Travis Morin has never been closer to an NHL opportunity than he is right now. The 26 year old Texas Stars forward is in his fourth full professional season, and is currently leading the Stars in scoring with 21 points (9g-12a) through 24 games.
His teams have advanced to the finals in each of the last two seasons — winning the Kelly Cup with South Carolina in 2009 — and even appeared in his first NHL preseason game this year.
Morin was kind enough to give ECHL.com about ten minutes of his time via a phone interview recently.
ECHL.com: The Washington Capitals took you in the ninth round back in 2004. I hear you were out playing golf that day…
Travis Morin: "Well, I didn’t really have any expectations of being drafted. I was just out golfing with my brothers and my dad when one of my friends sent me a text saying I’d been drafted. That’s how I found out, it was pretty cool. It was something I didn’t expect, it was honor."
ECHL.com: You finished your collegiate career at Minnesota State University-Mankato and jumped right into the ECHL with South Carolina and played eight games there. What do you remember about making the initial transition from the college game to the pro game?
Morin: "I think with those first eight games, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had some people telling me what I’d be seeing there with the speed and what the competition would be like once you get there. Every level you move up, everything gets a little bit harder and a little bit faster. It always takes a little time to adjust. I think those eight games really helped me get better prepared for the following season.
ECHL.com: The numbers you put up the following season were pretty impressive: 34 goals, 50 assists in 68 games. Just how much did those eight games the previous year help you in allowing you to having a year like the one you did in 2007-08?
Morin: "I think it was a big key. I’ve always been somebody who’s taken a little bit of time to get comfortable. At every level I’ve moved up to, it takes me 10 or 15 games to get comfortable with the speed of the game or whatever as I move up in levels. I just think those eight games warmed me up to it and I kind of knew what to expect going into the next year."
ECHL.com: Your 2008-09 season had to be somewhat of a dream year…you won the Kelly Cup, you played in the All-Star Game, you even won the ECHL’s Sportsmanship Award. What was it like getting to experience a season like that?
Morin: "It was a lot of fun. It wasn’t really where I wanted my career to be at the time, but I really couldn’t have asked to be in a better spot. My family and I both loved Charleston and the guys and the coaches and the staff down there were great. I still keep in touch with a lot of those guys from there. It was something that, when we finally won it all, it was an awesome experience and something I think I can look back on and utilize some of the lessons I learned that year. Just knowing how hard it is and how hard you have to compete to get to that championship level."
ECHL.com: To win the Kelly Cup after you guys had made a pretty deep run the year before…like you said, it wasn’t the level you wanted to be at in your career at that time, but it still had to be pretty gratifying to come back the following year and win a championship.
Morin: "Yeah, it was. Especially since we lost to Cincinnati the first year I was there in the Conference Finals, so to beat Cincinnati to get to the Finals and actually win it all, it definitely felt good.
It felt good to do that for some of the older guys that were on our team, you didn’t know if they were going to play again that next year or not. We didn’t have the most talented team, I’d say, but we definitely had the best team overall. It was definitely a pretty gratifying experience."
ECHL.com: Winning the Sportsmanship Award that year…probably not the most glamorous award to win, but it’s certainly impressive in its own right to take home the ECHL’s version of the Lady Byng. What did winning that mean to you?
Morin: "I think the biggest part was that it’s voted on by the coaches. I try to play the game hard and clean. I don’t really particularly enjoy doing stuff after the whistle or getting into yapping matches with the other team, I guess you could say. I’d rather play the game and play it clean. If somebody’s going to get a good shot on me, they get a good shot on me, I’m fine with that. I think it felt good to know that the coaches on other teams thought that I played that way. That I played clean, that I played hard. I played the game the right way, the way I want to play it."
ECHL.com: Signing with Dallas prior to last season…can you just talk about how that came about and why you ended up signing there?
Morin: "Well, after the two years in South Carolina, obviously I wanted to try to move up and get a spot in the AHL. There weren’t a lot of offers. There were a lot of teams that wanted to sign me to a two-way AHL/ECHL contract. Dallas had offered me a 25-game tryout, and so in the end, I figured if I could get those 25 games in, I could show what I could do and hopefully earn a contract or at least another
25 games to keep proving myself. So I talked with the coach down here and my coach in South Carolina, and just decided that this would be my best opportunity. There were a new team and they had a lot of young guys coming in, so I thought I might get a chance to show what I could do. So I decided to sign with them and after 10 games or so I think, I signed a contract with them for the rest of the year. So it all worked out."
ECHL.com: It seems like everywhere you go, your teams make a long playoff run. Last year, you guys made it to the Calder Cup Finals in your first year in the AHL. How would you compare that season last year to the years you had with South Carolina and those playoff runs?
Morin: "I think the teams were a bit different. Our team last year was focused mainly on defense. We played a very defensive system, we’d get outshot 30-20 and still hope to win the game, 2-1 or 3-2 or whatever. I’d say we had a little more offense, but I think that comes with moving up a level, where teams will play a little tighter defensively up here. The competition level is way more intense as you moved on in the playoffs at the AHL level, there’s a lot on the line for guys. I think they take it just a little bit more seriously. Other than that, it’s still playoff hockey. Any time you get into playoff hockey, things get ratcheted up a little bit more and get more intense."
ECHL.com: This season, you’re the team’s leading scorer and things seem to be going pretty well for you. Do you kind of feel like you’re on the edge of finally getting that promotion to the NHL right now?
Morin: "(Laughs) I hope so. I just keep trying to do whatever they tell me to do and work on things down there that I need to work on. If the call ever comes, I’ll be ready to go up there and see what I can do. In the meantime, while I’m down here, I’m just going to keep working hard and hopefully help the team and get us some more wins here and get us back to where we were last year."
ECHL.com: Was getting into that first NHL preseason game this year a nice little taste of what’s hopefully to come?
Morin: "It was awesome. It’s a small taste, obviously it wasn’t quite the real thing. But to get out there and play with and against even half of an NHL team and see what goes into it and how the coaches work and all that stuff, it was good to experience. When and if you do get that call, you’re ready and it doesn’t shock the system as much I guess you could say. You won’t have to sit around and look around and be in awe when you get up there. Hopefully you can just go up there and play your game."