Former Bruin Derek Morris Happy to Be Part of Cinderella Story in Phoenix


March 26, 2010

Former Bruin Derek Morris Happy to Be Part of Cinderella Story in Phoenix When Derek Morris showed up at the Bruins' training camp last September after signing a one-year deal with the team, his former squad, the Phoenix Coyotes, were making more news off the ice than on.

The NHL, former Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes and Research In Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie were mired in a vicious ownership battle, putting the team's home and its future in doubt. The ownership situation was somewhat resolved, as the league was rewarded temporary ownership until it could find a buyer.

But there was also turmoil within the dressing room and on the ice: The Coyotes had suffered through six seasons without reaching the playoffs, and when Morris was dealt away at the 2009 NHL trade deadline, the team morale was at an all-time low.

At this year's trade deadline, Morris ironically found himself headed back to the desert. Now the Coyotes are the NHL's Cinderella team, going from worst to first as they rode a nine-game win streak following the Olympic break and established themselves as a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.

For Morris, the atmosphere and the confidence around the team is like the difference between night and day from what he left at the 2009 deadline.

"It really is amazing how much better it is here," Morris said recently. "I mean, they always had a good group of kids here, but they've mixed in a great bunch of veterans and made some really good acquisitions at the deadline, bringing in [Lee] Stempniak, [Wojtek] Wolski, Mathieu Schneider. There's just  a great mix."

But as Morris pointed out, the change in the product on the ice started with the hiring of Dave Tippett and assistant Dave King, the latter of whom Morris calls "the defensive wizard" on account of his unique and successful defensive schemes.

"You know, it was hard leaving Boston because I was so blessed to work with a guy like [assistant coach] Craig Ramsey, and he is just one of the best defense coaches in the league," Morris said, "but I got one of equal caliber in Dave King.

"Kinger just lives and breathes the stuff, and it's amazing how he has this blue line in sync with so much calm. But that's the case throughout the lineup, too, because of Dave Tippett, who I always thought of as one of the best but most underrated coaches in hockey. This is just a great staff, with Ulfie [Ulf] Samuelsson, too, and just the whole system and culture in place now is so much better."

Another noticeable difference is the play and approach of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who has seemingly found his niche in Phoenix and is now a candidate for the Vezina Trophy. Bryzagalov — a career backup who had a significant run with the Ducks in the 2006 playoffs, when the Ducks reached the conference finals — is calmer and more confident.

"You know, Bryz has always been a carefree guy and a great guy to keep the dressing room light," Morris said. "Now, he's translating that onto the ice. He's positioned better to the puck, he doesn't give up many rebounds, making it easier on us D-men. He reminds me a lot of Tuukka Rask in Boston, who I think is a future star for them. Bryz is our backbone and we're lucky to have him playing this way."

So can this turnaround have a storybook ending — one in which the Coyotes hoist the Stanley Cup in the desert?

"Obviously, the West is so strong, but I really think this team is built for a good playoff run, so who knows?" Morris said. "I mean, there's just the right mix of skill, grit and leadership. Doaner [captain Shane Doan] is having an MVP season, in my eyes, and we've got some hungry kids that have the skill. Everyone believes now, and when you got that, anything can happen.

"I'm just happy to be part of this again."

Previous Article

Red Sox Acquire Veteran Reliever Scott Schoeneweis

Next Article

Terry Francona Ends Anticipation, Names Josh Beckett Ace of Rotation

Picked For You