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Ex-Leaf defenseman Jim Morrison's amazing journey: 10 years in between NHL gigs

In the early days/years of expansion (post-1967) I watched a lot of guys play NHL hockey who were good players, but would never have made it to the “big leagues” except for the league’s decision to suddenly double the number of teams in the league.

I remember, when I was watching the Pittsburgh Penguins, for example, that I knew a lot of the names on their roster because they had played at least for a time with one of the “Original Six” teams.  Some had been big stars. I knew guys like Ron Shock, Glen Sather, Andy Bathgate, Dean Prentice, Kenny Shinkel, Earl Ingarfield and some others on the Penguins roster.

One player I recall seeing with the Penguins was a veteran defenseman by the name of Jim Morrison.  Now, what I didn’t know at the time was that this was the same Jim Morrison who had played with the Maple Leafs when I was just becoming a hockey— and Leaf–fan.

Fans can see Morrison (see photo at right from the late 1950s of Morrison in a casual setting) on occasion from his playing days with the Leafs when there is an opportunity to see old Leaf games on Leafs TV.  He was a good rushing defenseman, good enough that the Bruins offered up Allan Stanley, more of a defensive-defenseman, to the Leafs at the outset of the 1958-’59 NHL season in a straight-up swap.  Ironically, the two teams ended up playing in the semi-finals in the spring of 1959, a great 7-game series that the Leafs won, right in Boston.
Until I looked it up, though, I had little recollection that Morrison had actually started playing for the Leafs way back in the early to-mid 1950’s.  I barely remembered him with the Leafs when I was a kid.  I was five years old when he was traded to the Bruins.  After Boston, he played a season with the Red Wings, then a few games with the Rangers in 1960-’61. (If I'm not mistaken, his son is Dave Morrison, the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Maple Leafs.)

But here’s the rather amazing twist.  After his time with Boston and then Detroit, except for those handful of games with New York, Morrison played exclusively with the American Hockey League Quebec Aces, for eight consecutive seasons. (Former Montreal great “Boom Boom” Geoffrion must have been his coach one season, because Geoffrion coached there after he retired for the first time at the end of the 1963-'64 season.) Morrison then played a year with Baltimore and finally, after all that time in the minors, he got a chance to play in the NHL again, joining the Penguins in 1969-’70.

He played two full seasons with Pittsburgh before concluding his career with Pittsburgh’s minor league affiliate as a playing-coach in Baltimore, retiring after the 1972-’73 season at the age of 41.

He coached Kingston in the Junior A ranks in the ‘70s and into the early ‘80s.

It’s amazing to me that this talented defenseman played more than 500 NHL games, then spent almost a decade in the minors, before earning a regular job in the NHL again in his late 30s. He ended up playing more than 700 regular-season games in both the NHL and the AHL.  How many guys have done that?

I wonder if Morrison had an offer to play in the World Hockey Association, which was just getting underway when he retired?

There were a number of interesting stories in those early expansion days, and Morrison’s journey is one of them.

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