is the best teacher. He also said that once I realize that, it will be too late. I just hope that isn’t the case here. I do want to battle back and I do think I have the capability of playing in the NHL still.”
But for the mean team, Morrow will test the waters in Pori, Finland, as he suits up for the Liiga’s Assat, in an attempt to help resurrect his professional playing career.
“A couple days ago the GM of Assat gave me a call and we figured that I’d give it a couple months of my best effort and try to progress myself and set me up for an opportunity to maybe come back to North America and try to earn it again. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, which is a line put into a hundred different country songs, but it’s true. You don’t really realize it until you live it.
With his new Finnish club already halfway through the 2020-21 season, Morrow just needs to pass his final COVID test in order to be cleared to join his new team. Despite the many obstacles he has already overcome, the next step in his journey very well may be the most difficult. But if anyone is capable of making a comeback, it is he.
“Once I’m done quarantine I’ll be able to start skating with the team,” Morrow said. “Hopefully I can play within a week or two here. Obviously being hit with the COVID-19 situation, it just makes everything that much more unclear. That’s kind of been the name of the game for me, as I’ve had a pretty interesting career path thus far, being traded so many times at such a young age. But any of those organizations, I’d go back to in a heartbeat. Obviously it is a business and career paths take you to different places, but I was super fortunate to be a part of three insanely cool NHL cities and phenomenal organizations.”