TAMPA — Brenden Morrow never envisioned any of this.
The veteran left wing figures he could easily have ended up working in the oil fields like many of his friends in his hometown of Carlyle, Saskatchewan.
The NHL was a pipe dream, especially for a chunky kid they called "butterball" early in his junior career with the Portland Winter Hawks.
"I remember the carpool to the rink, five or six guys in the car," Morrow said. "One of the 'what-ifs' would be, 'If you won the lottery, $100 million, what would you do?' Get to play one game in the NHL. And here we are, 15 years later, never would have expected this. It's been a heck of a ride. I don't want to take anything for granted."
Morrow, 35, could play in his 1,000th NHL game by the end of this season, his 16th in the league. The former Stars captain has scored 20-plus goals seven times, won an Olympic gold medal with Canada in 2010 and reached the playoffs nine times.
"His resume speaks for itself," says linemate Brian Boyle.
But Morrow has never won a Stanley Cup, which is why he doesn't mind being the elder statesman for a green but talented forward group in Tampa Bay. One of just two forwards 30 or older, Morrow has a different role, as a gritty fourth liner who has provided more presence than points since signing a one-year deal in July.
"He's exactly what we needed, we wanted," coach Jon Cooper said. "He's probably exceeded expectations as well. I know it's not translated in the sense he plays 20 minutes a night, but he's a veteran guy, and when things get stirred up in a game a little bit, he's always got the right thing to say.
"When things start getting stirred up on the ice, you can tell when he's in a scrum, and guys are looking for who is in the group and they see Brenden and everything calms down a little bit."
Morrow showed up for his tryout with the Portland Winter Hawks (WHL) in 1995 as a 230-pound 16-year-old. His parents ran a bar, so his meals weren't very balanced. "Beef jerky and beer," he said.
On his first day in Portland, he had lost all his luggage and his coach, Brent Peterson, took him to the mall to get him some clothes. When he got to the rink, he was put on the scale.
Morrow went to his stall, started to get ready, when Peterson called him into his office.
"He said, 'Are you kidding me?' " said Morrow, now listed at 6 feet, 205. "He gave me the gears about my weight. He walked me back into the gym, ripped off a piece of tape and put it on a bike, saying, 'You're riding this thing until the weight comes off.' The rest is history."
Peterson saw potential in Morrow, saying he reminded him of retired Avalanche wing Adam Deadmarsh. "When the puck went into the corner, Brenden came out with it every time," Peterson said.
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Morrow dominated juniors, leading Portland to the Memorial Cup before the Stars drafted him in the first round in 1997.
Before the 2006-07 season, Dallas named Morrow captain, after asking icon Mike Modano to step down. It wasn't ideal, and potentially awkward, but Morrow said Modano was gracious and helpful with the transition.
That's why it was so tough for Morrow to leave Dallas after 13 seasons, giving up his captaincy as he got moved to Pittsburgh in March 2013. He reached the Eastern Conference final, the closest he got to the Cup since the 2008 West final.
Morrow, on his third team in three seasons, saw potential in Tampa Bay. That's why, along with his trust in general manager Steve Yzerman, who chose him for Team Canada in 2010, Morrow chose Tampa Bay.
"It's every kid's dream and lifetime goal, something that motivates you every day," he said of the Cup. "So I know I'm on the back end of my career and opportunities are few and far between, I want to take advantage of them, and this is a group on the rise."
Morrow said it was tougher last season with St. Louis to adjust to a lower-line role, but now he embraces the ability to bring energy and physicality to a fourth line with Boyle and J.T Brown. Morrow, with one assist in 12 games, says he feels a bit of pressure to get his first goal — he has 262 in his career along with 306 assists — but teammates rave about his hard-nosed game, versatility (also on penalty kill) and character.
Morrow, who has three children, has fit in well considering many teammates are in their early 20s, one a teenager.
"Time really flies," Morrow said. "It doesn't seem that long ago when I was the young guy, a rookie in Dallas. And now I guess I'm the old guy …
"I still feel young at heart."
Move: The Lightning recalled forward Cedric Paquette from AHL Syracuse, which means C Alex Killorn (upper body) likely won't be ready to play Thursday against Calgary.
Contact Joe Smith at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.