If you would have pulled 18-year-old Brenden Morrow aside in the days before the NHL draft in 1997 and told him that he would be an NHL captain and Olympic gold medalist one day, he probably would have laughed you off.
After all, while he was a skilled junior skater and projected to go in the low first round or high second round of the draft, he considered himself a "limited skill" player who had once tipped the scales at 230 pounds, earning the nickname Chunks and a lot of time on the exercise bike.
But now, almost 20 years later, the boy who was once passed over the in the WHL bantam draft and was the Portland Winter Hawks nominee for WHL Scholastic Player of the Year, can't believe how fast his journey from draft pick to NHL captain to retiree actually went.
"I think reflecting back now, I'm surprised how fast it went," Morrow said Thursday afternoon in an interview with Defending Big D. "It kind of feels like yesterday that we were in the Western Conference Finals here in Dallas playing Detroit, and it's been eight years or whatever it's been. Time flies.
"And I would think just the style of game I played, with the limited amount of skill I had, being able to make it this long in the league is something I'm proud of."
Morrow officially ended his career on Thursday by signing a ceremonial one-day contract with the Dallas Stars before announcing his retirement after a 15-year NHL career. While he was characteristically modest about his skill level, both the numbers and the respect of all those who played around him said otherwise.
The left winger sits in the Top 10 in Stars franchise history in games, goals, assists and points. He still owns the record for number of goals scored at the American Airlines Center (though Jamie Benn is closing in fast), and he represented the heart and soul of a team in transition that remained competitive before bankruptcy woes took their toll.
With a wife he met as a rookie in Dallas and three kids who have spent more of their lives in the Metroplex than anywhere else, it only makes sense that Dallas is the Morrows home base now that he is no longer playing hockey. And settling locally allowed the Stars to reach out about the idea of him retiring as part of their organization.
"I think just being here around, I've made a few appearances around the team," Morrow said. "I'm not sure who it was, Brad Alberts or Jimmy Lites or Mr. Gaglardi [who suggested the one-day contract]. I'm not sure how it started, but they made me aware of it, and it kind of got the ball rolling."
Few players deserved the honor more. Morrow's seven-year run as team captain from 2006 until his trade in 2013 was shorter than Derian Hatcher's tenure by only one year. His grit and tenacity was the standard that every player who put on a Stars uniform in his era strived to match.
Some of that came from the lessons he learned entering the league on the 1999-2000 Stars, who were heading back to the Stanley Cup Finals and boasted a veteran cast of characters to learn from.
"They were all different in a fundamental way, but that first year coming in, with the character that team had," Morrow said. "Mike Keane, whether he was doing his Ken Hitchcock impersonation or just whatever he did to lighten the team that was eye-opening to me, and having my hockey idol Brett Hull on the team."
Morrow soon became his own version of a hockey idol, at least in Dallas. He was a holder of the franchise torch, when went from Neal Broten to Mike Modano to Brenden Morrow and now to Jamie Benn. Regardless of the letter on his sweater, the Stars were from the mid-2000s until Jim Nill took over the general manager role, Morrow's team.
And of course that doesn't touch on his international successes, from gold medals at the Olympics, World Championship and World Cup and a silver at the World Junior Championship. He was a player coaches and general managers wanted on their teams when championships were on the line.
For the moment, Morrow doesn't have any definitive plans, though Jim Lites mentioned that he would be involved with the Stars alumni organization. Aside from some time to work on his golf game, he plans to spend time with wife, Anne-Marie, and kids Bryelle, 11, Brody, 7 and Mallory, 7.
During the emotional speech at his press conference, Morrow had this message for Stars fans.
To the Stars fans, I know I wasn't the most skilled player. I relied a lot on grit and effort. Thanks for appreciating that. You made me feel special in a way I can never repay.
Asked if he wanted to add anything to that message to fans, Morrow had this to say.
"I think I touched on most of it. I guess the only thing would be my biggest disappointment is not being able to bring a championship back here to celebrate with them. They gave me a lot over my years here, and I just wish I had a way to repay them."
Here's the thing about that.
Championships aren't the only way for an athlete to repay fan loyalty. I mean, none of us are ever going to say no to one, but there are so many factors out of one individual's control that it can hardly be seen as a failure to repay some sort of loyalty debt. When you look across sports, all-world players like Marcel Dionne, Tony Gwynn, Barry Sanders and Ken Griffey Jr. have finished their careers with huge impacts in their respective cities but no championship banners.
And while Morrow may not have been able to bring a Stanley Cup parade to downtown Dallas, he brought something probably more important in the long run - exposure to the sport itself to an entire generation of Stars fans.
As the team worked their way into the 2000s, Mike Modano was obviously still around as a living legend of the franchise, but Morrow became the player that new and casual fans identified with and were drawn to. I would know, because I was one of those new fans in the late 1990s who latched onto him when he came up as a rookie in 1999.
Heart-and-soul players, like high-skill players, can be the ultimate gateway drug to the sport, and Morrow was that for so many current Stars fans. He may not have brought us a championship, but he brought us the game itself, and that's more than enough repayment for anyone.