Samuel Morin: Climbing the Mountain

If you’re reading this right now, it probably means you’re a hockey fan. As a hockey fan you probably know that fairy tale “story book” moments don’t happen every day, so when we got to witness one revolving around Samuel Morin on Saturday, it was a special moment.

Samuel Morin had the deck stacked against him from the moment he was drafted into the Flyers organization. He was drafted 11th overall in 2013. His stock rose leading up to the draft and was expected to go late in the first round or early in the second, so when Paul Holmgren stepped to the podium and picked him just outside the top 10, it felt like a reach. Then he drew comparisons to Chris Pronger, one of the greatest defenseman of all time, and a player who had just retired due to post-concussion issues a year-and-a-half earlier, talk about big shoes to fill. It was a preconceived notion about Morin that to this day he is unable to shake from portions of the fanbase.

Despite being drafted by Holmgren, Morin was one of the first prospects to fall into Hextall’s development system, so when he made the jump to the pro level in 2015, he was stapled to the Phantoms for the next two seasons where he actually played pretty well. He earned his first NHL call-up at the end of the 2016-17 season and seemed like he was poised to earn an NHL job the following season, and that was where his train started to go off the tracks.

Morin entered the 2017 preseason in a battle alongside fellow rookies Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim and, despite arguably outplaying both of them, Morin found himself as the odd man out. Hagg went on to earn the 6D roll and Sanheim was the seventh man. He returned to the Phantoms and sustained a hip injury the ruined one of his call-up opportunities and ultimately had him shut down for much of the rest of the season before returning for the Phantoms playoff run in where he tore his ACL. He missed most of the 2018-19 season during his recovery.

He made the Flyers roster as the seventh D-man for the 2019-20 season but sat in the pressbox for the first month of the season before seeing his first taste of game action in late October where he didn’t look great. Morin was sent to the Phantoms on a conditioning stint where he would tear the same ACL for a second time in a 19-month span.

Now at a crossroads in his career, Morin had a choice to make- fight through another year of intense therapy to make a comeback to a sport that seemingly didn’t want him and try and do the impossible, or hang up the skates for good.

Morin chose to fight.

He penned a note that he released on social media that said “I am fully aware that this is an enormous mountain to climb but I know I have the drive and mindset to overcome this setback”

After another grueling nine months of physical therapy, Morin was expected to be ready for the Flyers’ 2020 training camp in September. Then the coronavirus struck and pushed the start of the season back to January, giving Morin a few extra months to recoup. Morin was in Philly during most of the pandemic, skating and working out when possible.

When the 2020-21 season started, we all got a curveball regarding the fate of Morin, it was announced he was going to switch to forward for the season. Now, at face value, it’s a totally bizarre move, but the thinking was clever. The defense on paper should have been deep, thus leaving no room for Morin, but the front office still wanted to utilize his size and physicality. But none of that ended up working out. The defense has been a weak spot for the Flyers all season and Morin’s transition to forward just didn’t go well. He wasn’t adjusting to his new position and after four games and the returning forwards from covid reclaiming their spot, he was sent back to the Phantoms. Due to the lack of bodies in Lehigh Valley, Morin was deployed as a defenseman by head coach Scott Gordon and Morin played well at his natural position, so well in fact, that he earned another call up, this time as a defenseman.

He returned to the Flyers’ lineup as the team was hitting rock bottom against the Rangers on March 25. He played well from a defensive perspective and even KO’d Brendan Lemieux in a fight late in the game. He ultimately got fined for the fight, and Lemieux got traded to the Kings two days later, probably out of sheer embarrassment.

Then on Saturday, the unexpected happened- The Flyers played kinda well. The game was tied 1-1 late in the third period when Samuel Morin sent a shot toward the net that snuck past Igor Shesterkin. His reaction, as well as his teammates, told the story. The excitement that poured from Morin and the other four skaters on the ice was a level of emotion that we haven’t seen from anybody on the team in a long time. The Flyers held on and Morin’s goal stood as the game winner.

2,827 days after he was drafted he scored his first NHL goal. The man who had overcome two ACL tears in 19 months, got called up and sent down more times than one can count, was written off as a real option from most of the fanbase, transitioned to forward, returned to defense and scored a goal which stood as the game winner that ended a stretch of some of the worst hockey in Philadelphia Flyers franchise history.

Will the Flyers build off the story book moment? Time will tell, but Morin’s story is incredibly uplifting and should be able to light a fire under even the darkest of situations. Morin wrote in his letter that he had the drive and mindset to overcome his setback, and he was absolutely right. “It’s the best moment of my life” he said in his postgame interview after he took a lap on the Wells Fargo Center ice, being named the first star of the game. It’s a story eight years in the making with hopefully no end in sight, but even if it was just for an instant, Samuel Morin was king for a day, and that moment made everything worth it.

By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)

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