Flyers rookie defenseman Sam Morin has words, strongly based on a classic Disney movie from years ago, tattooed high onto his left arm:
“The past can hurt, but you can either run from it or learn from it.”
The words motivate him.
“It was my favorite movie; I watched it so much when I was younger,” the good-natured Morin, 22, said last week at the Flyers’ training facility in Voorhees, where he was getting a head start on things. “It’s like hockey. You always learn from your mistakes, and you need to be in the present.”
He got the tattoo four years ago, using the inspiring words that Robert Guillaume, the voice of Rafiki the wise baboon, delivered to Simba the lion, in The Lion King.
“I wanted a tattoo pretty bad,” he said with a laugh. “I like it. My mom didn’t really like it, but it’s all fine.”
All is fine with Morin, too. Unlike other training camps he attended, Morin — an imposing figure who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 227 pounds — appears to have a great chance to start the season with the Flyers. And perhaps stay there for, oh, the next decade or so.
A young, up-and-coming defense is about to become the Flyers’ calling card, and Morin will be a big part of that identity. It may take a few years before the defense blossoms, but it has a chance to be among the NHL’s best in the near future.
Rookies don’t have to report until Sept. 9, but Morin has been on the ice in Voorhees since last week. He actually began working out in Voorhees in July before going back home to Quebec for about a week and then returning.
“I want to make the team. I’ve worked very hard over the summer,” said Morin, one of several rookies who have arrived early. “I spent almost all of my summer here to get better.”
With Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz no longer on the team, the Flyers have two openings on defense. Morin and fellow rookies Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, and Phil Myers will be battling for those spots.
Morin, the Flyers’ first-round selection (11th overall) in the 2013 draft, and Hagg are the favorites because it is believed Sanheim and Myers need some more seasoning.
“For sure, it’s a different feeling this year,” said Morin, who has recovered from offseason surgery on both wrists. “Last year, even if I had a really good camp, there were a lot of veterans that were coming back. This year, you can see there’s a lot more room for young guys. There are so many [young] guys that are good players, and in order to get a spot I’m going to have to deserve it. I’m going to need to battle.
“It should be an interesting camp.”
Morin, a stay-at-home defender who will supply a much-needed physical presence in front of the net, played well in his only NHL game last season while paired with the speedy and creative Shayne Gostisbehere. At Lehigh Valley, he was paired with Sanheim, another puck-mover.
“We had a real good chemistry,” Morin said of being alongside Sanheim. “With Ghost, I remember playing together at most of our camps. We played a lot of preseason together and played pretty well, so we’re going to see how it goes. We’re good friends, too. I’ve spent all my summers here since I was drafted, and he’s done the same, so we’ve spent a lot of time together and know each other and that makes it pretty easy.”
To earn a spot with the Flyers, “I just need to play my game,” Morin said in his thick French Canadian accent. “The only [NHL] game I played, I think I did that. I’m just really physical. I can fight and do all that stuff. … I have to concentrate on what I can do well. When I play the simple way, that’s when I’m at my best. Keep things simple. Make a good first pass and things like that. I know I’m not going to be like Ghost and make a smooth [move] at the blue line. I just have to be myself.”
When the Flyers drafted Morin in 2013, his size and snarling style of play triggered immediate comparisons to the great Chris Pronger.
That, of course, wasn’t fair.
Pronger was a Hall of Famer and someone who was much more refined at a young age, reaching the NHL just before his 19th birthday. Morin will be a valuable piece, but scouts say Sanheim and the righthanded-shooting Myers will have much higher upsides when they get to Philadelphia.
That said, each defenseman brings a different type of skill and talent, and they could make the Flyers’ blue line the envy of the league down the road. It will be intriguing to watch the young guns get acclimated to the NHL over the next few seasons.
Morin has improved immensely since his draft year. Same goes for his English, which, in his words, “was terrible” when the Flyers chose him in 2013.
“The guys are great with me,” he said. “With the Phantoms, my number was three, and I always struggled to say it. I would say, tree. I was missing the t-h.”
Lehigh Valley teammate Cole Bardreau gave him some tutoring, showing him how to position his tongue to make the right sounds come out.
“He would help me spell stuff” and pronounce it correctly, Morin said. “He helped me a lot.”
Let it be known that, like his English, Morin is about to start blooming in Philadelphia.
Rafiki has his back.