Ken Morrow frequently asks himself a common question.
"Why me?" he wonders, though not in a tone of voice that indicates heartbreak or despair. On the contrary, Morrow's life and hockey career have been marked by good timing and great fortune.
For starters, Morrow is one of eight players to win an Olympic gold medal and the Stanley Cup in the same year, his magical run beginning at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics with his role as a shutdown defenseman for the United States, which shocked the Soviet Union in the "Miracle on Ice" and defeated Finland for the gold medal. He joined the New York Islanders late in the 1979-80 regular season and helped them upset the Philadelphia Flyers for the first of New York's four straight Cup titles.
So why Ken Morrow? Why did the hockey gods choose to shower a kid from Flint, Michigan, and the Islanders' fourth-round pick (No. 68) in the 1976 NHL Draft with immediate fortune and glory? Morrow, 60, doesn't know, but he's not complaining.
"I don't know that I've ever come up with an answer," said Morrow, the Islanders director of pro scouting. "A lot of it is timing, a lot of it is out of your hands. It's just fate. From the day I was drafted by the Islanders in 1976, who'd have known I'd have been able to join them as soon as they go on that tremendous run from 1980-85."
Morrow was never a goal-scorer -- his NHL career-high was five, in 1982-83 -- but his contributions were significant to the Islanders dynasty after he joined them a week after Lake Placid for the final 18 regular-season games in 1979-80. Ten days of watching Morrow were enough to convince the Islanders to trade defenseman Dave Lewis and forward Billy Harris to the Los Angeles Kings for forward Butch Goring on March 10, 1980.
The Islanders went 8-0-4 in their final 12 games after the Goring trade. Morrow's first Stanley Cup Playoff goal came in overtime to defeat the Kings in Game 3 of the best-of-5 Preliminary Round series. New York won the Cup when Bobby Nystrom scored at 7:11 of overtime in Game 6 of the Final to defeat the Flyers, who had gone undefeated for 35 games (25-0-10) during the regular season.
Video: 1980 Stanley Cup Final, Gm6: Flyers vs Islanders
Morrow was on the bench trying to catch his breath, his head between his knees. Like in Lake Placid, emotions ranged from exhaustion to euphoria.
"It really is survival of the fittest," Morrow said. "You've been through the wars for a couple of months and you're in an overtime game. It was just total relief when he scored, total relief when it's over."
Morrow again delivered in a big moment in 1984, cementing himself in Islanders lore with an overtime goal in Game 5 of the best-of-5 Patrick Division Semifinals to eliminate the New York Rangers. Don Maloney scored for the Rangers with 39 seconds left in the third period set up a classic overtime they thought they were about to end when forward Bob Brooke charged toward Islanders goalie Billy Smith on a breakaway.
Smith robbed Brooke. Morrow then found himself open in the right circle for a shot that went through Glen Hanlon's legs at 8:56 of overtime.
"Nine times out of 10 Bob Brooke scores on that, but [that time] Billy Smith comes up with a huge save," Morrow said. "Then the puck goes down to the other end. I think I had just come over the bench, changed for somebody, saw what was happening and went right over to that spot. The carom off the boards and, as I say, my famous 50-mile-an-hour slap shot that found its way through a Pat Flatley screen.
"If you're ever going to score a goal, and I didn't score a lot of them, that's the game to score, against your archrivals in a game-deciding playoff series."
The Islanders' run of four straight championships ended with a five-game loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the 1984 Stanley Cup Final. Morrow played 10 NHL seasons before knee problems forced him to retire after the 1988-89 season, having scored 17 regular-season goals and 11 playoff goals for his NHL career. He coached Flint and Kansas City of the International Hockey League, returned to the Islanders as an assistant coach for 1991-92 and was then hired as their first full-time pro scout.
"It's been a great run for me," Morrow said. "To be able to work with the same organization for 30-something years, I can't thank them enough. It's just been a great way to stay involved in the game with the only organization that I've really known. The goal is still to win."