Why can’t all heroes be like Ken Morrow?
The soft-spoken member of American hockey royalty was a star on the U.S. Olympic team that defeated the Soviet Union in the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” – perhaps the most memorable sporting event of my lifetime. He then went on to win four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders.
Yet he is as approachable as the backup left tackle on a high school football team.
Want to talk about the Miracle on Ice? How much time do you have, because it’s a subject Morrow never tires visiting about.
“It’s hard for me to believe,” said Morrow, who has called North Kansas City home since 1990, “that every day I come home, I receive one or two, or maybe three or five, letters asking about the Miracle on Ice.
“But over the years, the letters have changed. They used to be, ‘When I watched that game …’ Now they start out, ‘My parents told me about that game and I’d like to learn more about it.’ I guess there are schools that actually have classes on the game.
“It’s pretty amazing when someone comes up to you and tells you that it is one of the most special moments of their lives. And I like to jokingly say with the arrival of the Winter Olympics, I get to become famous every four years.”
He might feel that way as he watches his son Evan play goalie for the Park Hill South soccer team or enjoys a midnight pond skate The Rink at Burlington Creek, an outdoor rink in the Northland that serves as one of eight sheets of ice in the metro area.
But let him attend a Miracle on Ice or New York Islanders reunion and the mild-mannered Morrow becomes a star.
“Ken Morrow is what every hockey player on the planet dreams of becoming – an Olympic medal winner and a Stanley Cup winner,” said Missouri Mavericks coach Scott Hillman, who was with Morrow at The Rink at Burlington Creek for an announcement concerning the Mavericks’ upcoming Miracle on Ice Weekend Feb. 1 at the Independence Events Center (please see related story).
“He was the best at what he did when he was playing. He’s a part of a game where you ask anyone who was around in 1980 and they can tell you where they were when the U.S. beat the USSR, and now he is doing all he can to promote hockey in the metro area.”
Unless you recognized the lanky Morrow, who prefers to blend into the background at such events, it would have been difficult to match up the gentleman in the suit with the red, white and blue Olympic sweater and gold medal that was on display at the rink located at 6109 N.W. 63rd Street Terrace.
There was no entourage, no ego and no spotlight.
“I get as much joy watching a family come and skate at our rink as I do thinking about the 1980 Olympic team,” said Morrow, who now serves as the Islanders' director of pro scouting. “This is the second year for the rink, and we wanted to do something special.
“Last year we brought in the Stanley Cup, and this year we’re bringing back some of the boys from the Miracle on Ice. We just had a reunion in New Jersey, and it’s so great to see the guys. I was talking about doing something in Kansas City with the Mavericks and Mike (Eruzione), Buzz (Schneider) and Dave (Christian) all said they wanted to be a part of it.”
It’s been 34 years since late coach Herb Brooks’ team stunned the world by beating a Russian squad that was considered the most elite hockey squad on the planet.
“Herb convinced us that we could beat them,” Morrow said, grinning, “and we went out and got the job done. I was talking to a fellow about the game and he was stationed on a ship in the military at the time that was within sight of a Russian vessel. During the game, they were sending radio signals back and forth. I wonder what those signals were like after we won?”
Before the start of the Olympics, the wily Brooks told his underdog team, “You can’t be common. The common man goes nowhere; you have to be uncommon.”
Those words stuck with Morrow, who works with the UnCommon Community, a charitable organization that raises funds for youngsters who cannot afford ice time or equipment like skates, sticks and gear.
“My greatest memories from my childhood, growing up in Michigan, are pond skating with family and friends,” Morrow said. “We want to help create those type of memories for families in the metro area, and with the help of some of my (Olympic) friends, we also hope to raise a lot of money and awareness for a sport I love.”
Spoken like a true hero.
Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at 350-6333 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC