In 1980, there was a lot of crazy things going on in the world. There was the gas shortages, the hours of waiting to get a few gallons of petrol. There was the Iran hostage crisis. Also – there was the Cold War in full swing.
Both in the military, and on the ice, the U.S. and the Soviets were in showdowns, with fingers on the trigger, so to speak. But unlike the battle between Jimmy Carter and Leonoid Brezhnev, the battle in hockey was a severe one-sided situation.
The Russians were the best in the world; destroying the NHL stars a few months in the past. These ‘amateurs’ played together for years for the Red Army team, and two weeks before the Olympics were to begin, they destroyed the US team by the score of 10-3. As we have all seen in the movie “Miracle”, this game was a pivotal point for the Americans in their transformation from a bunch of “College Students” as the Russians called them, to the winners of the Gold Medal.
Even in the movie, the players on the U.S. Team that are vividly shown, are Mike Eruzione, Jack O’Callahan, and Jim Craig. Ken Morrow, a standout defenseman from Bowling Green University and the 1979 CCHA player of the year, was not shown much in the movie. As a matter of fact, the trademark beard, that Morrow had was not even on the actor’s face. A little issue that I have with the movie.
But Morrow was a silent factor of this team. The defense, to most fans watching the team was solely based on Craig. However, Morrow was usually up against the KLM line, and was responsible for keeping them off the scoresheet. His game was simple, not flashy, but extremely consistent. Number three on the US Olympic team was one of 20 young men that received their gold medal, and went to the White House soon after the Olympics were over.
Many of these players were off to the NHL. For Morrow, the 68th pick in the 1976 NHL draft was off to Long Island, to play for the Islanders. Coach Al Arbour thrust him into the lineup right away, knowing that he would blend in well with the rest of the veteran laden Islanders.
And fit in he did.
Again, not noticed in the score sheet, he was the type that played his position with precision and ease, without bring much attention to himself. He was not the fastest skater on the team, but positionally he was extremely effective. He did not have a blistering slap shot, but he could get his shot on target. He was not the strongest body checker (we know that number 5 was), but he was not afraid to stir it up, and get involved in the physical play. The coaches were comfortable that when Morrow was on the ice, he would handle himself with skill and class.
Of course, we know what happened on May 24th in 1980. The Islanders would win the first of their four consecutive Stanley Cup championships, and Morrow would be a part of all of them. He was the first player to win a Gold Medal in the Olympics and a Stanley Cup in the same season. Others have done it subsequently, but that was due to the NHL participation in the Olympics. This, to me, is a tarnished statistic. Morrow will be the true double threat winner.
What is not known to many, is that during the first and fourth cups, Morrow was having major issues with his knees, having arthroscopic surgery during both of those years, and having fluid drained between games.
In 1984, on the quest for their fifth cup, Morrow played a vital role in their run, scoring an overtime goal against the New York Rangers, moving them into the second round of the playoffs. Their run would end at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers after 19 consecutive playoff series victories. A record that would NEVER be broken by any sports franchise.
His NHL career was cut short in 1989 due to many knee issues. He played 551 NHL games, scoring 18 goals and 105 points, while compiling only 305 penalty minutes. The latter is a mind boggling statement, considering that he played against the top offensive lines in the NHL. Again, the smoothness, and classy demeanor and dedication to the game, were what made Morrow one of the best Islanders in their history.
Morrow made the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995, and has spend the last two decades or so, as a Pro scout of the Islanders. He has been involved in the development of current and future Islander players.
I had the pleasure of meeting Morrow on many occasions. Not only is he a true gentleman in every sense of the word, but in conversations with him, he made you feel that he was interested in what you had to say. Although an overwhelming majority of hockey players are class acts, Morrow is a step above.
It is a deep honor to be able to be not only in the building for this game, but to be in the press box to watch number 6 of the New York Islanders get the opportunity to see his name go up on the list of the great Islander players to the rafters.
Congratulations Ken! You deserve this honor!
Oh yea – there is a hockey game today. We get to see Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the rest of the Edmonton Oilers for the 1PM matinee.
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Oil On Whyte
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