Canadian goalie left ice for the Twins - and it paid off

In 1997, the Portland Winter Hawks met with Justin Morneau and his family, trying to persuade the raw, 16-year-old goaltender prospect from New Westminster, British Columbia, to join their team and pursue a hockey career.

Morneau had to make a decision between hockey and baseball.

'We told him that not many Canadian kids ended up doing anything in baseball,' says Mike Williamson, then an assistant and now the Hawks' head coach. 'He proved us wrong.'

Morneau, 25, earned the American League MVP award this year in his third full season with the Minnesota Twins. Morneau hasn't seen much riches from baseball - he made $385,000 this season. Of course, he might get about a 4,000 percent raise after salary arbitration.

Morneau, who played one exhibition game, might not even have made the Winter Hawk squad. One of the great Portland goalies, Brent Belecki, played between the pipes in those years. Jason LaBarbera, played goalie from 1996 to 2000, serving as backup on the 1998 Memorial Cup championship team. LaBarbera now starts for the L.A. Kings.

'Justin was big and athletic and competed hard,' Williamson recalls of the 6-4 Morneau. 'We weren't trying to sell him the world, we weren't sure where he would get to.'

The Morneaus had good intentions - Justin's father talked about moving to Portland and running the Winter Hawks' '50-50' raffles during games. 'He was a good salesman,' Williamson says. Apparently the Winter Hawks were not.

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