Just one day after the Cougars wrapped up a spot in the OJHL’s post-season, the team took time before its final home game to honour current Assistant Coach and former Cougar player, C.J. Morrison.
Morrison, a Burlington native, was reflective when asked about the honour he had received and his time as a player and coach with the Cougars, saying, “you always want to play for your Junior team, you want to play for the Burlington Cougars and now that I have the opportunity to coach here it is just unbelievable.”
After being drafted by the Guelph Storm in the 4th round of the 2000 OHL draft, C.J. came to the Burlington and spent three seasons with the Cougars causing headaches for opposing players. Known as an intelligent player and defensive stalwart, C.J. was capable of shutting down offensive threats by playing sound, fundamental hockey. He also made his mark offensively as a creative playmaker, notching 67 assists during his Cougars career.
When Morrison was named the Burlington Cougars Rookie of the Year in 2000, it was under the watchful eye of then Cougars Assistant Coach Steve Hodson. Hodson immediately noticed C.J. potential, as a player with “very strong play-making capabilities and a strong fundamental skills set.” Morrison and Hodson would cross paths again later in C.J.’s career.
For the next two years Morrison excelled as a Burlington Cougar Morrison. He was recognized as the team’s Most Gentlemanly Player (2001/2002) and received the Mr. Cougar Award (2002/2003), while establishing himself as a premier player for the organization.
After leaving the Cougars in 2003, C.J. spent the next few years furthering his education at Acadia University in Recreation Management, but he did not give up on his hockey career. Morrison used his final three years of Junior Hockey eligibility playing at an All-Star level (2003-2004) with the Windsor Royals Junior ‘B’ hockey organization in the MAJHL.
In 2006, the final year of his degree at Acadia, C.J. began his transition from player to coach by accepting the Head Coaching job for Acadia’s women’s Hockey team. Morrison spoke candidly about how difficult it was to hang up his skates and begin a career behind the bench.
”It is probably one of the hardest things I’ve done coming from being a player to being a coach,” said Morrison, “because on the bench you just get so frustrated because you just want to be out there.”
After graduating from Acadia with Honours in 2007, C.J. continued his development as a coach the following year when he took a job as an Associate Coach, a position that would turn out to be very significant in his coaching career and one that unexpectedly reunited him with former position Coach Steve Hodson.
Morrison said that he went to the Villanova Knight’s Junior ‘A’ Hockey club to be an Assistant Coach to then Head Coach Jay Anderson but “things didn’t work out with Jay, probably mid-way through the year and they asked Steve Hodson to be the Head Coach.”
With Morrison’s place on the Villanova coaching staff momentarily up in the air, Steve approached C.J. and asked the young assistant to stay with the club.
“Steve said, I would like you to stay with me and we can run this team together,” according to Morrison, “that was a huge inspiration to me that he saw something in me that a lot of other people probably would not have.”
Hodson was very complimentary of Morrison as a coach but also spoke very highly of his personal traits. “The one thing about C.J. both as a player and a young man, I mean this guy has got a very high IQ and a very high moral fibre to him. Guys like that are hard to find,” said Hodson.
While working under Hodson, Morrison attended Brock University. C.J. Graduated with a Master’s Degree in Applied Health Science with a focus on Sports Management in 2010.
Now an Assistant Coach for the Cougars and Head Coach of the Blyth Bruins Prep Hockey team, players lined up to offer their opinions of a man that they constantly referred to as a friend and mentor as well as a coach.
Current Cougars captain Jeremy Gottzman was effusive in his praise of C.J. “On the ice he has helped me develop as a player... off the ice he is a guy you can go and talk to. I have a really great relationship with C.J., he’s more of a friend to me than a coach.” Gottzman, a veteran of the Cougars and the OHL’s Erie Otters said that the entire team has taken notice of what CJ brings to the Burlington club: “C.J. puts so much time in volunteering, helping this team out. I can’t think him enough personally and on behalf of the team just thanking him for everything he has done for us. (C.J.) is a great coach and I’m sure he will get the opportunity to coach in the higher levels some day.”
Returning the ice on Monday afternoon for the Cougars, C.J. was flanked by Hodson, now Head Coach and GM of the Junior ‘B’ Brampton Bombers. Together the coaching colleagues unravelled a banner with C.J.’s number #15 emblazoned on it as Morrison’s parents looked on from the stands.
“I always like to thank my father and my mom, who have always been big supporters of me,” said Morrison, “I am really happy that they are here tonight as well.”
It is interesting to note that the Burlington Cougars will raise Morrison’s number to the rafters just in time for the Cougars upcoming first round playoff series.
Gottzman seemed to echo the sentiments of the entire Cougar organization when he stated that “following a role model like C.J. makes it easy to play hard.”
Given the way that Morrison has been able to earn the admiration of people around him, the Cougars should feel good about with C.J. on the Burlington bench as they move on to face a #1 ranked opponent in the first round of the OJHL Playoffs.