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‘Blood, sweat and tears’

Emily Morris skates around the ice on a recent Saturday at the Ashburn Ice House. Morris, was a contender for the Olympic women’s hockey team. Times-Mirror Photo/John Flannery
Many get weak in the ankles when sliding onto ice to skate, but not 27-year-old Emily Morris.

Morris has been skating before she was 2 years old, locking hockey sticks with boys when still knee high, a national champion in women’s amateur hockey, and not too long ago a contender for the Olympic women’s hockey team.

Presently, Morris is a renowned fitness director and the head trainer at the Ashburn Ice House.

Her students, friends and associates ask what she’s going to do next. Whatever it is, you know it’s going to be great.

“Emily’s very passionate about skating. She simply loves skating,” said Jamil Pugh, a strength and conditioning coach at the Ice House.

On a recent Saturday, Morris took to the ice in between duties to coach, teach and train skaters. She pulled on large red gloves, grabbed a hockey stick like you might reach for your car keys to go out, and pushed and chased a puck in circles right and left as easily and as naturally as you’d swing your arms in rhythm at a walk, but at the speed of a gentle wind. She was grace on ice, dancing at the sport she’s played since childhood.

“I didn’t have a choice,” she said, “My dad was the assistant hockey coach at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.”

That’s about as far north in New York as you can go near the St. Lawrence Seaway and not that far from Ottawa, Canada, home to the Ottawa Senators Hockey team.

“I have seen a picture of myself on ice skates at 1 ½ but don’t really remember that,” Morris said. “When I was about 4, I played on a boys’ hockey team, the ‘Mini Mites,’ sponsored by the Collins Brothers, a body shop. I can recall a picture of Aaron Bogosian, my friend and mini mite teammate, the two of us standing on a bench; Aaron’s brother, Zachary, now plays defenseman for the Winnipeg Jets.”

“I broke an arm on an under-15 hockey team, the Potsdam-Canton Blizzard team, playing against boys, when I wasn’t yet tough enough, hit hard into the boards by a guy much larger; I have an aggressive side you know,” she said.

“I’ve played with pain,” Morris continued. “Anyone who has ever been an athlete has had to play through pain. There’s a difference between an injury that hurts, but is not causing any more damage. I just tell myself, ‘I can do this.’”

The Blizzard team won national titles taking Morris west to California. On the Syracuse Stars, an under-19 hockey team, she went west again to Anchorage to compete.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, playing as a Badger on an all-girls hockey team, Morris was co-rookie of the year, helped the team win titles in her sophomore and junior years and was the senior year team captain when the Badgers were NCAA National Tournament Runners-Up.

Her Badgers’ coach was the famed hockey Olympian, Mark Johnson, who scored two crucial goals in the “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics, and then played 12 years in the National Hockey League.

“Coach Johnson told us, ‘Positivity breeds positivity,’” she said. “How it’s hard to be positive in a negative situation, how negativity is easier and contagious, so we work at being positive, as I did as a competitor, and when I teach and train here and now at the Ice House.”

“As a member of the Under-22 USA Team in 2007, after I spent a year attending National Camps in Lake Placid, practicing six hours a day, working my butt off, I hoped to be asked back so that I’d have a shot at going to the Olympics myself,” Morris said.

But she was not. Instead she was invited to join pro hockey teams in Switzerland and Italy. Morris, however, wanted to play for her country, to be an Olympian, and decided it was time to move on, turning to coaching like her father and Johnson.

“Sure my students ask if I might try again for the Olympics,” Morris said. “And, if the factors were to align, I’d go for it. When I set my sights on something, I dare you to tell me, ‘you can’t.’”


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