If there was a question mark for Notre Dame heading into this season, it was how the Irish would replace all-conference goalie Cal Petersen, who withdrew from school early in order to sign as a free agent with the Los Angeles Kings this past summer. Enter sophomore Cale Morris. Morris saw just one period of action as a freshman stuck behind Petersen. But with the opportunity for more playing time, Morris quickly won the starting goalie job for the Irish in a competition with freshman Dylan St. Cyr and has been dominant in net since. His statistics are an eye-popping 1.61/.952 for a 19-3-0 overall record this year.
Morris isn’t a compete unknown. After a fairly nondescript NHL draft year in his rookie season in the USHL with the Chicao Steel in 2013-2014, Morris really took off in his second season of junior hockey when he was traded to the Waterloo Blackhawks about midway through the season. Morris went on a run with the Blackhawks similar to what he is doing now with Notre Dame, posting a save percentage above .935 and a GAA below two, while setting a Waterloo team record for shutouts. That play earned him a scholarship to Notre Dame and got him on NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings for the 2015 Draft, though he ended up being undrafted.
The following season, Waterloo was a younger team and his numbers took a bit of a hit as a result, causing most of the attention to fade, and he was all but forgotten about after spending his freshman year opening the bench doors while Petersen shined.
But with him stopping 19 out of every 20 pucks he sees at Notre Dame, the attention is starting to ramp up again, with many wondering whether he could draw interest as an NHL free agent. I took a closer look at Morris when the Irish traveled to Minneapolis on Friday January 26th, for a game against the University of Minnesota, in which Notre Dame fell 1-0 in overtime to get a better feel for Morris’ pro potential.
The first thing to keep in mind is that I do believe Morris’ numbers are inflated due to the team in front of him. Notre Dame has probably the most talented group of defensemen in the country, and they play an incredibly disciplined, conservative style. The night after this game, a scout asked me how Notre Dame’s goalie looked and I responded “Which one? They play about three at a time”. Morris stopped 33 shots in this game, I had just seven from inside the prime scoring area. I don’t think Notre Dame gave up a single odd-man rush.
So that’s going to make any goalie look pretty good, but I wouldn’t say that’s the whole story with Morris. It maybe inflates his save percentage 20-25 points, but when he’s sitting at .952 for the season, he’s got a lot of cushion to still land in the very, very good range.
The thing that stood out to me the most was that his balance and body control is exceptional. The toughest save for any goalie to make is moving in one direction and having the make save in the other direction. Morris isn’t only quick moving side-to-side, he’s also able to separate his upper body from lower body and still be able to make that save while moving in the opposite direction. Again, he’s not facing a lot of desperate scramble situations, but he always looks very calm and poised in the net.
The advantage of that poise is that he’s really good at controlling his rebounds. He’s not only stopping a lot of long shots from the perimeter, he’s also really good at controlling rebounds and directing pucks away from the net. He makes it easier for his defensemen to retrieve the puck, and limits the amount of second chance opportunities he sees.
The biggest concern for Morris as a pro might be his size. He’s listed at 6’1”, which is maybe accurate, maybe stretching things a bit. As of two years ago, the average goalie in the NHL was 6’2.5”, with nobody under 6’1” starting more than 38 games(if the measurement on Morris is generous, it’s safe to assume it is for some other 6’1” goalies in the NHL too.). It’s not a deal-breaker, especially since I think he has some exceptional tools to make up for it, but it could make things much more difficult if he were in a situation where he was seeing more shots from close range where he didn’t have time to react.
Goalies are notoriously difficult to project to the next level, and with only 62 roster spots in the NHL, the odds of success are fairly slim. But Morris looks like he’s a guy worth taking the chance on. I imagine a number of NHL teams will line up to offer him a free agent contract after the season is done, and he’d be smart to take it. Morris turns 22 this May. It’s doubtful he’ll improve upon his stats this year, especially with Notre Dame losing a couple D to graduation, and possibly some to early pro departure. This may be his opportunity to strike while the iron is hot.
As a pro, he’d certainly start in the minor leagues and have to prove himself at that level first. But if he continues to play the way that he has this season, there is certainly the possibility of him making to the NHL some day.