With better luck, Samuel Morin could have been an adored player for many seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers.
He was a paradox. A big man (6-foot-6, 230 pounds) who was ferocious on the ice, and a gentle giant off it. He was a skilled fighter who took pleasure in clearing bodies from in front of the net, but a gregarious, happy-go-lucky person who was always joking with teammates and reporters.
Injuries, however, took their toll. After playing in just 29 NHL games since being drafted nearly nine years ago, Morin was forced him to end his career at age 26.
“He won’t be able to return to play, unfortunately,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said on Tuesday.
Three knee surgeries on his battered right knee caused him to call it quits.
Don’t feel sorry for him, Morin said.
“It was really hard in the beginning,” he said of the realization that his career was over. “But I’m not someone who is going to let himself get down. Stuff happens. What I’ll miss the most is my teammates and having each others’ backs. Our locker room was so great, so many good guys.”
Morin said he has known for several months that he wouldn’t play again.
“This is best for me, long-term,” he said in a phone conversation from Quebec City, where he recently purchased a house and lives 20 minutes from his parents. “Hockey is my life and I’m excited for the next step.”
May stay with Flyers
Fletcher has had discussions with Morin about a job in the organization.
“Just wanted to give him some time; it’s been a long road for him,” Fletcher said. “It’s very emotional when you see your career slipping away because of things you can’t control.”
Morin said he has received lots of support from family, friends, and teammates. He said Fletcher, assistant GM Brent Flahr and Danny Briere, a special assistant to Fletcher, have helped him during the difficult process.
“I’m lucky to have the Flyers on my side, and I’ll see what the best option is for me,” Morin said. “I want to stay in hockey, for sure. And they’re willing to help me out. I’ve got to work my ass off again, and that’s what I’m going to do. If I work for an NHL team, it’ll be the Flyers. I’m a Flyer for life. ”
Morin said “Philly is the best thing that ever happened to me. I just love it.”
He said his career “was way too short. If I was healthy, I think I really could have helped this team. I think the fans would have loved me there. That part is pretty sad. But Philly is great. When I was drafted there, I was so happy because it kind of represented me. I’m from a little farm town and I worked my way up to the NHL, and I’m pretty proud of it. Philly has just that kind of mentality I like. It’s not snobby, it’s just like a grinding mentality and I loved it.”
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Fletcher called Morin a “tremendous kid. Huge heart. Huge determination. Did everything he could to be a player.”
The GM said “no one appreciated being a hockey player” more than Morin. “But, unfortunately, there’s too much damage to the knee to resurrect his career.”
Morin, 26, did whatever was best for the team. That’s why the hulking defenseman dutifully moved to left wing last season. They had a need, so he wasn’t adverse to filling it.
Late last season, his first NHL goal gave the Flyers a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers, a team that had trounced them in their two previous meetings, 9-0 and 8-3.
“Best moment of my life,” Morin said at the time he scored the winning goal late in the game.
Morin was the definition of perseverance. He overcame several obstacles — two torn ACLs in the same right knee, and several other injuries, including a broken jaw — and returned to play.
That’s why his goal against the Rangers last year created just as much emotion from his teammates as it did for the beloved Morin.
They mobbed him on the ice after he scored and bolstered their playoff hopes. They gave him a beer shower in the locker room after the game.
“For him to battle and not play that many games for that long and stay as positive as he has … is amazing,” Travis Konecny said last season. “He’s always smiling, always pumping up the team. Whether he is just practicing with us and doing reps on the ice, he’s always working hard.”
Morin, a first-round draft choice (No. 11 overall) in 2013, had more knee issues before this season and had surgery in September. That turned out to be the final straw.
He wasn’t able to play this season, and he finished with one goal and 45 penalty minutes in 29 career games.
“I had a lot of pain; a lot of tears were dropped,” Morin said of his battle with injuries. “At the same time, I had so many happy moments. My teammates and everyone I met in the organization in my eight or nine years was awesome. I’m so grateful.”