MANCHESTER, N.H. – Since joining the Monarchs in 2016, Kevin Morris has established himself as a solid winger and a good offensive contributor. In 72 regular season tilts, the Miami University (please don’t say “of Ohio”) alum has put up 38 points, and he played every game of last year’s playoff run, scoring another five goals and chipping in four assists.
Returning for the new season the son of former Monarchs head coach Mark Morris has taken on a new pursuit: blogging. Morris and I touched on The Numbers Game, what Manchester has meant to his family over the years, and even a little bit of hockey.
Josh Heistman: The Manchester Monarchs shared a link to your new blog, The Numbers Game and you’re using this as a platform for hockey players to contribute their personal stories, right?
Kevin Morris: In part, it is. It’s not only hockey players, though. This is something I’ve always enjoyed… It started about two weeks ago, my sister and I were sitting in my kitchen back home, and she was giving me a hard time about not doing anything but just playing with all our downtime that we have now away from the rink. And she said, “Okay, why don’t you write?” and I said, “Well, I don’t want to write about myself, that’s not my thing.” But I do like to read other people’s stories about their come-up, and how they became who they are today, and where they are today. And so, I didn’t know anything about blogging or anything like that, so I did some research with the help of my sister, and I set up a website and bought the domain. I’ve always said, and talked to my teammates, about how you could write 1000s of books about the numbers game, because everyone’s heard that, in some way, shape, or form. So in my head, I’ve had the idea for a long time to use that. I thought, what better time than now to use that as a title, as an example of some of the trials and tribulations that people go through in professional sport. Even outside of hockey. I want to extend this to as many professional sports as I can. I don’t want it to be solely focused on hockey, or even the athlete directly.
I think that’s what differentiates me from something like The Players’ Tribune. Don’t get me wrong, it’s unbelievable, I enjoy reading their stuff. But they’re sole focus is on the athlete, primarily the all-star athlete or superstars.
So I think The Numbers Game tells the story, from a first-person perspective, of kind of the truth about these people’s come-up. Whether they’re a player, an athlete, a coach, a general manager, a scout, someone who sharpens the skates, an equipment manager…sort of a comprehensive look inside the heads of people who pursue a professional sport. And that’s why I specifically said: “people who pursue professional sport” and not “athletes.” I think that’s something I really want to harp on because that’s the aspect that I think a lot of people don’t get to see or know about. For example: what goes on inside a scout’s head when he’s away from his family 300 nights a year? How do they handle that? People don’t think about that. Or, if you’re a the woman who works in a male-dominated position in sport, what’s that like? That’s uncharted territory that I want to tap into.
Now, obviously, I do want to use athletes as one of the leading contributors, because they’re the most popular. But I’m intrigued most by the stories outside of that, and bringing the sports stadium to the reader. So if you’re a young athlete, or you’re someone who is interested in becoming a coach, or a scout, an agent, or anything like that in professional sport, you can come to this page and read some of the stories. What’s the truth, what goes on behind closed doors that I need to know about if I want to get into this. So that’s my idea behind this, is one: it gives these people that have these unbelievable stories that haven’t had a chance to express them a platform to do so, to kinda share things that are valuable to them or powerful in their lives that have gotten them to where they are today.
JH: That’s really interesting, you make that distinction between it being all about the athletes and being about all the other roles in sport. All of those different people, like you said the guy who sharpens the skates, he’s as important to the machinery of the team as a player might be, or a coach. I think it’s fascinating to look into all the pieces that go into what makes the teamwork. And I’ve had this thought before myself, kind of like what you’re saying, you want to hear these stories, these uncharted things… every single one of these jobs, there’s almost an art to it. So getting down into what it is behind the art of being a scout… it’s a skill that they have, to assess, but it’s also an art, in a way.
KM: Oh, for sure. And especially those kinds of people, they’ve never been asked, maybe by their families and close friends, but they’ve never been given a forum to tell it like it is, what’s the truth here. And to tell it from their point of view. People always interview us athletes and take what we say and what we give them, and they write the story. And sometimes the story isn’t told the way it was meant to be told. By giving athletes and people in sport an opportunity to tell it like it is from their brain, what goes on in between your ears. If you’re someone who is doing this and going through these things, why not tell it as you see it? And then send it right out to the public. Obviously, not everyone is a writer or went to four years of college, and that’s fine. I’m willing to work with athletes and people to edit and kind of work with them to get the message across how they want it to be said, but I want the majority to come from them. To have it sound natural.
JH: Right, you don’t have to have gone to college for writing to be able to tell a story. Everybody has at least one good story that they can tell, and if you have somebody that’s not a “writer,” they don’t usually get to tell their stories. So I think this is a good opportunity for that sort of person to come out, and I think it’s a really great idea. And that’s what sort of intrigued me when I read about this. I’m really interested in finding out where that came from in you, what gave you the desire to give people that forum.
KM: I think a lot of it stems from hockey and having such a tight-knit community. You sit in a locker room with people, and they tell stories about what’s it like going and playing in Europe, and having to live in a completely different culture and having to adapt your life completely. What’s that like? Stories that are told in locker rooms day in and day out, but fans and other people outside of that, they don’t get to hear that stuff. So this brings that back to the public, and it’s not meant to be always serious. It’s meant to be: what are some valuable stories you’ve got that brought you to where you are? Are they funny, are they sad, does it move you? Does it move others? So that’s the jist of it. Stuff like that gets talked about in locker rooms all the time, so why not give a forum for other athletes who may not have been in those locker rooms to hear those stories, or people who are just interested in sports, or interested in becoming involved in professional sports to just kind of hear those things, and give a better overall look at what goes on.
JH: Now, have you personally always been interested in writing, or is this just a newer thing? Something that just came up?
KM: You know, I wasn’t a Communications major in school, I was a Sports Leadership and Management major at Miami University. Don’t say Miami of Ohio; they won’t be happy with that! But I wouldn’t say at all that I’ve been extremely experienced in writing, but I’ve always done well in English classes growing up and I’ve always been pretty well spoken. I can get something on paper and do that, but by no means would I say I’m an expert. I can do enough to help someone express what they want to say.
JH: Now so far (as of this interview) you’ve had two contributions to the page, one’s from Zach Bogosian and the other from Ryan Lannon. Did you have anybody lined up ahead of time, or how did these two come to be the first two?
KM: So this started two weeks ago, and right away I started to reach out to people I know in hockey, being the easiest one right now. Zach and I grew up together, and our families are extremely close, so that was a no-brainer for me. And he was immediately willing to get me a piece, and he got me a piece in about a day or two. We worked together to get the message across that he wanted to tell in public, and kinda went from there. And Ryan Lannon was someone who I bumped into along my career. He was one of my skills coaches in Cape Cod when I was training, not this past summer, but the summer before, and he’s an unbelievable person, and I’d like to say, one of the most interesting people in the world. So I reached out to him and told him my vision and my idea, and he got me a piece, and we worked together on it, but this is all coming from their minds. They’re the ones writing, I’m just helping them with run-on sentences and grammar and stuff like that. But in no way am I trying to change their stories or change their messages that they’re trying to get across. But it’s amazing how unique the hockey world is, as soon as I started reaching out to people, and told them about the idea that I had, I haven’t had one person tell me no. They’ve been accommodating, and so excited about it. The hockey world is so tight-knit, so close, as soon as somebody starts something or starts looking for help, people line up. Hockey players want to help each other, want to see each other succeed.
So there are a bunch of articles that are being written now, from a bunch of people. Some pretty big names, and some from places other than hockey. I have some commitments from the NFL, figure skating, I’m working with a couple basketball contributions and some more contributions from hockey players playing in Europe, the KHL, and some of those leagues over there. But I also have some coaches, right now, some hockey coaches that are interested in contributing and working together to start expanding that network outside of athletes. So really, I’ve seen nothing but good feedback from everybody. It’s unbelievable how tight-knit the sports world is and as soon as one of their own comes up with an idea, it’s been awesome to see how united the sports world is. It’s something that’s unique. I was talking to one of the players here, actually, at camp today about it, and he said that something a lot of people don’t understand is that people in hockey have a lot of relationships to people in other sports, whether that’s professional or collegiate. It’s a very united business, I guess. Having come from Miami University, I’ve gotten to know a bunch of people who have played other sports, and have gone on professionally. So I’ve reached out to them, as well, and they’ve been great. I’m pretty excited about it, I think that it’s something unique and it could take off and I feel like people will enjoy it.
JH: It sounds great, and I’m really interested to see how it develops going forward. Especially thinking about, say, figure skating. That’s not really a sport that, I believe, really get represented much at all, especially in media. They cover the big four, maybe some NASCAR, maybe soccer. I feel like figure skating… the Olympics come around and you talk about it, and then it goes away. So I think it’s pretty cool that you’ll be able to get these insights from places that you’re not seeing represented very much.
KM: Oh for sure. I want it to be a forum where you don’t single out just one sport. Obviously, hockey has to be my primary sport right now because of my connection to it, and that’s going to be my way to get it out initially, but there are so many people out there who are misrepresented or not represented at all, that people want to know about.
JH: Do you plan to regularly contribute to this, or are you planning to be the aggregator?
KM: I think I will. I’d like to make some comments on some of the people that do contribute. To talk about how I’m connected to these people, or give comments on some of it, and give updates on what’s going on in my mind as a minor league hockey player. But I think, really, for the most part, I’m going to have… as of now, I have a lot of people writing, and I don’t know if I’ll have a lot of time to write myself.
JH: That’s a good point, you kind of feel like you don’t want to get in the way of all these people who are contributing and giving you all this, you kind of want to stand back and not get in the way.
KM: Yeah, and like I said, this isn’t meant to be about me. This isn’t about me at all, this is for people pursuing a professional sport. This is a much more holistic view of the inside of professional sport. It’s about individuals going through things that people go through every day in professional sport.
JH: Are there any other comments or anything else you want people to know about The Numbers Game before we move on to some other stuff?
KM: I would say if you were to get something out there… I guess I could just say that I want as much feedback as I can get, and if anyone has leads on stories or people that would like to contribute to the site, I would love to talk to them and to kind of help get their stories out there, get their messages out there, so people can enjoy and learn from them.
Everyone has a story. Everyone has something that can bring value to someone else’s life and move them. Whether that be to laughter, to tears, whatever it may be, it will move them. This is just a platform for people to express that and share it.
JH: I’ve always had that philosophy myself, so it’s really good to know I’m not alone in looking at someone and thinking, “Man, I bet that guy could tell me about three really good stories, and I’ll hear things I’ve never heard about in my life.” People, in general, just fascinate me, and I think that the world of sport is such a unique environment that I think there are many very interesting situations that you’ll come across, and I’m looking forward to seeing what develops.
KM: Me too. I’m still playing and this is something to take up my downtime, but if it were to grow into anything more than that, I’m extremely excited about it. I want it to grow as much as possible because I take pride in it and I’m passionate about it. It’s not something I just do for the sake of doing it. I think it’s very interesting. I’m biased because I’m an athlete, and I enjoy sports, but I think there are enough people out there that feel the same way and will enjoy something like this.
JH: And I don’t really think you need to appreciate sports, even sports in general, to get something out of these stories. You know, Zach Bogosian’s story that he wrote was the day he realized he could push himself harder, and when he started doing that he noticed that everyone else started pushing themselves harder on the team. And I think that’s a lesson you can take to any environment, it isn’t necessarily specific to sports.
KM: Right, people can relate to this in any way. They have their own lives that they’re living, and this is just an example of something they’ve gone through or something they can relate to.
JH: Yeah, and that’s something I’m very interested in, the idea of giving people a forum. Good for you, man, that’s really cool.
KM: Thank you, I’m really excited about it. I’m kinda learning this process as I go, but that’s kinda all part of it. I think it brings value to it, too, that I’m an athlete who is kind of living this, whereas someone who… don’t get me wrong, you’ve got Derek Jeter (founder of The Players’ Tribune), who sits on the highest pedestal of professional athletes, who comes to my mind as being the ultimate pro and having credibility. But living it right now is my way of saying, “Hey, this is my idea, this is what I’m going through as a person. And I’m wondering if you want me to help tell your stories as people in professional sport.”
JH: And thinking about that, how does someone like me even relate to a Derek Jeter?
KM: Exactly! They’re so high up on that pedestal that it’s tough to relate, but that’s why I think these stories are so interesting. These people are grinding, they’re loading buses, they’re riding on 15-hour bus rides to go play one hockey game or one baseball game. These people are making peanuts, but they’re doing what they love, and that just relates so much more to the common man and woman.
And I want it to be men and women! I want contributions from women’s sports, I think that’s such an uncharted territory. When have they ever had an opportunity to express themselves? Not to name names, my sister (Emily) played at Wisconsin with a lot of athletes on the women’s Olympic team, and I think I’m going to be getting some contributions from one or two of them. Like I said, that’s something that’s so uncharted and they haven’t had a voice. Why don’t we get that out there, why don’t we start a conversation about this stuff?
JH: That’s so great, I really love it, I couldn’t be more excited about the entire concept of this. I think that this is something that people, in general, will be really interested in, and just the two stories that you have right now are A) just so different from one another and B) just so insightful that I think that this is an idea with legs, you know what I mean?
KM: I hope so, that’s the plan!
JH: All right, I can’t let you get away without talking to you about hockey stuff a little bit. So, how are you feeling about coming back to Manchester this year.
KM: But as far as Manchester goes, you’re looking at a team that’s returning and it’s a lot of the heart and soul of what we had last year and what made us successful. We were such a unique and tight-knit team last year, and we’re excited about the guys who are returning and the energy that we had in the locker room, the oneness and unitedness that we had throughout the entire year. There were times throughout the year that we didn’t have the results we wanted, but the heartbeat of our team was strong all throughout the year, and the majority of it is returning. So we’re excited, and I’m excited to be returning to Manchester, obviously that city has a dear spot in my heart and it’s been nothing but awesome to my family. I’m looking forward to it and I’m excited about it. Coach Seeley and Coach Giuliano really are top-notch and they get it. They understand that, as professional athletes and professional hockey players, our individual goals are to move up and progress into higher leagues and the highest league is the ultimate goal. But on top of that, they have a happy medium. They understand that yes, we want to move up, but we want to win. We’re athletes, we’re competitors, whatever level we’re playing at, we want to succeed. They keep both those things in mind, and if you look at the past two seasons, we’ve kind of done that. We’ve had great players, and we’ve had great results. So I commend them for what they’ve done in the past two years, and I’m excited to work with them again. They’ve really built a pretty good reputation for themselves as being understanding and respectful and players, coaches who get it and understand what it’s all about.
JH: Yeah, and I think it’s hard to argue with the results last year. You ended up with more points than the previous year. Even though you finished fourth in the division, it was a tougher division overall, and the run in the playoffs was just great. I think that it’s hard to look at those two guys and think they’re not doing a fantastic job, especially considering that they do everything at the ECHL level.
KM: I think a lot of people don’t understand how much they actually do. At any other level above them, there are video guys, there are people who arrange travel, there are people who arrange team travel and individual travel and all these separate things. And yes, there are people who do some of these things in Manchester, but there are a lot less of them. And so, they have to wear a lot of hats on top of the coaches and general managers.
JH: I think you’re right, that’s not common knowledge how much they do, especially when you consider the staff of an NHL team that lets the coaches focus on the coaching, and you think about what those two guys have to do by themselves and I don’t even know how they can stay standing, much less focus on coaching.
KM: Exactly. Think about a call-up or a couple of call-ups, and there are college seasons going on. And they have to do research, they’re scouts, as well. They have to go, who are the best players available who can get here on Friday morning, for a Friday night game, and play at a high level, and be a professional athlete tonight. That’s not easy to do and put a good product on the ice. That not something I can imagine having to do and having to wear all those hats on top of the struggles of just being a hockey coach.
Honestly, here’s another thing: we go on a bus trip and the head coach and assistant coach are handing out per diems. That’s something that would never happen at an NHL level or the American League level. They’re full, hands-on. They have to be at full energy every day just to get everything together and keep the engine moving forward.
JH: I think fans in Manchester are happy to have them here and are grateful for all the work they do. I’m sure you guys are happy, too.
KM: They know how it should be done, and they know how to treat an organization and players the right way. I think that’s something they do that’s their biggest strength.
JH: So I have a couple of questions that I try to ask everybody when I do these interviews if you’re prepared for the tough questions, are you prepared?
KM: Sure, let’s do it!
JH: All right: what’s your favorite away arena to play in?
KM: Favorite away arena, oh jeez. ECHL level?
JH: Any level you’ve ever played, if you wanna talk about one of each, please do.
KM: That’s a tough question! Hardest arena to play in or favorite?
JH: I’ll let you pick whichever criteria you want to, I want you to take it and run with it, this is your story.
KM: Okay. In college, you have to go with North Dakota. One weekend, we were there and there were four wedding proposals between two games, that happened on the big screen. FOUR WEDDING PROPOSALS IN ONE WEEKEND.
JH: How do you follow that?
KM: Isn’t that crazy? At a college hockey game.
JH: I mean, I imagine it’s because that’s a big deal. Not to knock North Dakota, but if you’re looking to do something public, that’s a pretty big deal in North Dakota.
KM: So that’s college. American, I’ve only played in a certain amount of rinks. I’ve only played a few games, so I guess let’s leave that out. ECHL level, Adirondack was a tough place to play. Our playoffs there were unbelievable. I know we all really enjoyed the energy that was brought to Adirondack’s rink throughout the playoffs, and we treated that like the finals. It felt like the finals with the aura and the energy that they brought in the game, it was pretty phenomenal. I also enjoyed Florida, that was a great arena.
JH: The Everblades, you mean?
KM: Yeah. South Carolina was a tough place to play, too. We played well there, but then we didn’t play so well at home…
JH: Well, we don’t need to talk about that, that’s fine.
KM: We don’t need to talk about that. But I have to say, overall, my favorite place that I’ve played is Soldier Field. I played two outdoor games at Soldier Field where the Chicago Bears play. My Freshman year was against Notre Dame and my Junior year was against Western Michigan, so I got to play there twice and it was unbelievable. I think one year there were 65,000 fans and it was a pretty cool experience.
JH: That does sound pretty cool, and that’s a place with a lot of history. Did you feel the gravitas of Soldier Field when you were there?
KM: Yeah, it was pretty interesting just to realize that there are people who go and play in stadiums that big every weekend. And you just feel so small in relation to the building and the amount of people who are there, and all eyes are on you.
JH: I can’t even imagine anything in my life that I can compare to that. That’s a lot of pressure, I can feel it through the telephone.
KM: That’s what we play for! That’s the fun part.
JH: That’s a great attitude to have! All right, so this is the one I’m always going to end on: What is your favorite, or what is the best, restaurant in Manchester, NH?
KM: Oh boy. Best restaurant in Manchester, NH: Copper Door. I gotta go with the Copper Door.
JH: I get a lot of people asking because I think Manchester is a really underrated food scene. It’s not really known for it, but there are about 1000 restaurants in Manchester and they all seem to do really well, and I know that you guys eat out a lot.
KM: I love the food in Manchester.
JH: I miss it! I haven’t lived there for a year. Copper Door is a fairly new restaurant.
KM: Well, we live right near the Copper Door, so we go there for postgame meals, we really enjoy it.
JH: So, The Numbers Game, I’m really interested in seeing how it grows and where it goes, and we’re looking forward to seeing you guys play this year and would love to talk to you again sometime down the road, if you have time, that would be great.
KM: Yeah, I’d love that.
JH: If you have any final thoughts, now’s the time!
KM: I just wanna get the word out, that’s all. I want to expand it as much as possible and to as many sports and to as many channels as possible, so that people can learn from it and enjoy it.
Our thanks to Kevin Morris for taking the time to tell us about The Numbers Game.