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Always improving: Morgan Geekie’s NHL journey powered by determination

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Morgan Geekie’s hard work and determination has opened up a spot for him with the Carolina Hurricanes and it’s up to him to take the opportunity and continue to run with it.

Boston Bruins v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Three Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

For one of the Carolina Hurricanes’ top prospects, hard work and determination have been the keys to not only making it to the top level, but sticking around there.

While Morgan Geekie was certainly talented, his drive to improve and get better led him to make leaps and bounds in his development, allowing him to stand out at every level he’s played at, until he finally broke into the NHL with quite a splash.

Characterized by those who know him best, Geekie’s parents describe him as a quiet guy who keeps to himself, but say that he’s a person who really opens up once he is comfortable showing a quirky side accented with dry humor that can easily endear him to many.

Former coaches describe him as that same quiet guy with a dry sense of humor, but as one of the most competitive and hard-working players with whom they have worked.

To really get a good picture of Morgan Geekie, one has to start at the beginning.

Geekie grew up in a small town in Manitoba called Strathclair, a railroad town that sprang up on the prairies of Canada in the late 1800s and has persisted ever since.

It’s a town whose population is less than the number of opponents Morgan has faced in his short NHL career, but a town much closer than divisional rivals.

It’s a town where everyone knows everyone. Morgan’s father, Craig, says people will stop him on the street to talk to him not just about Morgan’s games, but also the games of his younger two sons, Noah, 20, and Conor, 16.

In fact, when Geekie helped the Charlotte Checkers win the Calder Cup in 2019, he brought the trophy back to Strathclair where the population of the town essentially doubled for the day, some driving from as far as three hours away to be there.

Strathclair is a farming community of fewer than 150 people, but it has a surprising plethora of amenities: a post office, a credit union, a grocery store, a K-12 school and, just a block down from the Geekies’ three lots, an ice rink with natural ice.

And that’s where Geekie grew and fostered his love for hockey. Since he was as young as two, he’d been skating and developing his talents on that ice.

Geekie was a pretty lucky kid too: his father had keys to the rink. Nearly every day after school, he and his brothers would head straight to the rink and would stay there until their parents had to drag them back home for dinner or homework.

When they weren’t skating at the rink, the Geekie brothers were almost constantly involved in other athletic endeavors.

Sports were a major part of the Geekies’ social development. From big sports like hockey, baseball and basketball, to smaller ones like volleyball and even badminton, the Geekies played them all.

They had to.

Being part of such a small community meant that these sports needed all hands on deck to even field a team, and the Geekies never missed a game.

Thanks to Craig, who also coached all three boys in both baseball and hockey, and mother Tobi, who helped manage all of the boys’ teams, the Geekies’ attendance was always dependable.

That’s how it was for as long as Craig and Tobi could remember. They too took part in a wide variety of athletics while growing up, and they understood the importance they held for the community.

But it was their children’s passion as athletes that really drove them to keep participating.

“Kids usually follow the passion of their parents to start off and then they kind of mold their own way,” Craig Geekie said. “But for us, it didn’t really matter. You’re not going to be good at something unless you love what you’re doing. We’re going to support them either way, whichever way they wanted to go.”

Morgan Geekie was a well-rounded athlete, not just participating in a wide variety of sports, but excelling in them as well. And as he grew older, he reached an impasse with his passions.

Because he was a damn good baseball player too.

In 2013, Geekie was selected by the WHL’s Tri-City Americans; however, he did not attend training camp that year. Instead, he was representing Team Manitoba at the Canadian Bantam Boys Baseball Nationals.

It was a tournament that the team went 3-3 in, but Morgan came away as the team MVP along with earning tournament all-star second baseman honors due to his perfect fielding percentage and tournament leading batting average (0.632) and RBIs (8).

But it was after this tournament that Morgan made his final decision. He came home, threw down his glove and told his parents, “I really, really like baseball... but I love hockey.”

And his parents were behind him all the way as that following year, Morgan was in Washington staying with his new billet family.

With the Americans, Morgan started out slow, but even then, coaches could see he had the skills necessary to be special.

“He could slow the game down and not panic,” said Mike Williamson, Geekie’s coach during his time as an American in Kennewick, Wash. “He had a really good sense of plays when they were developing and knew where his teammates were. He always seemed to be a step ahead and could really play with anyone. The other players really enjoyed playing with him because they knew if they gave him the puck, they had a good chance of getting it back.”

With that skill set, the biggest thing Geekie was missing was consistency.

“[Geekie] was a very quiet and laid back guy, so I think it took him a while to step outside of his comfort zone and really compete at a high level consistently,” Williamson said. “The consistency just came with experience and the maturing process. He was younger when he came in and he had some players ahead of him and he just continued to work hard.

“I remember having a lot of conversations with Morgan talking about just how good he could be and about him being more consistent and performing at a high level every night. When he was younger, you could see flashes of how good he could be, and it would kind of go up and down on any given night, so that was something that Morgan really worked on. When he became more consistent and had that same compete level night in and night out, is when he really started to shine.”

It was during his time in the WHL that Geekie really learned the level that he was going to need to reach to find success. While he already was standing out due to the flashes of his hockey intelligence, vision and skill, it was apparent that he needed to be able to display that talent every night.

After going undrafted in his first season of eligibility, Geekie took it upon himself to get better. He was committed to not just improving his physical strength, but his individual skills and also the smaller aspects of his game. He exhibited a tremendous work ethic early — and it began to pay off for him.

In 2016-17, his second full season with Tri-City, Geekie exploded for a 35-goal, 90-point season. It was the 11th-highest scoring total in the WHL that year, and it attracted the attention of a certain NHL club. With his breakout season, Geekie garnered enough attention to be drafted in the third round, 67th overall, by Carolina.

Geekie returned for another season with Tri-City, and kept up the same high-scoring pace, with a 30-goal, 84-point season. This time though, Geekie exhibited a comfort on the main stage, as he helped lead his team to the WHL semifinals with a 17-goal, 27-point postseason.

Pleased with the consistency that Geekie was seeing in his final two years in the WHL, the Canes signed him to his ELC and for the 2018-19 season, he reported to the Charlotte Checkers.

“When he came to us two years ago, he was definitely a player that you could tell had some good skill and a good shot,” said former Charlotte Checkers and current Chicago Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “His best attribute for sure was his skill level, his hands, his shot. I think that’s what stuck out early even back when he was drafted by our scouts.”

Early on, it was evident that Geekie was developing at an exponential pace. He tallied his first professional point in his first game and netted his first goal in his second, and it only got better from there.

In 73 games, Geekie put together a 19-goal and 46-point rookie campaign, but his most impressive performance that season was during the Checkers’ Calder Cup run.

In the 19-game postseason run, Geekie registered eight goals and 18 points, including two goals in the opening game and one goal and an assist in the Cup-clinching win.

Geekie also led all rookies in playoff scoring and finished second on the team in scoring, only trailing veteran Andrew Poturalski.

The next season saw Geekie’s production slow, but for good reason.

Geekie was working with Warsofsky and the coaching staff on improving the small details of his game, his impact off the puck, being utilized in all situations and becoming a more well-rounded player.

And that was Warsofsky’s main goal for developing AHL prospects: to not only get players to the NHL, but to get them to stay.

“He’s a guy that’s at the rink early and at the rink late,” Warsofsky said. “He stays on after and he continues to work on his game. A lot of times, we’ll take clips from certain guys at the National Hockey League, like a Jordan Staal, to show him what it means to play a 200-foot game. He’s always working on his game whether that’s on the ice or off the ice and that’s what you need to do at the next level and Morgan does a good job at that.

“Getting a lot of minutes in Charlotte really helped him. Important minutes during crucial times in games. Up by a goal or down by a goal. He was relied on to do some PK for us and he was also our top center. When you have a lot of responsibility you have to kind of learn on the fly, but when you’re counted on a lot by the coaching staff and by the organization to take the steps that are necessary it can help a lot. He understood that and did that and, credit to him, because he was the one that put the work into it, to understand, to watch the video with us to find what he needed to stick at the next level.”

His mother Tobi, however, attributes Morgan’s success to something a bit more intangible than just talent.

“You do have to have a little bit of luck on your side, and we were realistic to know that,” Tobi Geekie said. “Sometimes it’s knowing the right person or it’s somebody that likes your style of play. All of those things weigh into it and you can only control certain things. You can’t worry about the things you can’t control and we always told Morgan that. It showed in March. He got his time.”

His luck was in the form of an open roster spot, as Ryan Dzingel had gone out with an upper-body injury.

Having 42 points in 55 games as Charlotte’s top center — along with having your first professional hat trick six days prior — didn’t hurt either.

But for his coach at the time, those last parts weren’t luck.

“He was playing really well for us at the time in Charlotte and he deserved a call up,” Warsofsky said. “Something that we had talked to him about, was him being better away from the puck and having a better motor. That’s something that [Rod Brind’Amour] really preaches. He started doing that and once it started clicking for him, his offense picked up and that’s when he got the callup. He really worked hard on the finer details of his game and earned that callup.”

And Geekie proved that the Canes surely made the right call, as all of the cards just seemed to fall perfectly into place for his first NHL game.

First was for his family. Geekie walked into Warsofsky’s office Saturday afternoon, learned about his callup, phoned his family and hopped on a plane to Pittsburgh by 8 p.m. that night.

His parents got the call at around 4 p.m., but there were a few roadblocks for them.

For one, they lived about three hours from an international airport.

Second, they had no idea if there were even any flights that would be flying to Pittsburgh that night.

And finally, they had to figure out how to get not only them and Geekie’s youngest brother Conor on a flight, but also his other brother Noah, who was in Kansas, and his then-girlfriend, now fiancée, Emma, who was in Regina, Saskatchewan.

In spite of all of that, the Geekies landed in Pittsburgh early Sunday morning before the sun even started to peek out, and soon enough they were situated in their seats at PPG Paints Arena for the warmups before Morgan’s debut.

From then on, it was all Morgan’s show.

A three-point, two-goal performance propelled the Hurricanes to not only a 6-2 win over the Penguins, but also secured a pair of team records for Geekie as one of only two players in team history to have a two-goal debut, and one of only two players in franchise history to have a three-point debut.

“I tried to take everything in that I could,” Geekie said following his explosive debut. “The guys were great. Everyone was on my side and welcoming me in with open arms. I can’t thank the guys and coaching staff enough.”

He didn’t stop there though, as he remained in the lineup for the next game in Detroit where he scored the game’s opening goal to give him four points in just two games. However, that’s when the season went on hold due to the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Albeit in a small sample size, Geekie demonstrated a rare talent in being able to seamlessly transition throughout different leagues from major juniors to the pros.

“I think every time I try and make that jump, I’m just trying to simplify my game,” Geekie said. “I come into each league not trying to change too much. I’ve had success being the player that I am and sticking to my game. So it’s gotten me this far and I’m just trying to continue and play well.”

When the NHL returned to play five months later, so did Geekie, who beat out Dzingel for the final forward spot. After having gotten a taste of NHL hockey, Geekie had been working hard during the pause to remain in the lineup, and his hard work made it tough for the coaching staff to justify scratching him.

As such, he appeared in all eight of the Hurricanes’ postseason games, slowly garnering Brind’Amour’s trust as his line gained more ice time and responsibility each game.

Geekie’s line proved to be one of Carolina’s most dependable lines in the qualifying round series against the Rangers. The combination of Geekie, Jordan Martinook and Brock McGinn just ran all over New York’s depth, skating them through the ice with heavy forechecking and possession. It was this dominance that even led to Geekie’s first career postseason point, a hard-fought primary assist on a Martinook goal.

“It was really good,” Geekie said of his playoff experience. “Obviously any time you can play playoff hockey it’s a different atmosphere. It was good to get in there and get into the action, but I’m going to take with me what I learned there.”

Now, out of this season’s training camp, Geekie started with the Hurricanes’ taxi squad, a new concept for the NHL to help deal with the difficulties call ups would face with quarantines and potential exposures.

“The taxi squad, it’s a little different,” Geekie said. “Obviously no one’s done it before, but we’ve got a good group of guys in there that are just taking it day by day. Every day is different, as everybody knows.”

The taxi squad allows teams to have players on hand that can jump right into a lineup should a player be unavailable.

Geekie didn’t have to wait long to get back into game action though, as Jordan Staal ended up on the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocol list before the Hurricanes’ second game of the season.

His record-setting pace from last season sadly came to a close, but Geekie saw special teams time, got a fair share of shots and didn’t concede any goals against, and that’s exactly what Brind’Amour is expecting from him.

“I don’t expect him to keep scoring at that pace that he was when he was first up, but just hopefully seeing that growth,” Brind’Amour said. “For these young guys, it’s just about taking that next step and being an everyday accountability guy that we can count on. That’s what we’re hoping for from him.”

And just like last season, after two games, his team’s time was put on pause again. The Canes have had the past three games postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the locker room that has seen six players appear on the NHL’s protocol list.

For those that have worked closely with him, the most common takeaway is that Geekie has the talent and skill to be an impact player at the NHL level, so long as he stays committed to his work ethic.

“I think Morgan can play and just continue to get better,” Williamson said of Geekie’s potential ceiling. “I didn’t envision him being able to make the transition as quick as he did. I felt that it may have taken a little bit longer, but he’s the type of player that is going to put the work in and when he gets the opportunity he is going to rise to the occasion and that’s what he’s done.”

“In the NHL, nothing would surprise me with Morgan,” Warsofsky said. “Do I think he’s going to step in and be a top-six player right away? No, but does he have that potential? For sure.

“He has those skills. The vision to make plays. His skating is improved, he’s getting stronger and growing into his body, so he could be a top center? Sure, but not right away. As you earn the coach’s trust, you can move up that ladder a little bit. He has top-nine, even top-six skill and vision, so I think it’s up to him on how hard he wants to go and how hard he wants to work to get there.”

Morgan Geekie is a quiet guy from a small town in Manitoba where everyone knows his name.

Now, after years of hard work and determination, he has made it to a stage where he can make his name known across the entire hockey world.