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Inspired by late father's words, Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey reaching new heights

Tom Morrissey sat his sons down in the summer of 2021. Cancer ravaging his body and aware he was short on time, the message was clear and to the point.
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Winnipeg Jets’ Josh Morrissey (44) celebrates his goal against the Colorado Avalanche with teammates during second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Tuesday, November 29, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade

Tom Morrissey sat his sons down in the summer of 2021.

Cancer ravaging his body and aware he was short on time, the message was clear and to the point.

"He didn't want me and my brother to dwell on it and let it ruin our lives," Winnipeg Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey recalled. 

"Or take us to a place where we're not living our lives to the fullest."

Tom Morrissey died that August at age 69. After a period of grieving, and with the new hockey season approaching, Josh took his dad's message to heart.

"Enjoy every day," he said in a phone interview Wednesday. "The sights, the sounds, the arena, the good days and bad days. It's all a matter of perspective.

"When you see somebody lose their life in a way that was so difficult ... I appreciated my 'every day' more and wanted to live my dad's wishes to go after it and not sit back."

Josh Morrissey did that last season. He's taken it even further in 2022-23.

The defenceman leads Winnipeg in scoring with five goals and 27 points through 24 games for a team that sits second in the Western Conference standings.

Morrissey put up a career-high 12 goals and 37 points in 2021-22 as the Jets missed the playoffs, but is poised to blow through those numbers this season after being given the green light to push forward by new head coach Rick Bowness.

The 27-year-old had never really been allowed to flex his offensive muscles at the NHL level. A blue-liner with a boatload of points in junior, making Winnipeg's roster early in his career meant occupying a lesser role on a veteran club.

A meeting with Bowness and associate coach Scott Arniel in October changed everything. 

The veteran bench bosses showed Morrissey video of situations where he made the safe play when one with slightly higher risk – but far greater reward – was available.

"They basically said, 'We need you and we want you to make plays, to create offensively, to be a threat at the right time and the right situation ... that's how you're the most effective player for us,'" Morrissey said. "I'd never really been encouraged to do that in my career up until then. 

"That was an eye-opening thing."

Morrissey, who leads the Jets with an average of more than 23 minutes of ice time per game, still has to pick his spots.

"But having that faith from the staff to continue to push and be offensive, it's really helped my game," he said. "And if you look at the offensive players we have here, you make plays to those guys and get them the puck, good things will usually happen."

As good as the Jets' start has been, it could have gone off the rails before training camp when Blake Wheeler was stripped of the captaincy with an eye towards remaking the leadership dynamic.

"Tough situation," said Morrissey, one of three alternate captains. "Blake is a good friend, but also someone I look up to with his experience in the league and life. He handled it like a true professional and a great teammate.

"He could have handled it any way, and honestly I wouldn't have blamed him."

Winnipeg fans also can't be blamed for getting excited about Morrissey's season.

He's already being mentioned in the Norris Trophy conversation as the NHL's top defenceman, which in turn has spawned the "Josh Norrissey" nickname.

"Obviously it's funny," Morrissey said. "To be associated with that trophy at all is pretty incredible. I like that fans are having fun with it, but I'm not getting ahead of myself."

The 13th pick at the 2013 draft is 16 months out from losing his father, but believes he's made the most of the situation on and off the ice.

"Something that I've tried to grow from," he said. "Anyone that goes through it, you learn more about yourself. You grow as a person because you have no choice. Last season and this year, I've had more fun at the rink than ever before – whether we're winning or losing or going through tough times as a team. 

"That's been my goal."

SID'S STILL VICIOUS

Sidney Crosby is 35 years old and, at least in theory, supposed to be slowing down.

Seems no one mentioned that to Pittsburgh's captain.

The two-time Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP leads the league with 29 points at even strength this season – two better than Jason Robertson of the Stars.

Crosby is also second behind the Dallas sniper with 13 even-strength goals for the surging Penguins, who are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games.

MARNER MAGIC

Maple Leafs star Mitch Marner extended his point streak to 20 games in Wednesday's 4-0 victory over Dallas with an assist on Toronto's opener.

The winger left it late when attempting to tie the franchise record of 18 straight contests when he hit the empty net against the San Jose Sharks last week.

But Marner has got the deed out of the way early in half of the Leafs' games during his red-hot run, scoring or setting up the opening goal 10 times.

He'll look to extend his streak to 21 on Thursday when the Leafs host the Los Angeles Kings.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

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Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.

Joshua Clipperton's weekly NHL notebook is published every Wednesday.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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