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Sports Saturday

Notre Dame product Cam Morrison brings uncanny clutch gene to Blackhawks

Morrison, a power forward who signed with the Hawks in August, scored huge goals in huge games for the Irish.

Cam Morrison was an impact forward for four seasons at Notre Dame.
Mike Miller/Fighting Irish Media

For four straight seasons, whenever Notre Dame needed a big goal in a big moment, they turned to Cam Morrison.

Now, Morrison will bring that clutch gene to the Blackhawks, with which he signed his first NHL contract in August.

“It’s obviously a dream,” Morrison said this week. “As a kid growing up in Canada, to sign that first NHL contract means a lot. The hard work starts now, but it was a great accomplishment.”

The 6-foot-3, 214-pound wing perfectly fits the prototype of a power forward with his size, net drive and ability to win puck battles, but he also adds good vision and passing to the mix.

He translated those skills into four years of consistency with the Fighting Irish, scoring between 21 and 27 points (in 32 to 40 games) every season.

And after the Avalanche’s NHL rights to Morrison — rights they secured by using a valuable second-round draft pick, No. 40 overall, on him in 2016 — expired on Aug. 15, those skills prompted Hawks general manager Stan Bowman to reach out.

“He’s probably stylistically different than a lot of wingers we have, certainly with his profile of being a bigger kid,” Bowman said. “Not only is he willing to go to the net, he prefers to be at the net.”

Hawks depth defenseman Dennis Gilbert overlapped with Morrison for two seasons at Notre Dame, so Bowman had preexisting familiarity with Morrison from scouting trips. The interest proved to be mutual.

“It was [about] where I see myself in a couple years, as well as opportunity,” Morrison said. “Chicago has everything in place for me to be successful. [Based on] the few conversations I’ve had with staff as well as coaches, I thought it was a great fit for me.”

At 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, Morrison fits the mold of a prototypical power forward.
Mike Miller/Fighting Irish Media

But arguably Morrison’s most unique skill — or at least the one that made him a hero in college — is not quantifiable.

Take it from Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson: “One of the things that stuck out for me was that he probably, in the last four years, scored some of the biggest goals that we’ve had here.”

In his 2017 freshman season, Morrison scored twice — including the tying goal with 5:17 left — as Notre Dame beat UMass-Lowell in overtime to advance to the NCAA Frozen Four, coincidentally at the United Center.

In 2018, Morrison scored 9:23 into overtime to win the Big Ten Championship game over Ohio State. Three weeks later, in the Frozen Four semifinals, Morrison set up Jake Evans (now of the Canadiens) with six seconds left in the third period to beat Michigan.

In 2019, Morrison scored the game-winning goal late in the second period to top Michigan in the Big Ten Championship, earning back-to-back conference titles for Notre Dame. The next game, Morrison scored in overtime to eliminate Clarkson in the NCAA Regional first round.

“It’s just a matter of not letting the moment get to you and just staying calm,” Morrison said. “Coach Jackson really portrayed that within our team. Some of the overtime goals and big third-period goals, that just shows the poise I have.”

“Not every player has that ability to elevate in those key moments,” Jackson said. “Whatever characteristic that is, I’ve not had many players that have found a way to play their best hockey at the biggest moments. [But] he’s one of those guys that can do that.”

Morrison’s ability to perform under pressure will be tested in a different way moving forward.

He comes to the Hawks as a solid, but not exactly blue-chip, prospect. And at 22 years old already, his window to avoid becoming a career minor-leaguer is relatively small. Even Jackson was honest about that when assessing his former player.

“In order to become more than a role guy, he’s going to need to use that body and that reach more effectively on a consistent basis,” the coach said. “He did that here at times, but the physical element to his game [needs] a little bit of a nasty streak at times to create more space for himself and be able to get into those dirty areas and compete for that ice.”

Morrison will also need to improve his quickness and skating, which can often be the biggest leap from college to pro hockey. He’s spent the summer training in that regard, but so has his competition.

He’ll likely start next season in the AHL — assuming the AHL season happens — dueling with the likes of MacKenzie Entwistle and John Quenneville to be the Hawks’ preferred power forward call-up.

Fortunately for Morrison, though, Bowman sounds optimistic and willing to be patient about his progression as he begins his two-year entry-level contract.

“When we were talking to him last [month], explaining his path to the NHL, we’re not sure how quickly it’ll be,” Bowman said. “It could be quick. He’s like everyone else. If he’s ready, then great. If he needs time to develop, we’ll put resources into making him better.”

Notes:

  • The NHL buyout window opened Friday and will last through Oct. 8, the day between the NHL draft (Oct. 6-7) and the start of free agency (Oct. 9). The Senators opened the party by buying out Bobby Ryan, and the Hawks may soon join it by buying out one or both of Zack Smith and Olli Maatta.
  • The Hawks can began training again at Fifth-Third Arena starting Oct. 15, per an NHL announcement this week, but with no coaches present and groups of no more than 12 players on the ice at a time.