Saturday, September 18, 2010

Morrison Shines in Final Tune-up of Pre-season

Maxwell who?

For 60 solid minutes Friday night, Kitchener Rangers netminder Mike Morrison had the Rangers faithful forget about Colorado Avalanche property and last year's playoff hero, Brandon Maxwell, who is away at NHL camp duty.

Morrison made 37 saves in a steady and reliable effort in a 4-2 decision over the Niagara Icedogs in the final pre-season game before the going gets tougher next Friday night in the season opener versus the Saginaw Spirit.

The Hamilton native, who on many occasions got a rousing show of applause by the appreciative Auditorium audience, kept his opponents guessing, without success, as to why they just couldn't find a chink in the supposed back-up goaltender's armour.

Oh sure, Matt Baldassara put one home between the big goalie's legs on a 2-on-1 rush in the second, and Andrew Fritsch potted one into an empty net with mere minutes remaining, while being left all alone in front of Morrison.

But by the time Fritsch's tally came around, the damage had been done.

The Rangers struck four times after the opening tally by the Dogs.

Just seconds after Baldassarra's strike, Rangers forward Eric Ming lost his balance in front of the Icedogs' net, but was able to get a shot away while plummeting backwards to the ice. The shot sailed over goaltender John Chartrand's right shoulder, knotting the game at ones.

Midway through the second, Ben Thomson welcomed the fresh-faced Icedogs keeper, Michael Gallardi who replaced Chrartrand, with another spin-o-rama shot that gave the Rangers the lead they would eventually never surrender.

Gabriel Landeskog and Zach Lorentz scored singles to put the blueshirts up for good at 4-1.

Morrison matched Chartrand in a scoreless first period, and even surrendered the game's first goal, but outlasted Chartrand and Gallardi, and outwitted numerous Icedogs who cut loose their chains, but were denied multiple breakaway attempts by the 17 year-old (more breakaways than Rangers coach Steve Spott would have liked to allocate his Rangers defensive corps for one game).

If Spott and co. had any lingering or creeping doubts that Mike Morrison wasn't the man for the job in a Memorial Cup-year backup role, the keeper kicked that thought to doggy heaven with his performance.

Just ask Andrew Shaw, whose wrister, which was labelled for just underneath the crossbar, was caught by a screened Morrison in the third stanza.

Shaw looked skyward and offered an expletive to the rafters.

That's what made Morrison stand out.

He could give it to you like Montreal keeper Carey Price, square to the shooter and positionally sound to make his job look easy, or he could flash some leather and go Hollywood, a la Martin Brodeur.

Morrison's steady play throughout last season and this year's strong pre-season has most likely given Spott a lot of reassuring sleep-filled nights and a lot to think about when it comes to his crease tandem.

Who knows, he may even steal some starts from that Maxwell guy along the way.

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