It wasn't until the plane ride when Joe Morrow realized what he had just accomplished.
A couple months after being drafted in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Morrow, who was 18 at the time, attended his first training camp with the big club. As a rookie with four seasons of junior hockey under his belt, the young defenseman was anxious to practice on NHL ice with some of the biggest stars in the game before heading back to juniors.
But the exit didn't occur that quickly.
Morrow impressed the Penguins' coaches with his skating ability, defense and overall poise on the ice to earn an extended stay at training camp, remaining with the big club until Oct. 3, just days before the season opener.
"It may not have sunk in while I was there, but I thought a lot about it on the plane ride home," Morrow said last week at Coal Street Ice Rink before meeting fans at PensFest.
"Being able to play in exhibition games and pair with Kris Letang, it opened my eyes to what's ahead of me."
Morrow spent all of last season in juniors with the Portland Winterhawks, and he parlayed his training camp success into a career year. In 62 games, Morrow posted 17 goals and 64 points.
"It's not every day that you see a point-per-game defenseman," he said. "But with the minutes I got and the time on the power play, I had that opportunity."
As a 19-year-old, Morrow is old enough to play in the AHL and figures to spend at least part of the season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Despite nearly making Pittsburgh's roster last year, Morrow won't be disappointed if he begins the season in the AHL. It's a great opportunity to continue developing while the NHL sorts out it's contract impasse – a situation that may lead to a lockout.
"I don't know what's going to happen, but it's nice to be here and get to see the rink and get to know the fans," he said.
And even when the NHL season gets underway, Morrow knows it won't be easy to crack the big club's roster, which is stockpiled with blueliners.
After the Pittsburgh organization traded for, drafted or signed defensemen to bolster the system, Morrow took the added competition for roster spots in stride.
"You have to understand that hockey is a business. Pittsburgh wanted to build a good defensive corps and everyone is going to have to fight for their position," he said. "But one thing I learned from last year's training camp – it's important to make a good showing. That will be the case even more the second time around."