During just a few months in Waterloo, goaltender Cale Morris proved he was a difference-maker. Just the kind of player NHL clubs will be looking for later this month when the annual league draft is held in Florida. As part of a June series on the four 2014/15 Black Hawks listed in NHL Central Scouting’s final pre-draft rankings, today we recount five remarkable nights Morris had in a Waterloo sweater.
Before Morris came to Waterloo in a trade from the Chicago Steel midway through January, the Black Hawks had allowed opposing teams to score just shy of four goals per game. In the 28 contests which remained after the deal, that average was slashed to two. Whether cause or correlation, a team which had been 9-20-3 before Morris arrived ended the year above .500, with a final mark of 28-26-6.
The Larkspur, Colorado, native made big saves at big times. Almost every night, Morris gave Waterloo a chance to win. The University of Notre Dame took notice and offered him a scholarship for the 2016/17 season, thus providing an opportunity to return to Waterloo this coming fall. It’s an opportunity to improve on an abbreviated stint with the Hawks which was already strong enough to convince league coaches and general managers to vote him to a place on the All-USHL Team.
Morris’ play allowed him to shoot from nowhere right into the midst of the leading goaltending prospects for the 2015 NHL Draft. In April, Central Scouting placed him 15th among 30 North American netminders it tracked. Here are five games which might have made a difference.
#5 – January 23rd vs. Chicago
Less than a week after Morris was traded to Waterloo, his first opportunity to step onto the Young Arena ice from the home tunnel came against his former team. The Steel knew that it would be tough going from the moment they saw the starting lineup, but the visitors struck for the opening goal less than six minutes into the game, thanks to a shot by Tanner Laczynski. It was all of the scoring Chicago could manage. Morris stopped 29 other chances. Meanwhile, the Waterloo offense vaulted the Hawks in front before the first intermission, filling the net during an eventual 7-1 victory. Laczynski’s goal aside, it’s hard to imagine Morris making a better first impression on Waterloo fans. The home crowd didn’t see him allow another goal over the next 166 minutes of game action.
#4 – March 15th vs. Sioux Falls
By mid-March, it was clear that the Black Hawks could only qualify for the Clark Cup playoffs by overtaking the Sioux Falls Stampede. The teams faced off in their final head-to-head meeting with four weeks remaining in the regular season and with Waterloo trailing by 11 standings points. There was no margin for error, and Morris didn’t make any, pitching a 27-save, 3-0 shutout. Leading 1-0 late in the second period, Morris turned in the save of the game, kicking out his left leg to deny Mikey Eyssemont from close range after the opposing forward had received a cross-ice pass. Although the Hawks could not ultimately catch the Stampede in the standings, Morris’ late-season durability helped Waterloo finish in front of two other clubs who had owned an edge in the standings as of March 15th: the Fargo Force and Des Moines Buccaneers.
#3 – January 17th at Sioux Falls
Game result aside, the effort Morris showed just to make his first appearance with the Black Hawks was praiseworthy. Starting his weekend on an eastbound bus with Chicago Steel, Morris watched from the bench during a Friday tilt in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as his team topped the National Team Development Program, 3-1. Back at the hotel after 11 p.m. Eastern Time, the goalie learned that he had been traded to Waterloo; hours later he was on a westbound flight from Detroit to Minneapolis, then another from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls where the Hawks were in the midst of a two-game series with the Stampede. Going straight from the airport to the rink, Morris met many of his new teammates for the first time less than two hours before puck drop. Neither the new goalie nor his new teammates let the other down; Waterloo limited Sioux Falls to just 16 shots on goal and Morris allowed only a lone Stampede power play goal as the Hawks snapped a five-game winless streak in the 3-1 decision.
#2 – February 20th vs. Sioux City
Chicago might not have parted with Morris had the Western Conference-leading Sioux City Musketeers not upended the Steel 7-3 in the goalie’s final appearance with his original club. Three weeks later on January 31st, Sioux City had also truncated the four-game Black Hawks winning streak spawned upon Morris’ arrival in Waterloo. Problems with the Muskies seemed to be continuing when Sioux City took a 2-0 lead within the first 14 minutes of their February 20th visit to Young Arena. With the Hawks still behind 2-1 at intermission, Morris had already turned in 18 saves at the end of 20 minutes. The cavalry arrived with a three-goal Waterloo outburst in the second period, and the home team went ahead for good. Yet Morris’ workload didn’t slacken much; he made a dozen saves in the middle frame and 18 more in a perfect third. With 48 saves for the contest, Waterloo’s goaltender made possible a deceptively comfortable 6-2 victory.
#1 – February 8th vs. Tri-City
Before coming to the rink Sunday afternoon, Waterloo’s weekend had included one dominant and one heartbreaking result. On the road in Madison Friday, Morris’ 21-save, 5-0 shutout of the Madison Capitols had been a good beginning. The Waterloo goalie didn’t give up anything in regulation at home the next night versus the Tri-City Storm, but after the contest went to overtime at 0-0, Chris Wilkie – the USHL’s leading goal-scorer – broke through 2:13 into overtime. Back on the ice for a rematch less than 24 hours later and facing a rested opposing goalie who had watched from the sidelines the night before, Morris shone through as the game’s #1 star. He made 34 saves and served up his seventh, eighth, and ninth consecutive scoreless periods of regulation hockey during the weekend. Meanwhile, Waterloo’s forwards notched a goal in each period to hang a final count of 3-0 on the Young Arena scoreboard.