DI Flames’ first defensive recruit has Juniors experience, FCA Hockey connections
On his hockey resumé sent out to prospective college programs, Grant Morton — Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team’s first defenseman in the incoming Fall 2022 recruiting class — mentions more about his values and character than he does his hockey experience.
“I’m a team player,” he wrote. “I put the team first and will do whatever is asked of me. I pride myself on being reliable, coachable, and professional on and off the ice. I have high expectations for myself and others. I’m a person of character and strive to be a role model for others … leading by example. I consider myself “blessed” and my approach to life is one of gratitude and finding the ‘positive’ in every situation.”
Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said that is what makes Morton such a valuable find — his selflessness and servant’s heart, as much as his prowess on the ice.
“He is another guy who is a good fit for the culture here, and we are really excited to have him,” Handy said. “He has known a lot of our players through FCA hockey, and played with Jackson Vercellono, Truett Olson, Nate Albers, and Nate Cox from being very involved with FCA Hockey’s summer camps. Most of all, he is a great fit, and he makes our team better. He moves the puck well, he’s a good skater, a guy who will come in here and make our team more competitive.”
Morton, 20, spent five days on Liberty’s campus earlier this semester, immersing himself in the culture and bonding with his future teammates, including forwards Zak and Nate Albers, who will be his roommates in the fall.
“We’ve always known about him,” Handy said. “The key was getting him on campus and meeting the rest of the team and having him realize this was the place the Lord was leading him.”
“I had a blast, staying at the Albers’ house along with (forwards) Matt Bartel and Kris Bladen,” Morton added. “They are all super awesome. I loved all of the guys, and it was just a great environment all around.”
Morton, who is considering pursuing a degree through the School of Business, said the visit is what sealed the deal for him, but he has desired to play for the Flames for years because of Liberty’s mission statement.
“I’ve known Kirk and (Associate Head Coach) Jeff (Boettger) for a while and like how they not only focus on the hockey side, but also the Christianity side,” he said. “I’ve seen the team culture and how they use that, and I’m looking forward to growing in my faith as well. I like how close the coaches are to the players, how everybody loves one another, and they push you to be a better believer.”
Morton, whose dad, Kurt Morton, played goalie on the same Bethel (Minn.) College team as Boettger back in 1993, grew up playing pond hockey in Minnesota, where his father was his coach from Mites through to middle school. He won a state championship with his high school team, the Edina Hornets, in 2019 before playing with Liberty defenseman Cam Kuhl and forward Kam Ottenbreit on the NAHL’s Odessa (Minn.) Jackalopes for a 10-game stint in 2020. He spent the 2020-21 season with the New Mexico Ice Wolves in the NAHL before playing for the Welland Junior Canadians of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League this past year.
Morton, who also played baseball, lacrosse, and some golf up through high school, started as a forward in hockey until his Juniors career. That was when he switched to defenseman, which is better suited to his playing style. He said moving from the NAHL to the ACHA should be a smooth transition as he continues to strengthen his 5-foot, 11-inch, 180-pound frame.
“I had to learn how to play the game at a higher speed with older, bigger guys,” Morton said of his two seasons of Junior hockey. “That encouraged me to work harder off-ice and get stronger. This summer will be a big year off the ice, hitting the weight room, trying to get faster and stronger. I’ll probably be on the ice four to five times a week with my summer coach.”
With graduate defenseman and assistant captain Chaydan Lauber graduating and senior Alex Norwinski shifting back to the Division II team next season, Morton can help the Flames fill a couple holes in the defensive corps.
While he is not as physically formidable as Lauber, Morton is a rugged defenseman who has great vision and speed on the ice, with the ability to make the timely first pass out of the defensive zone to spring a fast break.
“I like the physicality of the game, and while I do like to jump up on the play on the offensive end, my strong suit is defensively in the D zone,” he said.
He hopes to contend for playing time right away while sharpening his teammates on and off the ice.
“Obviously, my goals are to go in and make an impact on the D corps and hopefully just learn from the older guys, and help the team win a national championship,” Morton said. “Personally, I want to grow in my faith and work on my relationships with my teammates and my coaches.”
Following his father’s lead, he would like to coach hockey after college, as he does in the summers, leading skills camps for kids ages 10-15.
“I will probably start out at youth levels and work my way up,” Morton said.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media