Hit the books, then the ice: The 'Josh Effect' made Jets' Morrissey a star pupil prior to his NHL days

For Josh Morrissey, what goes on between the ears has always been as important as what goes on between the boards.
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It used to be that Geraldine Arpin only found herself working with the Prince Albert Raiders’ high-school contingent once a week. On Monday nights, generally an off-day in the major junior circuit, Arpin, like her fellow education advisors throughout the WHL, would hold study hall with the young big-league hopefuls who remained students by day.

But that was before Josh Morrissey came along, before he approached Arpin asking why it was the retired teacher only came around once each week, why she and the team couldn’t meet more often, why there weren’t more study-hall sessions for Morrissey and his fellow teammates. “So that’s where it started where I increased the number,” Arpin said. “It was always because Josh showed that leadership.”

Looking back, Arpin explained, it was Morrissey’s request that sparked what she warmly called the “Josh Effect.” That season, there were more study sessions, and it wasn’t just Morrissey, who was named the WHL and CHL scholastic player of the year in 2012-13, who showed up. His teammates were right behind him. And the dedication to education Morrissey displayed during his time with the Raiders trickled down.

The next wave of players in Prince Albert, adhering to the example set by the outgoing players, followed suit. And that next wave influenced the next, and it hasn’t stopped. “He set that example that it was a good thing to do, to ask, and all the others just followed the line,” Arpin said. “And then every year, that ‘Josh Effect’ moves forward.”

Morrissey’s willingness to buckle down on his studies and truly commit to his education began long before he arrived in Prince Albert, however. The importance of that had been stressed by his parents: school was always given top priority in the Morrissey household. So, while the Alberta-born blueliner has his share of tales of late nights spent on the outdoor rink, know that the preface to those storybook beginnings is one of Morrissey with pad and pen putting the finishing touches on a night’s homework.

As it turns out, the attitude Morrissey adopted towards his schooling might be the very thing that’s helped him develop into one of the NHL’s most underrated D-men. “I’ve definitely been pretty analytical in trying to be a student of the game,” Morrissey said. “It’s really a lot of the same principles, I guess. Just like your teachers, you’re using your coaches to try to basically learn from them. And then obviously, with video, I’m watching it all the time to try to improve.”

Case in point: his time spent on the sidelines last season. Shelved for six weeks with a shoulder injury, Morrissey knew he couldn’t continue to hone his game on ice, so he hunkered down with game tape. Instead of taking a break from the game, he took in even more hockey than he would have had he been playing.

In a throwback to his days with the Raiders, Morrissey used his unexpected off-nights to study. Not only did he watch himself and go back through his own footage, he turned an eye to the rest of the league, studying his peers the way he used to study favorites Scott Niedermayer and Nick Lidstrom. “I (tried) to watch some guys that play similar to me – not that you can’t learn from guys that are different than you are,” Morrissey said. “But it’s easier for it to be applicable to other, smaller ‘D.’ Guys like Erik Karlsson or Duncan Keith and different players around the league. See what they do in certain situations, maybe on the power play or things like that.”

And the Jets should be thankful for what Morrissey learned, because he’s had to put it to good use this season. Morrissey, 24, was already on his way to becoming a top-pairing, minute-munching defender in Winnipeg, but he was thrust into the brightest part of the spotlight sooner than expected. Without Dustin Byfuglien for the foreseeable future and in the absence of three regulars – Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot, who departed in the off-season – Morrissey has become the Jets’ undisputed No. 1.

In that role, it’s become clear the work he put in on and off the ice has paid dividends. His early-season offensive pace put him in line for the best output of his career, his average ice time is higher than ever, and his role as the anchor of the defense corps has been solidified. But Morrissey isn’t ready to put down the proverbial books quite yet. “You can always get better at an individual thing,” he said. “If you can do something 95 times out of 100, maybe next time you can do it 96 or 97.”

That’s a pursuit of perfection with which those in Prince Albert are awfully familiar, and for the Jets’ sake, they should hope the “Josh Effect” takes root in their home on the prairies.

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