Brenden Morrow remembers thinking something was odd about his first foray into the Penguins’ locker room, from getting heckled by Penguins fans to handing his gloves to a total stranger.
It wasn’t until Penguins captain Sidney Crosby asked, “Mo, what are you doing in here?” that Morrow realized what happened:
The captain of the visiting Dallas Stars was in the wrong room at Civic Arena.
“I shook my head and realized that I had walked into the Penguins’ room, handed my gloves to the Penguins’ trainer,” Morrow said. “The fans weren’t heckling me. They were trying to warn me I was going the wrong way.”
Make no mistake: Morrow now is right where he belongs, with the Penguins and in the Eastern Conference final.
But he wants to clear up one misconception: This is not why, after a dozen seasons in Dallas, he waived his no-trade clause and swapped his Stars’ captaincy to become a third-line left winger with the Penguins.
“I’ve enjoyed myself. It’s been great,” Morrow said, “but I didn’t come here to get to the third round.”â¢Because it’s the Cup
Morrow, 34, came here to win the Stanley Cup and agonized over the decision.
He left behind not only the “C” on his sweater and the only franchise he’d played for in his NHL career but also his wife and three kids.
Morrow’s devotion to Dallas and his family was evident during the 2004-05 lockout. He played for Oklahoma City of the Central League on the condition that he only would have to play on the weekends.
His oldest daughter, 8-year-old Bryelle, gave her blessing. When Morrow’s wife, Anne-Marie, was crying after the trade, Bryelle said, “Don’t worry, Mom. It’s only a few months, and he has a chance to win the Cup.”
Now, Morrow is living in a hotel. His family visits for games when convenient. The family man is making sacrifices, like eating Easter dinner at a restaurant with fellow newcomers Jarome Iginla and Douglas Murray, and missing his daughters’ dance recitals and his son’s first T-ball game.
Even if he still doesn’t know his way around town — “I haven’t been down the bus lanes as frequently as my first week here,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the maps app on my phone, I’d have no chance.” — Morrow knows exactly where he’s headed.
Morrow has been chasing hockey’s Holy Grail his entire career, since joining Dallas a season after the Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999. They returned to the Cup Final his rookie season, only to lose to the New Jersey Devils in six games.
Morrow hasn’t been back since, losing to Detroit in six games in the Western Final in 2008 and missing the playoffs the past four seasons.
“It’s tough, scratching and clawing for the playoffs every year and not getting there, being close and then having the opportunity to come to a team that is basically already guaranteed a spot in the playoffs,” Morrow said. “Having the talent that this team has, just having a different role and expectations is so refreshing and so much fun, I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Morrow’s M.O. has been as a behind-the-scenes leader with exemplary work ethic. It’s why Dallas asked Mike Modano to step down as captain in 2006 so it could reward Morrow.
And why Penguins general manager Ray Shero targeted Morrow first among his trade-deadline deals and paid the highest price in former No. 1 pick Joe Morrow.
Bill Guerin played with Morrow in Dallas, so he knew what kind of player and leader he was. And that if the Penguins didn’t get him, another team would be desperately trying to do so.
“Brenden’s a character guy. He leaves nothing out on the ice. You know how he’s going to play,” said Guerin, a player development coach for the Penguins who was acquired for their ’09 Stanley Cup championship run.
“He’s a guy right away that you knew could help us be successful. He’s smart enough and he’s experienced enough to know his personal situation and how unique — and how rare it is — to get to the position that he’s in. He just wants to make it count.”
Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, who played with Morrow in Dallas, said he has a “lot of sandpaper” to his game.
Joe Vitale finds it surreal that his locker stall is next to Morrow’s, given that Vitale had a poster of Morrow, Modano and Brett Hull in his room in high school.
“The biggest thing is looking at him at the tough areas on the ice, like in the corners and in front of the net. He’s one of the grittiest players we have on this team,” Vitale said. “He gets whacked, and he’ll whack back. He’s just a very chippy, in-your-face, hard-nosed player, and that’s contagious for everyone on the bench and on this team.”
One shining moment
One of Morrow’s most memorable moments came at the expense of another Penguins teammate.
Murray was on the ice for the San Jose Sharks when Morrow broke a 69-minute standstill with a quadruple-overtime goal to help the Stars advance to the 2008 Western final.
Morrow calls it the biggest goal of his career. But it’s also the closest he has come to the Cup since his rookie season, which is starting to seem like a lifetime ago.
Yet Murray is impressed with how Morrow handles himself in the dressing room, whether it’s adding leadership or levity.
“He’s a presence, you can say that,” Murray said. “He can lighten the mood just as quickly as he can get the mood more focused, too.”
In a room where Morrow made a funny first impression by wandering in accidentally, he now has an opportunity to leave a lasting impact as the gritty veteran who was among the final pieces of a Stanley Cup championship team.
He also wonders about this: No matter the sacrifice, no matter the overtime heroics, does anyone remember you for coming close to winning the Cup?
“Hopefully I get the opportunity to answer that question,” Morrow said, “but I think you’d trade all those moments for a Stanley Cup, for sure.”