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Morrison’s road to the NHL jumped off in Penticton

Former Vancouver Canucks player Brendan Morrison, known for playing on the West Coast Express line, spent a year with the Penticton Panthers

Looking back on his successful hockey career, Penticton holds a special place in Brendan Morrison’s heart.

“It does definitely. This is where I grew up. It was a springboard for my hockey career,” said Morrison, who played for the 92-93 Penticton Panthers junior A hockey team and is being inducted to the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame this weekend. “It also plays a huge part of my personal life. I met the woman that I married when I played for the Panthers, we have four kids now.”

At 17-years-old Morrison narrowed the next choice in his hockey career to either play with  the BCHL’s Powell River team or come to Penticton. Having connections to the area (his family vacationed here when he was a child) and an affinity for the hockey history Penticton has, Morrison choose the city sandwiched between two lakes instead of the one flanked by the ocean.

“A big part of that was the coach, Gary Davidson, and the setup they had here. I knew Penticton had a good track record of players moving on to get college scholarships and that was a goal of mine. I knew that it was going to be competitive and it was a great hockey town. Also, Pen High is well respected academically. It was the total package,” said Morrison.

In his solo season with the Panthers, Morrison won the BCHL rookie of the year award, racking up 94 points in 56 games — good for second on the team.

Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 1997, Morrison eventually found his place in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks near the end of the season in 2000. Admittedly an Edmonton Oilers fan when he was growing up, Morrison said it was an unbelievable experience playing for his home province’s team.

“My dad had company season tickets when I was a kid, so I would get to a few games a year and I remember just being in almost a trance watching these players and wanting to emulate them,” he said. “I remember being very nervous. You never want to embarrass yourself, but even moreso when you are playing in front of family and friends every night.”

It was there he centred what is considered one of the most successful lines in NHL history — The West Coast Express. With Canucks captain Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi at his side in the 2002-2003 campaign, the trio accounted for 45 per cent of the team’s production in a season where the Canucks franchise set a record for points.

“We had instant chemistry. We didn’t even practice together before our first game as a unit. We had lost a couple games in a row and I came in one morning and coach Marc Crawford had shuffled the lines. Our line scored three goals against Detroit that night. I knew I was being given an opportunity and I knew I had to make something of it.”

Morrison said the trio pushed each other to be the difference makers every game.

“We played an exciting brand of hockey,” he said. “That is what I get a lot of satisfaction out of, how people really appreciated how we played and how entertaining we were. People loved watching us because we were fun to watch.”

Penticton then played a role in his comeback after a series of injuries and bouncing around three other NHL clubs. Looking to ma ke the Canucks squad in 2010 he was invited to a training camp held at the South Okanagan Events Centre. Morrison wasn’t offered a contract, but was picked up by the Calgary Flames where he played for two years and was a veteran presence in their lineup. He ended his career wearing a Chicago Blackhawks jersey.

Morrison, an avid fisherman and co-host of Sportfishing Adventures, said for him the big one that got away is not going deeper into the playoffs with the Canucks.

“That would be it for sure. I look back and we had a very good team and for whatever reason we weren’t able to put it together in the playoffs. Ultimately that is what you are judged on,” said Morrison. “The year we lost to Calgary and series we lost to Minnesota after being up 3-1 still haunts me.”

After playing junior A with the Panthers, Morrison was a Hobey Baker award winner suiting up for the NCAA Michigan Wolverines under legendary coach Red Berenson. By the end of his NHL career Morrison played 934 games, scored 200 goals and amassed 601 points. He represented Canada at three world championships, winning gold in 2004.

Having skated on countless rinks in his life, it is the old barn he played in with the Penticton Panthers that holds so many memories.

“I try and get out to the hockey school to see some of the kids when I am here. I also like to pop in to Memorial Arena and take a stroll, I guess down memory lane so to speak. The tunnel where we would always walk out to the arena is somewhere I like to go. Sometimes I like to come and sit down there and take it all in.”

The B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony takes place on July 22 at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

Other inductees for this year are former NHL’er Murray Baron, the 1998-99 RBC Cup champion Vernon Vipers, former NHL trainer and member of the 2010 Olympic gold medal team Pat O’Neil, former NHL’er and Merritt Centennials owner Brian Barrett and former NHL’er and BCHL commissioner John Grisdale.