MONTREAL – Brenden Morrow didn’t get any sleep the night before Canada selected its men’s Olympic hockey team.
But it was all worth it when Team Canada assistant general manager Doug Armstrong called him with the good news an hour before the televised announcement Dec. 30 in Saskatoon.
“I was at the practice rink with my phone,” the Dallas Stars captain recalled on Thursday. “I gave it to the strength coach because we were doing a little workout before the morning skate and I didn’t want to miss the call.
“So he was walking around with my cellphone in his pocket. I got the call about a half hour before we went on the ice.”
Morrow, who turns 31 on Saturday, was one of the surprise picks made by executive director Steve Yzerman and his staff for the team that will battle for gold at the 2010 Winter Games next month in Vancouver.
Like Boston Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron or 20-year-old defenceman Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, few of the pundits had Morrow on the radar while making predictions on who would be picked for the squad.
But Morrow is no stranger to the national team, having played in the 2004 World Cup and four world championships. Like his Dallas teammate Brad Richards, he may have dropped out of the public consciousness while battling injuries in recent seasons. But the Team Canada brass, especially former Stars GM Armstrong, were well aware of what he can bring to a team.
The Carlyle, Sask. native is the first to tell you he isn’t the type to make fancy plays or score dazzling goals. Instead, the team selectors cited his leadership qualities, and how hard he plays along the boards and in front of the net.
“I get rewarded for my effort,” the five-foot-11 205-pound left-winger said. “I’m not going to do any end-to-end rushes or make any highlight reels.
“I feel confident I can put the puck in the net, but it’s a reward for the role playing, forechecking, battling hard in front of the nets and looking for rebounds.”
Now it’s assumed by many that he will be a fourth-line checking forward at the Games, although Morrow has demonstrated in the past he can be an offensive force as well. He had career highs of 32 goals and 74 points only two seasons ago before missing all but 18 games in 2008-09 with injuries.
He said Yzerman called him on Wednesday for a chat, but not with specifics on how he will be used in Vancouver.
“I don’t think anything’s set in stone,” Morrow said. “It’ll be up to (coach) Mike Babcock to set the line combinations.
“But I don’t see anyone having a problem checking their egos and taking any role that’s given them.”
His Dallas teammates say Morrow can help Canada in many ways.
“He can score goals, he can play with grit, finish his checks, fight, play well defensively,” said Stars defenceman Stephane Robidas. “When you’re trying to build a team for the short term like that you need all-around players like him and I think that’s one reason they picked him.
“He’s our captain. He leads by example. He’s not the most vocal guy, but the way he plays and handles himself shows a lot.”
Richards was left off Team Canada despite a remarkable comeback that has him back in the top 10 in NHL scoring for the first time since 2005-06. So was Robidas, although he was looked at closely. The veteran rearguard leads the team with 24:24 of ice time per game and has already reached career highs for goals and points this season.
Both may yet be considered if injuries take out any skaters on the 23-man Olympic roster.
“I was hoping,” said the 32-year-old Robidas. “I didn’t really know if I had a chance.
“I knew there were a lot of quality Canadian defencemen. I can’t really argue with their picks. There are a lot of good defencemen that didn’t get picked. It would have been nice to be part of that team, but I totally understand.”
Morrow felt the same way, only he got the call he wanted.
“I would have been disappointed had I not made it, but you could probably put in 10 guys who do the same thing I do and who were capable of making the team,” he said. “The skill level of Canadian hockey hasn’t gone away anywhere.
“We’re pumping out good players pretty consistently. There were a handful of guys who felt certain they’d make it and then there were bubble guys. I felt I was a bubble guy, so I was pretty thrilled to get that phone call.”
Other Stars going to the Olympics are forwards Loui Eriksson for Sweden and Jere Lehtinen for Finland, and defenceman Karlis Skrastins for Latvia.
It will be Lehtinen’s fifth Olympics, one short of the record held by fellow Finn Raimo Helminen, whose string of six ended with the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. Four others have played hockey at five Winter Games – Dieter Hegen and Udo Kiessling of Germany, Petter Thoresen of Norway and Denis Perez of France.