If it weren’t for Jean Beliveau, Scotty Morrison might not be an inductee in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Morrison grew up in Quebec in the 1930s, making his way through the ranks and playing for the Montreal Junior Canadiens out of the old Montreal Forum in the late 1940s, where he had a big assignment on his hands.
“The coach said to me, ‘Scotty, all I want you to do tonight is shadow No. 4. When he goes on, you go on, when he comes off, you come off. Try to keep him off the score sheet,'” said Morrison, over a coffee in his Haliburton apartment.
“Number 4 just happened to be (future Hall of Famer) Jean Beliveau, who, that night, I think got a hat trick and two assists. And then I thought, ‘Well, there’s no way I’m going to make it as a player.”
That deciding game told Morrison that he still wanted to stay involved in hockey as a career, and by 1952, he made the switch from playing to being a referee in the Western Hockey League.
From there, Morrison went on to hold three positions that officials dream of, including National Hockey League referee, NHL referee-in-chief, and President and Chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame. In that latter job, he led the move from the Canadian National Exhibition to its new home in the heart of downtown Toronto.
Getting to the NHL as an official, was the key.
“Al Leader, the President of the Western Hockey League, phoned me and gave his congratulations, on what I thought was for my new marriage. He said ‘The NHL just bought your contract, which means you have to go back East where you will referee in the American Hockey League and sometime in the NHL,” Morrison said.
By age 24, in 1954, he because the youngest NHL referee in league history and, at five-feet-four, one of the shortest.
After 11 years in that position, a fast rise through the ranks saw him named referee-in-chief of the National Hockey League, which put him in charge of all officials.
“At that time, the referees did not have a training camp, so I started one,” Morrison said. “The camp would last exactly one week, then the officials would get their exhibition game assignments, then their regular season assignments and we would go from there.”
Of course, during this time period, there were still only the Original Six teams — Toronto, Montreal, New York, Boston, Chicago, and Detroit.
In today’s game, there are 31 teams across North America, but it was Morrison who was able to lay down the proper foundation of scheduling and fitness regimes for referees.
“I don’t have enough complimentary adjectives to tell you how important Scotty was to the officiating department. He was open-minded, a visionary,” said Jim Gregory, a former GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs and a devoted family friend.
Morrison implemented another significant change, including the idea of adding another referee on the ice, instead of the original single referee and two linesmen.
“All the time there was only one referee, you skated behind the play. Now, with the two-man referee, a lot of the time you’re skating backwards.”
That, in itself, caused a bit of a problem.
“I won’t mention any names, there were two or three of the staff who mentioned to me that they didn’t know how to skate backwards,” Morrison said, with a grin on his face. Thing worked out.
“If the one referee who is the closest to the play in today’s game misses it, then the other who is in a little closer to the blue line can pick it up as well.”
Morrison fought tooth and nail to create change, but it was for the best with the speed and skill of 21st century players.
Gregory has nothing but good things to say about his former colleague.
“He was helpful to everybody, he went out of his way to make sure the teams were fully explained in serious things that happened. He would be the first to tell you this, outside of the occasional 40- to 60-per cent, the call could have been left alone or was wrong.
“He had to make amends or stand up for those guys. Occasionally he would have to tell the people that they didn’t see things the right way, but it didn’t harm the official.”
In 1982, his son Perry was one of 84 who died in an oil-drilling rig, the Ocean Ranger, when it sank with no survivors off the coast of Newfoundland.
“He has had his fair share of ups and downs, but has always managed to hold his head above water and is a tremendous man,” said Bill McCreary, a fellow former NHL referee.
In 1986, Morrison received a call from John Ziegler, the then-current NHL President, instructing that change needed to be implemented in the hall of fame and that it needed to stay in Toronto.
“They couldn’t have found a better person to lead the charge and be the front man for the relocation and expansion of the Hockey Hall of Fame,” said Jeff Denomme, who currently runs the museum. “Your grandfather had the vision to create something from being a static museum at the CNE to a hands-on entertainment in a state of the art location.”
The HHOF opened its doors at the corner of Front and Yonge streets in the BCE Place on June 18, 1993, where Morrison had transformed the historic bank building into a cathedral for the icons of hockey.
After retirement to Haliburton in 1998, Morrison was inducted into the hall a year later, in the Builder’s category. Also in that year were Wayne Gretzky and another former referee, Andy Van Hellemond.
It made Morrison laugh.
“Andy, 25 or 30 years from now people are going to think, ‘Who are the other two schmucks that got inducted with Wayne?”
This story was a labour of love for author Nicole Fiorini, who is Scott Morrison’s granddaughter.