Samuel Morin, the big Flyers defenseman with a wickedly dry sense of humor, is an optimistic sort. Even a second torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee – and another seemingly endless rehab that followed surgery – hasn’t made him lose hope that he’ll be an NHL regular someday.
Still, there are rare moments when he wonders how much more he can take.
The hockey gods, you see, have not been kind to Morin, 25, on his way to becoming a crease-clearing fixture in the Flyers lineup.
Because of injuries, the 6-foot-7, 230-pound defenseman played in only 28 games – eight with the Flyers, 20 with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms – over the last three seasons. He has been beset with so much bad luck that it caused him to briefly consider leaving the sport.
At first, Morin was in denial when he tore his ACL a second time after he shoved a Phantoms opponent in the corner, and his knee gave out about a year ago. He knew it was bad but told himself this couldn’t be happening again. He came off the ice, taped his knee, and returned for two more shifts.
“It was terrible, and I was like, ‘Oh my God. It must be a tear,’” he recalled.
A few days later, after the MRI confirmed his worst fears, Morin broke down.
“I’m in my truck crying and saying to myself, ‘I think I’m done,’” he said after a workout Tuesday at the Flyers’ training facility in Voorhees. “It’s just a really hard process. It’s a long and painful rehab.”
He talked to his parents and his agent, and they calmed him down.
“I’ve always had the passion. This is what I want to do. Play hockey,” he said in a low, forceful tone. “I have one more year left on my contract, and I’m going to go out there and have fun. I love it so much. I love hockey, and love everything about it. If you look back at where I was a year ago, I think I’m in a pretty good spot.”
When he first started workouts after his latest surgery, the second in 18 months on the same knee, Morin felt confident he would return to the ice.
“I know sometimes as an athlete, you kind of put the blinders on,” said Morin, who, after going through Rehab I, made the Flyers last season but was sent to the Phantoms early in the year. “You go through a lot of emotion and say everything is fine. There have been some tough days, but I think the most important thing I’m trying to do is just take it day by day. I don’t look too far in the future, especially right now with COVID and all that stuff.
“It’s kind of an unknown, and unknown is not good. It makes you scared sometimes when you think about it, so I know it’s a cliche. But I think the most important thing is to take it day by day.”
The rehab process has been grueling. Again.
“It’s not fun. It sucks,” he said. “But I told myself I was going to work hard and just try to enjoy life. I’m still working on it. It’s not always easy.”
Assistant coach Ian Laperriere, a fellow French Canadian who overcame lots of adversity of his own during his playing days, has helped Morin get through rough spots with numerous one-on-one chats. And Kjell Samuelsson, the former defenseman who is the Flyers’ director of player development, has been by his side during many of his rehab skating sessions.
Morin, selected 11th overall in the first round of the 2013 draft, has been lifting weights and skating in Voorhees for a few months. He is about a year removed from his second ACL surgery and said he was “back to full speed.”
“When camp starts, I have to be ready to go,” he said. “I still have some work to do, but the knee feels good. That’s the important part.”
The NHL hopes to start training camps in mid-December and the season on Jan. 1. Morin has virtually no chance to make the team because of his inactivity the last three years, so he figures to play with the Phantoms if he clears waivers – with his injured past and his age, it’s unlikely he would be claimed – to get his game back in order.
“He’s probably going to have to go in the American League and get 50, 60 games staying healthy under his belt,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said recently. “He’s got to get a chance to play.”
Three years ago, Morin, then 22, had a great training camp and nearly earned an opening-day spot with the Flyers.
“Am I the same as I was when I was so close to making it and I was playing really well? No, I’m not. It would be a lie to say that,” the always-pleasant Morin said in his thick French Canadian accent. “I went through two ACLs. I didn’t play [much] for almost two and a half years, so I can’t say I’m better than I was. But can I become the same player I was? I believe so. But it’s going to take time. I need to play hockey. What’s good for me is that, with the coronavirus, some guys haven’t played for like nine months.”
“I know what it feels like,” he cracked.
Deep down, Morin said, “I really do believe I’m going to be a hockey player again and have a nice career. I’m so lucky and thankful right now. I’m healthy again, and I just need to play. I just need to control what I can control.”