|After practice and the day before taking over as interim coach, Arizona Sundogs captain Jason Morgan decorates a hockey mask for a booster club event.|
Trib Photo/Cheryl Hartz (Inset: Courtesy Photo)
Jason Morgan wears a "C" on his uniform because he's the Arizona Sundogs' captain. But as of this past Wednesday, it also signifies his status as the team's interim coach.
Tuesday, at the time of this interview, Morgan, 36, said he served as player/assistant coach in California for the Stockton Thunder, a role he was hoping to repeat for the Sundogs.
In a clear illustration of "be careful what you wish for," the very next day Sundogs coach David Lohrei resigned for family reasons, just as the squad was headed out on an 11-day, 5-game road trip.
The result as of this writing is a 2-0 record with Morgan as interim coach. Friday the 'Dogs beat the Allen Americans and Saturday downed the Ft. Worth Brahmas, both games by scores of 2-1.
Closing in on his 1,000 professional hockey game - 44 of them with NHL teams - Morgan has seen more of the world in his 36 years than most people will in a lifetime.
He's played on teams in the U.S. and Canada from coast to coast and border to border, including five NHL clubs, and also in Europe.
"You start drafted by one team, with a 3-year contract, and after that you're a free agent and start bouncing around," Morgan said.
Born in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada, Morgan grew up from the age of 3 in Kitchener, Ontario, the middle child between sisters Jennifer and Jillian. His parents, Marilyn and David, still live in Kitchener, which celebrated its 100th anniversary of cityhood this past June.
"My dad had me on skates as soon as I could walk," he said.
Morgan spent a year-and-a-half of his junior league days in Kitchener with the Triple A Rangers before being traded to Kingston.
His first NHL stint came with the Los Angeles Kings, then he got his first Arizona experience with the Phoenix Roadrunners.
From there his resume reads like a verse from the song, I've Been Everywhere: Mississippi, Los Angeles, Illinois, Long Beach, Cincinnati, Florida, Hamilton, Virginia, Chicago, Minnesota, Houston, Pennsylvania, Sweden, Ontario, Calgary, Norway, Austria.
"It's what happens when you're on the bubble," he said. "You get signed, traded, claimed off waivers. It's tough to have stability when you're playing in the minors."
His family remained in Ontario through most of Morgan's moves, but joined him in Europe.
"My oldest daughter, Annie, was 12 and worried she would never see her friends again," Morgan said. "But the kids loved it! They attended international school in Stockholm. We vacationed in Cyprus, the next year in Austria, and drove to Venice. The kids were seeing parts of the world I'd never see if I was not playing hockey."
His wife, Jennifer, and children, Annie, now almost 18, Emma, 16, and Jack, 15, joined him in Prescott Valley, along with their two dogs, Molly and Rufus. Fortunately, they no longer had rabbits, birds and cats to move with them.
Their exploration of the world's wonders continues in the Southwest. A trip to Las Vegas at Christmas followed visits to Montezuma's Castle and Sedona.
"It's a good situation for everyone," he said.
Morgan attributes his longevity in the demanding sport to taking pride in his conditioning.
"I train hard in the summer to withstand the long winter season," he said.
But he realizes he's nearing the end of his skating career, and seeks a stable position for his family. He sees the Sundogs as an organization with a good reputation that just needs to reestablish a winning tradition.
"We've basically had the same core group all year, and the guys have good characters, so it's been easy to serve as captain," he said.
He said the squad's challenge this season has been injury and illness, and he often plays back on defense even though he's a forward.
"We've had very few games with a full defensive lineup, when all are healthy," he said.
Now his challenge is qualifying the Sundogs for the playoffs. After the weekend, they're in a 3-way tie for sixth place in the Central Hockey League where the top 8 teams advance.