- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The hope in these Olympic tournaments is your team improves with each and every game.
Brenden Morrow is fitting that bill to a tee.
The Dallas Stars captain began the tourney as almost a spare part on Team Canada. But as the games have gotten bigger, he has gradually seen his role increase, throwing his weight around with great effectiveness against Russia in the quarterfinals and Slovakia on Friday night on a line with Anaheim Ducks stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
It just so happens Getzlaf and Perry, by the way, have played their best hockey with Morrow, who scored Canada's second goal Friday night in the 3-2 semifinal win over Slovakia.
"He's one of those guys that's got real good hockey sense, but he's satisfied to be a grinder on this team," Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said. "I thought he played real strong tonight. ... He's added energy. And Getzy and Perry have been way better since he got there. He got the energy level up for them. He's an important player.
"He did a great job tonight on the power play. He scored one goal, but then he was right in front for that other goal in front. He's been great. Everybody has had a way to make a contribution, but I think he's different than a lot of the skill guys we brought, and that's why we brought him, because of the grit."
Now we all can see what architect Steve Yzerman was thinking in adding the power forward to the lineup, a selection that wasn't unanimously approved by media and fans across Canada. Morrow seemed out of place in the opening two games, playing only 7 minutes, 50 seconds against Norway and a tournament-low 5:52 against Switzerland. But he began to find his niche in the loss to the U.S. with 11:22 of hard-hitting ice time and has raised his level of play in every game since.
"Anyone coming in here checks his ego at the door," Morrow said. "You do what the coach asks, and I was happy with that role. But now there are some more minutes, and I'm more involved in the game. That line with Corey and Ryan has been strong on pucks and grinding down low. I think that's kind of like what the identity of our team needs to be, and we're doing a good job of it."
When he was named to the team Dec. 30, he looked at the star-studded lineup and immediately knew what he had to bring to the table. In Dallas, he's a major offensive contributor. On this Olympic team, he would be a specialist.
"I saw all the skill and obviously I knew that my role was going to be a physical player, bang bodies," Morrow said. "I think anyone they picked to be on the team would want to have more and be more involved in the game. You wouldn't be here if you didn't have that in you. Whatever role you get, you want to do your best and earn a little more."
Now comes Sunday's big finale, and you can be sure Morrow will again have a sizeable role against an equally physical Team USA. This time around, Morrow believes the Americans will see a different Team Canada.
"I think we've learned to get in the paint a little better and get in front of goalies and not let them see it," Morrow said. "I really think we've kind of zoned in on getting physical and getting pucks deep, grinding down low and getting after their D quick. That's been the key to our success, and in that regard, I think we're much better equipped."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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