Brendan Morrison, reflecting on his upcoming participation in the Abbotsford Heat‘s Legends of Hockey series, can’t help but chuckle.
Morrison, as it happens, isn’t technically even retired. He played NHL hockey during the 2011-12 season, and after sitting out the lockout-marred 2012-13 campaign, he harboured hopes of landing a contract from the Calgary Flames as recently as last fall.
He’s now made his peace with calling it quits, though he hasn’t filed his retirement paperwork with the league yet.
All of which makes Friday’s Legends of Hockey event at the Heat’s home game vs. the Rockford IceHogs – featuring autograph signing and a pregame on-ice appearance by Morrison – a bit of an odd feeling for the longtime Vancouver Canuck.
“It’s one of those things where you scratch your head at first, and you’re like, ‘Am I that old already?'” the 38-year-old Pitt Meadows native said with a laugh. “But it’s very humbling to receive that phone call (from Heat president Ryan Walter), and very unexpected.”
Morrison suited up for 934 regular season NHL games on behalf of seven different teams, racking up 601 points along the way, but he’s best known for his seven-plus seasons with the Canucks. He famously centered the West Coast Express line, flanked by Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi, which was arguably the most dominant forward unit in hockey during its mid-2000s heyday.
“I think our line was successful because we each brought something unique,” he analyzed. “Markus was a pure goal-scorer, but he also was very underrated with his playmaking skills. Todd at that time, in my opinion and I’m sure a lot of people would agree, was the top power forward in the game. He was a dominating physical presence on the ice, but he was very rare in the sense he had fantastic hands for a big man.
“And I think I brought creativity and speed to the line, and reliability defensively, allowing my wingers to kind of do what they want offensively, knowing that I would play in our end a little bit and get them the puck.
“We were hard on each other at times. But that kind of pushed us to be the line we were.”
Morrison also spent a season and a half with the Flames, the Heat’s parent club, towards the tail end of his career, and he and his family now call Calgary home.
After failing to catch on with an NHL team last season after the lockout ended, he trained hard last summer with an eye on signing with Calgary. But the rebuilding Flames took a pass because they wanted to invest the ice time in younger players.
“Calgary was the one team I targeted to play with because I was done moving the family around,” he said. “I wasn’t overly disappointed when things didn’t work out. I was realistic enough to understand it was a slight chance, and it never happened. I’m in a good place. I have no regrets.
“I haven’t formally made a (retirement) announcement, but I can tell you informally that I’m done. After a few months went by, I just thought to myself that I didn’t know if I really needed to have a press conference. One, I don’t know how many people would care about it to be honest with you, and two, I think it’s appropriate for guys who have been with one organization for a long period of time or a Hall of Fame type of player.”
Morrison keeps plenty busy these days, between driving his four kids around and coaching their sports teams, his business interests, and co-hosting a cable TV show called SportFishing Adventures.
“Fishing is a huge passion of mine, so to be able to travel to different destinations is a lot of fun,” he said.
Morrison, given his Pitt Meadows roots and extensive tenure with the Canucks, said his team “will always be Vancouver.”
The Canucks have limped through a season which will almost certainly end without a playoff berth, and Morrison has been surprised to see them tumble from the ranks of the perennial contenders in the Western Conference.
“It’s tough to watch what’s happened here over the past year with the team – I wouldn’t have anticipated them to be in this situation,” he said.
“I know they had to deal with injuries this year, but at the end of the day, a lot of teams have to deal with injuries.
“When you do have injuries, you need other guys to have career years, and that hasn’t happened. The guys that are usually the staple of the team for years and years, like the Sedins – and Kes (Ryan Kesler) has had a decent year goal-scoring – but you look at Burrows as well, when those guys aren’t producing because of injuries, you need other guys to step up and fill that void, even though it’s a large void to fill. And that just hasn’t happened.”