The 2020-21 season is Josh Morrissey’s to use, or lose. Despite only being one week into training camp, the Winnipeg Jets’ fifth-year blueliner is already well on his way to a strong start. In meeting with reporters via Zoom this past week, the well-spoken 25-year-old made sure to say all the right things in his extended media availability.
Speaking for the better part of 25 minutes, the Jets’ now official No. 1 rearguard touched on everything from Winnipeg’s new offseason additions and its current defence pairs, to the recent World Junior Hockey Championship, to the COVID-19 pandemic. But most importantly, Morrissey spoke of his various preparations for the coming season.
“We just feel super fortunate that the government has allowed us to play here in Winnipeg,” Morrissey said. “To say it’s been a tough year has been the understatement of my lifetime, Collectively, we’re all in this together and it’s been a challenge for everyone. When I heard originally that we were going to be able to play in Canada, that we weren’t going to have to relocate down to the U.S., I was really excited about that. I just felt that staying in Canada and with the hope of playing in Winnipeg and in our home cities, it brings optimism to our communities. We have a lot of pride to be able to play out of our home arena, and hope we can provide some excitement in what has been such a challenging year.”
For Morrissey, 2020-21 is expected to be a season in which the now not-so-young defender seriously solidifies his role as the Jets’ top defenceman.
“I’m just trying to go to another level, both physically and mentally,” he said. “I really worked hard this offseason to try and become more powerful, increase my strength and my fitness level and sort of go from where I was in the early parts of my career to another level as an athlete. I feel really refreshed coming into the year and really excited, I feel motivated and I feel like I’ve gone to another level maturity-wise, in terms of the athletic maturity and even in practice, I feel like my threshold of where I can work and how hard I can work, I’m trying to push that every day and I feel really excited about that.”
And according to his coach, it has become apparent that Morrissey has indeed found another gear, even just a week into camp.
“You can see it here in his first five days of camp, he’s been right on the details of defending first and that’s what really drives his play,” coach Paul Maurice said. “There’s a bunch of drills that we do that players will line themselves up against each other. Blake (Wheeler), since he’s been here, will always try to find the toughest opponent. He’ll try to go against the guy that he thinks will give him the biggest challenge, and now Josh is looking for Blake because he knows Blake is probably our most powerful skater up front, he and Mark Scheifele.”
“Josh is lining himself up so he can go against those two guys. It makes complete sense,” Maurice continued. “We’re gonna play Josh a lot of nights against the other team’s best, so that’s how he has to train. That goes to the mindset of the young man and that’s why he is going to continue to grow and get better. He’s doing it, he’s pushing himself hard. He’s going harder at Blake, possibly, than anybody else. Some of that is just, those two guys being really good players, that’s what Blake wants. He’s not looking to take the practice off. He wants the best guys to be going at him as hard as he can. It’s the only chance he has of getting better. The two of them seem to be lined up with each other quite a bit.”
According to Morrissey, this observation by his coach is true, and it’s not something that’s happening by accident.
“We have the luxury as defensemen to play against some of the best forwards in the world every day in practice. So if you push yourself against them, you’re only going to get better,” Morrissey reflected. “I think the way you get there is obviously by improving your fitness, improving your strength, and mentally having that compete level and pushing yourself to a new level that you maybe didn’t think you had. That’s really been my goal. I always respected those guys immensely but I want to go against them in practice and push them.”
Putting his practice mentality into perspective, the Jets’ alternate captain Morrissey touched on his reasoning behind going hard in practice and taking no days off.
“Blake and I had a few conversations in the summer where he’s a right winger and I’m a left D and we try to line up against one another in practice almost every drill,” Morrissey said, echoing coach Maurice’s statements. “If I’m not playing super hard on him defensively, or that he’s my friend so I don’t want to be too aggressive, well, I’m not making him any better. Because the next night when he plays Ryan Suter or somebody on the left D that’s going to play him tough, he needs that preparation.”
Going against Blake Wheeler in practice is one thing, but putting up his best effort on a nightly basis in the uber-talented North Division will most certainly be a whole other experience for Winnipeg’s anchor Morrissey.
“I’m really excited to go against some elite players,” he said. “And I think all the great players in our league have that mindset where they want to compete against the best. I’ve enjoyed that in the past but I’m really excited this year to have the chance to play against the best guys. In the Canadian division, there’s some of the most elite offensive players in the world. I think the stage of the Canadian division will be a real spectacle. It’s going to be a real opportunity to compete against the best guys and show your stuff off and, our team as well, to be able to go to another level too. I’m really excited to get playing.”