Jim Morrison was the top coach in Kingston franchise history
In the 50-year history of the Kingston hockey franchise, one coach stands out for having a sterling record, leading the team deep into the playoffs. That man was Jim Morrison.
He helped assemble squads with future NHL stars like Bernie Nicholls, Ken Linseman and Tony McKegney. Morrison nurtured players with emerging talent, including Tim Kerr and Mike Simurda. And he did it all while showing enormous appreciation for his teenage skaters.
“He was a player’s coach,” says his son Dave Morrison, who had his own solid pro career and now serves as director of player of personnel with the Toronto Maple Leafs. “Most players liked him. He treated them like men and he got the same respect back from the players.”
Jim Morrison joined the NHL in 1951 after playing with the Barrie Flyers. He went on to 11 seasons with several teams, mostly with the Leafs. In addition, he played 11 years in the American Hockey League. In a rare instance of a player returning to the NHL after a long absence, he played two seasons with the expansion Pittsburgh Penguins from 1969 to 1971.
Morrison coached the Kitchener Rangers for a couple of years starting in 1973 and then moved to Kingston for seven seasons. He led the Canadians to a strong playoff showing in both 1977 and 1981. In 1982, Rod Graham took over as coach and Morrison became general manager.
Morrison resigned in early 1983 and in March local hockey supporters held a special appreciation night for him at the Cataraqui Golf and Country Club. It’s an accolade for a local junior coach that hasn’t been seen before or since.
After leaving Kingston in 1983, he went on to a lengthy scouting career with the Boston Bruins.
“His experience was so vast and he played for so long that he was able to pass on all that knowledge to his players,” the younger Morrison recalls.
Mike Simurda, who played with the Canadians for three seasons starting in 1975, says Morrison was a statesman. “He called a spade a spade. If things needed to be talked about, he let you know about it behind the closed doors of the dressing room.”
Morrison’s tenure was not without controversy. During the 1977 playoffs against Ottawa, tempers flared and fights were common. Following one melee in the nation’s capital, Kingston’s Ken Linseman used his skate to kick Jeff Geiger of the 67s. The police were called and Linseman was charged with assault and eventually paid a $300 fine.
“The fans were screaming at us: ‘Kill Linseman,’” recalls Morrison’s wife Wanda. “It was a scary time.”
The Canadians lost that 1977 series to Ottawa after winning in the first round of the playoffs.
Linseman, who went on to a lengthy pro career, recalls Morrison as a topnotch leader. “Jim Morrison was one of my favorite coaches throughout my hockey career when I was playing for the Canadians,” he says. “I got to know him on a more personal level when playing for the Bruins. A solid, smart and good man that definitely knew his hockey.”
The 1980-81 squad featured one of the greatest power play units in OHA history. The forwards were future NHL star Bernie Nicholls, Scott Howson who is now president of the AHL, and Justin Hanley, who would go on to play in the AHL. On defence were future pros Rik Wilson and Neil Belland.
That year the Canadians made it to the Leyden Division final, before losing to the powerful Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Morrison had a keen eye for spotting potential and developing players. Recalls his son: “I worked in scouting for many years and it really takes a team to do it. He was the leader of that team.”
The younger Morrison recalls that his father devoted extra hours to the task. “He would go on the road himself to watch players, especially if it was a possible high draft choice.”
Dave Morrison points to Tim Kerr, a seemingly average skater when he joined the Canadians as a teenager in 1977. “With my Dad’s coaching, he turned into quite a player.” Indeed, Kerr would go on to play 13 seasons in the NHL, hitting the 50-goal plateau in four of them.
From 1979 to 1982, the younger Morrison played with the Peterborough Petes and would often come up against his father’s Kingston Canadians. “It was kind of weird to be sitting on the bench and looking across the ice and seeing your father there.”
Morrison had a sense of humour. He wore a toupee but none of the young players knew about it, says Tony McKegney, who went on to a 13-year career in the NHL. “One day Rob Plumb brought in a hockey card from his playing days and it showed his bald head. Rob put it on the bulletin board for everyone to see,” laughs McKegney. Morrison took it in stride.
Now 91, Morrison lives in southwestern Ontario. His memory is fading and that hasn’t been helped by a diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from too many hits to the head during his playing days.
Nevertheless, he recalls his time in Kingston fondly. “I enjoyed coaching the guys,” he said in an interview. “One thing you could count on was they would all do their best every single game.”
Jim Morrison was inducted into the American Hockey League Hall of Fame in 2013.