Josh Morrissey spent the 2021 NHL season understanding every sport he performed could be the final one his dad ever noticed.

When the final sport got here — Winnipeg’s 3-2 loss to Montreal, finishing a jarring Canadiens sweep — Morrissey was alone in his information of what it meant.

When the handshakes had been over and Morrissey returned to his Bell Centre stall, he couldn’t deliver himself to vary out of his gear. One by one, his teammates took off their jerseys and tools to prepare for the flight dwelling.

But Morrissey didn’t transfer.

He slumped in his stall, tools nonetheless on lengthy after the ultimate buzzer.

Morrissey had shared the information of his dad Tom’s mind most cancers with as small a social assist community as doable. Jets management knew. The males with letters knew. But most of Morrissey’s teammates didn’t.

His dad’s prognosis had are available August 2020, shortly after Winnipeg misplaced to Calgary within the Edmonton bubble. Chemotherapy started that fall. By the time Morrissey joined the Jets at camp to begin the 2021 season, he and his dad each understood that it was prone to be the final one Tom would get to see.

“He didn’t miss one game, one shift that entire year,” says Morrissey. “We’d call after every game. Then text. As texting became harder, the nurses would help him out, or friends, or my brother (Jacob), to the point where, in the Montreal series, he was literally standing a foot away from the TV trying to see what was going on and he was still making insightful comments about the play.”

Morrissey performed a superb sequence in opposition to Edmonton, partnering with Dylan DeMelo and enjoying large minutes in opposition to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The Jets had been written off by many observers; they shocked the Oilers with a four-game sweep. Tom bought to look at his son play hockey on TV for a short time longer.

Morrissey was emboldened heading into Winnipeg’s second-round sequence.

“I knew how much excitement and joy it was bringing him,” he says. “I felt like I was playing, so much, for him.”

Winnipeg’s second-round loss to Montreal was a shocking disappointment. DeMelo was injured on his first shift of the sequence, Mark Scheifele was suspended for his hit on Jake Evans and Montreal steamrolled the Jets. When Tyler Toffoli gained Game 4 in extra time, finishing the sweep, Morrissey was overwhelmed by his feelings.

“Sometimes, you don’t realize how much something’s weighing on you,” Morrissey says. “I’m not a big crier most of the time but it just all came out. I couldn’t really stop it. It was just so, so much. I think it was the weight of the entire year. Ever since he was diagnosed, not once did I have the option — in my mind — to not be strong for him. That was the first time that it all came out.”

Blake Wheeler was certainly one of a really small quantity of people that understood the complete extent of Morrissey’s ache.

The 6-foot-5 Jets captain, well-known for his curmudgeonly affectation with the media, acknowledged his teammate’s misery. He approached Morrissey at his stall.

“He’s a big guy — he’s a lot bigger than me — and he just grabbed me. It’s emotional for me even talking about it right now. I’ll never forget it. He just gave me a big hug. I was almost squirming away and he just swallowed me up with his hug and just stayed there with me for a few minutes,” says Morrissey. “I’ll never forget Wheels giving me that hug and saying, ‘He’ll be so proud of you.’”

The 9 years between Morrissey, 27, and Wheeler, 36, permits Morrissey to look as much as his captain as a lot as a mentor as a great pal.

He says Wheeler would do something for his teammates, together with giving him a hug that nobody else would have identified he wanted.

He additionally says Wheeler would hate to have this story instructed.

“I haven’t talked about this once, actually,” says Morrissey. “I haven’t told this story. It’s emotional for me. Just what it meant for Wheeler as a friend and as a captain. It meant the world to me.”

The hug ended. Wheeler returned to his stall whereas Morrissey stayed frozen in his.

More time handed. Eventually, everybody cleared out of the Jets dressing room. That’s when Morrissey dug out his telephone and went again to his stall, nonetheless sporting all of his tools, nonetheless eager about his dad.

“I wouldn’t take my gear off,” Morrissey says. “I felt bad for the trainers but it just felt like as soon as I took my gear off, the game was officially over. So I called him.”

Morrissey was the final one left within the guests dressing room when Tom answered his postgame telephone name.

As all the time, Morrissey talked to his dad about that night time’s sport. Then father and son talked concerning the journey — the entire journey — to the NHL.

“I just told him, ‘Thank you so much for everything. I’m sorry we couldn’t go further and play more games for you.’ And as always, he just was so complimentary of me. We talked about how we’d made it to the NHL … How we achieved that. It’s emotional to think about but I’m so glad that I had that moment with him on the phone.”

As the second continued, Morrissey walked down the tunnel in his skates and regarded out over the Bell Centre ice. He’d gone from his basement to the storage, from outside ice to the largest stage on the planet, and he wished to thank his dad yet one more time for the dream that got here true.

“Other than maybe the diagnosis and certainly his eventual passing, it was probably the most difficult moment that I experienced during the entire time. Certainly emotional. At the same time, it was beautiful in a way. We had dreamed of it. I dreamed of playing in the NHL and he had that dream for me. I know that he’s looking down and watching me still today and watching all our games and cheering us on.”

His dad had been with him on the ice from his first skate, pushing a chair round outside Calgary ice, and continued to offer him recommendation all through his NHL profession.

Morrissey began because the boy capturing foam Calgary Hitmen pucks in his household’s unfinished basement along with his dad and his little brother Jake. He was a religious Flames fan, idolizing Jarome Iginla, and was capable of attend a couple of Flames morning skates via a neighbourhood connection. The first tears Morrissey shed for playoff hockey had been when Tampa Bay beat Calgary in Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final; he nonetheless believes Martin Gelinas’ disallowed objective in Game 6 ought to have counted.

Josh and Jake quickly swapped foam pucks for arduous rubber. Tom put in wooden planking behind the basement internet to guard the partitions however not earlier than Josh’s ever-improving shot put holes within the vapour barrier and deposited a couple of pucks within the insulation.

“I’m sure whoever owns that house now … if they did develop the basement, there’s definitely some hockey pucks in the walls down there,” Morrissey says.

The boys then graduated to the storage, making their dad and mom park outdoors, and Josh’s shot bought higher nonetheless. He left younger Jake with “more bruises than he needed,” firing away at his little brother till the budding younger goaltender had sufficient.

Both Morrissey boys had been devoted athletes, similar to their father. Tom had captained groups in a number of sports activities in his youth, coached a AAAA highschool basketball staff to an Alberta provincial championship and began a hockey camp for defencemen known as “D-Rules” in 2005.

His sons put hockey on the coronary heart of their desires.


All photographs courtesy of Josh Morrissey

Josh Morrissey was drafted by Prince Albert of the WHL and made his Raiders debut at 16. He performed for Canada’s under-18 staff twice, was named to the under-20 World Junior Championship All-Star staff in 2015 and gained the WHL championship after a commerce to Kelowna — the place Jake performed 11 video games in objective. Morrissey calls enjoying along with his brother “one of my great hockey memories” however acknowledges that stopping to understand every second because it occurred didn’t come naturally to him as a teen.

The skilled milestones — and accolades — got here rapidly after that. Drafted by Winnipeg in 2013, Morrissey turned a Jets common by 21 and was a star at 22. At 23, he performed prime minutes with Jacob Trouba all through the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs — nonetheless the high-water mark for the franchise.

Then got here the primary moments of bother.

A collision with Vinnie Hinostroza the night time earlier than the 2019 commerce deadline ended Morrissey’s season. He watched the ultimate 23 video games of that 12 months as Winnipeg struggled terribly down the stretch, stumbling into the playoffs for a first-round assembly with St. Louis. That sequence led to six video games and was quickly adopted by an entire overhaul of the Jets defence. Dustin Byfuglien took a everlasting go away of absence whereas Trouba was traded and different veterans left via free company.

Morrissey signed an eight-year, $50 million contract extension and was awarded an “A” on his jersey to begin the 2019-20 season. The dramatic improve in accountability, coupled with a decimated defence corps, led to the primary disappointing season of Morrissey’s profession.

“That year in particular was just so much more on my plate,” says Morrissey. “It wasn’t a gradual change.”

The Jets weren’t in a playoff spot when COVID-19 stopped the season. Winnipeg’s high quality of play had dropped precipitously from the earlier season and Morrissey was part of that. His innate sense of perfectionism turned a harmful, double-edged sword.

“I’m very self-critical of my own game,” Morrissey says. “Whatever could be said about me or written about me, I’m 10 times more critical. Lots of those traits have been very positive helping me grow my career, to work hard and push myself to get better. At the same time, they can also be things that are detrimental if you let them get to be too much or if you worry about the little things too much.”

The pandemic-induced pause gave Morrissey a relaxation, whereas the NHL’s return to play gave him a renewed sense of optimism. Despite the staff’s uneven common season, the Jets would face the Flames within the playoff qualification spherical. But not every thing within the Edmonton bubble went as deliberate.

And when the 2020 season ended, Morrissey can be compelled to neglect concerning the “little things” altogether.

Winnipeg’s qualification spherical was an immediate letdown.

Scheifele was injured in Game 1 and Calgary’s heavy forwards proved to be an excessive amount of for the Jets to deal with via the remainder of the sequence. Nearly a 12 months had passed by since Morrissey’s new contract, Byfuglien’s departure and the strain that got here with sporting an “A” on a depleted defence corps. Winnipeg’s postseason desires led to 4 video games.

“I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason,” Morrissey says. “Obviously that was a disappointing series but I think it was maybe 10 days later that I found out.”

The Jets had been eradicated on Aug. 6. The center of August would usually mark Morrissey’s return to Winnipeg for Jets camp. Instead, he was heading to the lake for a brief trip when he realized his dad had most cancers.

“What would I have done if I was in the bubble?” Morrissey requested himself. “What decision would that have presented? I know my dad would have wanted me to keep playing but I just couldn’t imagine what that would have been like.”

Morrissey was capable of change his schedule to be dwelling in Calgary via the whole fall. If the 2020-21 NHL season hadn’t been delayed till January, he would have been in Winnipeg as an alternative of spending high quality time along with his dad.

“Looking for silver linings has certainly been tough to do during this pandemic but the change in schedule allowed me to be home for the fall and, quite frankly, through the best quality of life that he had in that last year as things progressed — in the wrong direction, unfortunately. I really had to step up and do a lot of things for him. We all did, as a family, and some really amazing close friends as well. But if I was (playing) in the season, I wouldn’t have been able to be there,” he says.

Family sickness is tough underneath any circumstances, not to mention when hospitals are limiting guests to at least one or generally none to keep away from a possible outbreak. In the autumn of 2020, COVID-19 testing was not as broadly out there as it’s now, nor had been there vaccines.

“The biggest concern on my end was I didn’t want to give it to him as he was recovering or going through the chemo and radiation,” says Morrissey.

The Morrisseys restricted their interplay, retaining visitations as managed as doable. To make sure that Josh’s potential publicity to COVID-19 was at an absolute minimal, he modified his whole exercise regime. As associates and teammates had been making ready for the 2021 season in teams, Morrissey labored out at dwelling and skated on a small sheet of ice at his good pal’s barn simply outdoors of Calgary.

“It was a cool setup but it was about the size of maybe half a zone — whether the offensive zone or D-zone, whichever way you want to look at it,” Morrissey says. “That was the best I could do. I knew a bunch of guys who were having more normal skates but putting yourself at a little more risk of getting COVID and I wanted to be able to see my dad. I needed to be able to see him to do certain things that he couldn’t do or help him out.”

One day that fall, when Tom was feeling his finest, Josh and Jake bought him to return out to the barn the place Josh was coaching. Tom bought his skates on and picked up a stick — he shot left like Josh does — and the three males performed hockey. Hours glided by as they handed, skated and shot pucks for the love of it and nothing extra, similar to that they had performed within the basement and the storage when Josh and Jake had been boys.

It is a treasured reminiscence.

“I didn’t know at the time but that was the last time we were on the ice together. Having that opportunity to have some of those moments, take some videos and photos, that stuff will last forever.”

Video courtesy of Josh Morrissey

Morrissey had all the time seen his dad because the sturdy one.

As an individual who by no means wanted assist or assist.

As a father who would “go to the ends of the world” for his sons.

It was tough to see his dad as the one that wanted care.

“I think that was hard, maybe as hard as anything — seeing a parent or loved one be vulnerable and knowing that you need to step up,” Morrissey says. “But at the same time, I think that’s something you do for them because they’ve always been there for you.”

Fall 2020 meant processing that new actuality. The 2021 season meant leaving it behind.

“Leaving for the season was a very surreal moment,” Morrissey says. “I think we both knew that, probably, things weren’t going to go well in the next number of months.”

With Morrissey away at Jets camp, household and shut associates took on a fair larger share of the load.

“I would be remiss without mentioning a few people,” Morrissey says. “My brother, the Bean family — we wouldn’t have been able to manage without Dave and Liz and their family — I still don’t have words to describe their support for us … And my mom (Bev Jarvis) stepped up as well.”

Morrissey’s dad and mom divorced when he was 11 or 12, he says, however his mother’s assist from Tom was unflagging.

When the Jets visited Calgary, father and son had been capable of see one another — outside, because of Tom’s immunocompromised state. They maintained their postgame ritual, speaking in telephone calls and texts, as Morrissey struggled on and off the ice. The Jets certified for the playoffs however completed the common season having misplaced 10 of 15 video games.

As he ready for the playoffs, Morrissey was struck by his dad’s positivity.

Tom was a lifelong educator, incomes his Master of Education diploma from Gonzaga University. He had many passions however teaching was his calling and fatherhood was his pleasure.

So he put his son’s well-being first.

Whenever they spoke, Tom skimmed previous the worst particulars from his medical doctors, utilizing all of his power to maintain Josh in good spirits.

“I couldn’t have been more grateful to him for the way he approached it,” Morrissey says. “Even at a time that he needed help, he was still trying to help me with my career and with my life. It makes me want to do that someday as a father down the line.”

It is that this deep sense of gratitude with which Morrissey approached his last postgame name with Dad from deep inside Montreal’s Bell Centre.

“Thank you,” he made positive to say. “We achieved our NHL dream.”

Tom Morrissey died two months after that decision, on Aug. 8, 2021, sooner or later earlier than his seventieth birthday. He continued to impart knowledge to his son all through these summer season months.

“One of the things that my dad said to me throughout the summer and in one of our last conversations was to not let it affect me forever,” Morrissey says. “Go into the season, do your thing, play your game, have fun and enjoy your life. That advice to me was so meaningful and the level of support from the hockey community, my family, my friends, it was just so impactful.”

Morrissey has improved his sport by leaps and bounds this season.

He arrived at camp trying like a quicker, stronger, rejuvenated participant and carried that momentum into the season. He has set profession highs in objectives and factors, attacking with confidence and controlling the circulation of play like a top-pairing defenceman in his prime.

He credit his dad for the transformation. Tom taught Josh that if he put the work in, he would really feel a way of validation. That this sense of validation would turn into confidence.

So Morrissey revamped his coaching routine heading into the present season.

“Knowing what my strengths are, my game has to be built around quickness and speed,” he says. “I changed trainers last offseason and ended up going more to a speed program with a lot of power and explosiveness and I absolutely loved it.”

Morrissey’s energy and explosiveness have been evident from Day 1 of coaching camp however his offseason coaching tells simply a part of the story.

His dad’s last message of empowerment — to get pleasure from each second, to play his sport — has helped him be at liberty.

“It almost felt like once I went through enough time grieving, I did feel a sense of freedom that I could move on into this season and this next stage of my life,” Morrissey says. “I knew that’s what my dad wanted me to do. It felt, coming back to the year, like I was not carrying around this extra weight that I had been. I think going through that process of having to step up and take on a lot more than I had ever before and a lot more serious, heartfelt things, it definitely, I think, helped grow me as a person.”

Morrissey says he approaches his day-to-day life with a larger sense of gratitude now than he did prior to now. He thinks of positivity within the face of powerful instances as some of the vital classes he realized from his dad. He says dangerous days don’t get him down as a lot as they did. Turnovers or missed checks now not really feel like the tip of the world.

He is studying to not put a lot strain on himself. He is studying to understand each second and to like the sport of hockey the identical approach he did as a child.

And he’s, above all else, grateful for his dad’s braveness and the attitude it created.

(Photo: Jonathan Kozub / NHLI by way of Getty Images)

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