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NHL

Morrow understanding pro game

| Saturday, March 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Joe Morrow never thought he'd be the kind of guy who would need a dose of confidence.

He scored lots of goals in junior hockey. He nearly stuck with the Penguins out of training camp as an 18-year-old. He was going to be a good NHL player someday and he knew it.

Then pro hockey happened.

“His development process was similar to some kids we had in the national team development program,” Baby Pens coach John Hynes said. “They come in so highly touted that sometimes there's just a dose of reality, like, ‘Jeez, I've got to work at this level to be good. There are a lot of other good players.' ”

Here's what the reality check looked like for Morrow: No goals and a minus-8 rating during a 28-game stretch from the middle of October to the middle of January. He was a healthy scratch eight times as Baby Pens coaches rebuilt his defensive game.

“He hit a little bit of a bottom, which he needed to do in his development, to get knocked down a peg, to understand, ‘This is what I need to do. This is pro hockey,' ” Hynes said.

Morrow's climb back up the ladder began about six weeks ago. Starting on Jan. 20, he went six straight games with a positive plus-minus rating.

Then last weekend, his renaissance took another step forward. He scored the overtime winner on a wrister from the blue line in a 2-1 win over Connecticut on Feb. 23 and uncorked a shot from the slot that was tipped in by Tom Kostopoulos for the game-tying goal in the third period of a 2-1 shootout win over Bridgeport the next day.

Morrow is again starting to look like the explosive skater and dynamic defenseman the Penguins drafted in the first round in 2011.

“I didn't think I would ever need someone to say, ‘Good job,' or ‘Nice play,' or ‘Good shot,' ” Morrow said. “I never thought I'd be one to rely on that. But I realized confidence is a huge part of the game.”

Peters power

By suiting up for the Baby Pens last week, Peters Township grad Christiaan Minella beat the odds.

Undrafted and unheralded out of Notre Dame, Minella was a 27-year-old third-year pro who had yet to play above the ECHL level and had missed parts of two seasons because of surgeries on his knee and shoulder.

But the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder was called up from the Wheeling Nailers on Feb. 22 and caused trouble on the forecheck consistently in his first four AHL games.

“It's a great honor to be called up here,” Minella said. “I've always been a Pens fan. To be involved in their organization has been a blast.”

Leading the way

After waiting about five months for the roster to settle, the Baby Pens picked a captain last week, making Joey Mormina the 18th player in franchise history to wear the C.

A 30-year-old stay-at-home defenseman out of Colgate, Mormina has played one NHL game with Carolina and nearly 500 AHL games in an eight-year pro career. He's in his fourth season with the Baby Pens.

Defenseman Dylan Reese and centers Trevor Smith and Warren Peters are the alternate captains.

Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999. He can be reached via email at jbombulie@aol.com.

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