WINNIPEG — You know what they say: You can only hope to contain Joe Morrow.
Playoff lore is waist deep in stories like Morrow, a guy who was dealt here in February by Montreal for a fourth-round draft pick. A guy who would have been watching from upstairs, had Dmitry Kulikov and Tobias Enstrom not been injured.
A guy who, like so many who’ve come before, grew up in the Canadian countryside scoring game-winning playoff goals every day after school, with a sibling in goal and the family dog on his wing.
A tied game, a hopeful shot from the point, a deflection off of Charlie Coyle’s stick, and a five-hole that Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk couldn’t close up fast enough. A hero is born.
Final score: 3-2 Jets.
Welcome to the Stanley Cup playoffs, Joe Morrow. It is Joe, right…?
“That’s the reason you play hockey as a kid — to come and play in the playoffs, play for the Stanley Cup, and get an opportunity to score a goal like that,” he said. “So, to say it’s a dream come true is a pretty big understatement.”
We usually go deeper into the spring before a game is decided by some guy wearing No. 70, on his third NHL club in a calendar year. But this is how the Winnipeg Jets roll: A snipe by Mark Scheifele, another rocket by Patrik Laine, and just when you think you might get them to OT, you get buried on a goal from a source that you’d never expect.
And the rest of the Jets? They love all goals, but you know teammates love it a little bit more when a guy like Morrow cashes a big one.
“He’s come in with such a positive attitude … gets the opportunity with (Kulikov) and (Enstrom) out and he’s really run with it,” said fourth-line centre Adam Lowry, who was a beast in Game 1, going 69 per cent in the faceoff circle. “If you’re going to find success in the playoffs, you need unlikely heroes. It’s not always going to be (Laine) that scores. Or (Scheifele). They really contributed, but you’re going to need that secondary scoring from guys that aren’t counted on regularly to score. At a crucial point of the game, to get that shot through and just create that opportunity? That’s huge for us.”
Morrow’s story is a beauty, growing up on an acreage east of Sherwood Park, Alta., not far from Saiker’s Acres, the site of the World’s Longest Game.
Morrow’s mom is an optometrist, his dad a former World Hockey Association teammate of a 17-year-old Wayne Gretzky on the Indianapolis Racers. Dave Morrow was a fourth-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks, a second-round choice of the Cincinnati Stingers, and ended his career with the Fort Wayne Komets after 10 lonely games in the WHA with Indy.
His son Joe was a prodigy by comparison: a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins who was dealt away in the ‘two-Morrow deal’ that sent Brenden Morrow the other way. He was thrown into the trade that landed Tyler Seguin in Dallas, slugged it out in Boston for a while, and ended up with the Habs this season as a free agent.
A couple of injuries later, the Jets came calling.
“I’ve had a pretty big roller-coaster of an NHL career so far,” he said. “It’s nothing new to me to get thrown into a situation that is a lot more pressure than what you foresee in the future. It’s moments like these that kind of either make or break your hockey career. You take it hour to hour and just play your game, have fun and just enjoy the moment.”
It was the first playoff game, and the first press box pool where some scribe — the Globe and Mail’s Roy MacGregor — paid his $10, extracted the name Joe Morrow from the cup, and sighed, “Yeesh! Guess I made a donation tonight.”
He walked out with the $360 pot.
“I think he should pay it to me, but that’s fine,” chuckled Morrow. “He can keep it, I guess.”
So this is how it all begins for Winnipeg. A 1-0 lead, a 2-1 deficit, then storm back to win Game 1 by a 3-2 score. A franchise founded in Atlanta back in 1999 won its first-ever playoff game Wednesday, and the game-winner makes for a trivia question for the ages.
Who scored the game-winner in the first post-season win for the Atlanta-Winnipeg franchise? Why, Dave Morrow’s boy, of course.
Jack? Or Jim?
Maybe … Joe?
“If you believe in karma and trying to be a good person and eventually, you get rewarded for it? Yeah, absolutely,” Morrow said. “To have a little, I don’t even know if you want to call it a Cinderella story of a night tonight? It makes all of the bad times, and all of the times you’ve battled so hard to try and get an opportunity — it washes them away. You get to enjoy it in front of a crowd like this, a city like this.”
Touch ‘em all Joe! You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life.