Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Hall of Fame Day

On February 11, 2011, the Morrison family celebrated the induction of Rod and Don Morrison into the Omaha Hockey Hall of Fame. The two brothers played together for a portion of the 1945-46 NHL season with Detroit. In December 2010, Hockey Then and Now, highlighted Rod and Don's time in Detroit with a piece titled Brother Act. This was followed up in February with a story concerning their playing time in Omaha and subsequent return after hanging up their skates. In anticipation of the induction festivities, this story was featured under the heading Rod and Don Morrison to enter Hall.

For an update, Hockey Then and Now, submitted a series of questions to Rod Morrison's son, also named Rod. The interview provides further insight into the life and times of Omaha's two new Hall of Fame inductees.

Your Dad was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. As a youngster, did he have a favourite team/player?

 He was an all-sports fan with a great appreciation for baseball, hockey, football and basketball. Growing up in Nebraska, we followed the Big Red and were huge College Football fans. From what I recall, he was an enormous fan of the famed Production Line of the Detroit Red Wings that he rubbed shoulders with. Teddy Lindsay, Black Jack Stewart, Gordie Howe and Terry Sawchuk were the names he most fondly spoke of. He was tickled beyond belief to tell the story of when all those big hockey stars went and visited their Dad back in Saskatoon.

What memories do you have of your Dad's playing career?

 Well, remember I was born in 1964. This was quite a ways from his playing days. He passionately shared his hockey playing days and all the memories of that sport with us.

Were you able to watch him play in the NHL?

 No, unfortunately, only in paper clippings, pictures and stories.

Did your Dad play other sports?

 He was a pretty fair baseball player and would shoot hoops with me. I think though he was just real focused on hockey as a kid. He was a darn good golfer as well and definitely passed that on to me.

Your Uncle Don played professional hockey - tell us about his career.

 My Uncle had a little more longevity and was a real smart player. Some of the old timers were at the banquet and said that as well. They compared my Dad and Uncle and their playing styles, and described my Dad as a player with a lot of speed and energy, and my Uncle as a little more hard-nosed and smart, savvy player.

Were there "hockey people" in attendance at the induction ceremony?

 Bill Swarbrick played for the two brothers in the 60s. His brother George Swarbrick, played for the Knights in the 70s, but he too knew of their hockey pedigree. They were both there and part of the weekend celebration.
 The man that was most inspiring is Motto McLean, a member of the Knights all the way back in 1947 and again in 1961. This guy had an unbelievable memory and churned out stories like you can't believe. He really knew the Morrison brothers as he played for them and also worked under their ownership at their construction company in the summers. He remembered us as kids and was just a very interesting man to meet. He is a fellow Scotsman like the Morrisons' and is, and was an instrumental in the Hall of Fame nomination.
 One more important person is Gary Anderson. He is sort of the unofficial expert on all things hockey in Omaha. He wrote and published a book called "When they were the Knights". He organized the whole agenda and dinner and event. He played for the UNO Mavericks. He is an important guy back there that is really connected.

Did your Dad and Uncle push each other to be better players - were they competitive?

 Boy, did they compete. They competed at everything. It never stopped. They owned the businesses together, golfed together, fished and hunted together, raised families together, travelled together, if it had anything to do with competition - they did it and did it well.

Did your Dad enjoy being Vice-President of the Omaha Knights and Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum?

 Very much so and was extremely proud of the team they fielded and the excitement it generated in the community. The attendance at the rink was exceptional with regular sellouts commonplace, and they were real proud of this.

After leaving the game, what interests did your Dad pursue?

 Mainly, a home building business was his best and most successful business enterprise. He was a small business owner with my Uncle in the 50s and 60s that was very successful in Omaha. After a nine year stay in California, we moved back to Omaha in 1975 and he re-started his home building business. He corroborated with my Uncle here as well by sharing thoughts on home design, land deals, and development projects. He owned and managed this construction company until his retirement in 1986.

Being raised in a hockey environment, did you feel any pressure to follow in your Dad's footsteps - did you play hockey?

 Good question. My Dad was great at never pressuring us to do sports and always keep your life in perspective with work, family, education, and God playing an important aspect. That being said, growing up in Southern California as a kid in the 70s, I played football, baseball and basketball. I wish I would have pursued hockey and played that too. Perhaps, I just felt like doing my own thing? I played baseball in College and was a pretty decent pitcher.

Do you follow the current NHL - favourite team/player?

 I like the Colorado Avalanche the best and really liked them when Sakic, Forsberg, Roy and Dury were at the top of their game. I would say my all-time favourite in hockey would be Mr. Hockey himself. I met him once, and the incredible power and skill he displayed for almost four decades was something we don't see but maybe once in a generation - in any sport. My Dad would marvel at Gordie and spoke of him as being a scratch golfer, the best competitor of all-time, and would literally take your head off on the ice.

It must have been a proud moment to have your Dad and Uncle inducted into the Omaha Hockey Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Gordie Howe - tell us how the day went.

 It was a very special moment for me and for our family. I especially was grateful to speak (and really speak on behalf of both of those guys) and say some special things that I wanted to. I intertwined your initial piece on brother chemistry they initially had on the ice (pretty obvious): and then spoke of the chemistry those two dudes had with the home building business they shared, fishing for northerns and walleyes up in "God's Country", and our families that were blessed by their shared lives. It was about a 5 minute talk, and after the initial bout of nerves - I brought down the house. It was very moving and something I will cherish for a lifetime. I felt their presence with me and I know they would be very, very proud of the whole deal.
 We also went to the hockey game between Wisconsin and UNO that night. It was a great game with UNO winning. Our family was given a round of applause in between periods. Very nice way to honor them as well.

The Morrison family gather for a day of celebration

Rod Morrison addresses the crowd
Doreen Morrison, the widow of Don, shares her memories
Once again, congratulations to the entire Morrison family on the accomplishments of Rod and Don. Their place in hockey history forever enshrined in the Omaha Hockey Hall of Fame. Their sense of family passed down to another generation.

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