Seattle Metropolitans center Bernie Morris's unlikely rise to hockey stardom belied an existence fraught with tragedy. Morris was unheralded and likely eyeing his final opportunity to better a desolate life when he arrived in Seattle in November 1915 to join the Metropolitans. His career exploits include the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) single-season points mark, the Mets' season records for goals, assists, and points, and the team's career record for assists. His performance in the 1917 Stanley Cup Final was one of the greatest individual performances in a championship series in any sport. His six goals in Game 4 and 14 goals and 16 points overall – netted against his generation's greatest goalie, Georges Vezina (1887-1926) – remain, more than a century later, the most ever scored in a Stanley Cup Final. In juxtaposition, Morris was suspended for the 1914-1915 season, spent the 1919 Stanley Cup Final and 1920 regular season in prison, and missed time in 1922-1923 after accidentally poisoning himself.
A Star on Opening Night
Morris signed a contract with the Seattle Metropolitans, a new franchise in the PCHA, a week after the Mets had begun training camp for the 1915-1916 season. Morris already had reported to play for a semipro team in the mining town of Phoenix, British Columbia, when Metropolitans coach Pete Muldoon (1887-1929) wired a contract offer. So excited was Morris for the opportunity, he immediately packed his bags and hustled to Seattle, arriving nearly two days early. There he joined a team of budding stars that included forwards Jack Walker (1888-1950), Cully Wilson (1892-1962), Frank Foyston (1891-1966), and Bobby Rowe (1886-1947). With the Metropolitans' strong forward contingent already in place, odds were long for Morris to make an impact. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's season preview listed Morris as a reserve. On opening night, however, Rowe moved to defense and Walker to rover, while Morris started at center and scored the game-winning goal.
Hockey was so new to Seattle that legendary P-I reporter and editor Portus Baxter (d. 1962) described Walker as hooking the "ball" away from a Victoria skater in "the middle of the hall" ("Seattle Beats Victoria") to set up the winning goal. Walker's steal and subsequent pass fed a streaking Morris, who "pushed the puck past (Fred) McCulloch into the goal" ("Seattle Beats Victoria"). The city was immediately hooked on hockey.
Two games later, Morris "shot a hot one past (Tommy) Murray," once again scoring the game winner and cementing hockey and Morris as Seattle favorites ("Local Hockey Team ..."). By the end of the first month he was near the top of every PCHA scoring category. A late-January P-I headline proclaimed, "Bernie Morris Best Scorer in Hockey League." Halfway through the Metropolitans' inaugural season, Morris was now "Star Seattle Forward" ("Bernie Morris Best ..."), a man who "can pick out a loophole faster and wiggle through better than any other man in the league" ("Fast Hockey Player ..."). He "is one of the most deceptive players that ever tried to locate a goal net" and while "he is small of stature," he "makes up for this by his speed on skates" ("Seattle Hockey Team ...").
Morris led the PCHA in goals and was second in points during his debut season. Thus began a brilliant four-year run in which he finished first or second in goals and points every season. Morris would play 10 seasons of major league hockey, including eight in the PCHA. He was named to seven All-PCHA squads – five times to the first team (1916, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1922) and twice to the second (1921, 1923). As for PCHA single-season records, he sits third in both goals and assists, and his total of 54 points in the Metropolitans' 1917 Stanley Cup season was never topped.
Bernie Morris was born in Brandon, Manitoba, in 1890, a year after his parents immigrated from Ireland. When he was 3, his mother died during childbirth. Five year later, his father died, orphaning Morris and his two brothers. He dropped out of school after the eighth grade to work on his uncle's farm before semipro hockey got him out of Brandon. He bounced around amateur hockey from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to Phoenix, British Columbia, before the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Quebec Bulldogs, a member of the National Hockey Association (NHA), offered Morris, then 23, his first professional contract.
Meanwhile, the PCHA had been founded by the Patrick brothers -- Lester (1883-1960) and Frank (1885-1960) -- in the fall of 1911. Hockey bluebloods, the brothers were flush with cash and had deep-seated friendships with the game's greatest players. They immediately poached many of hockey's biggest stars from the rival NHA, touching off a raging player war. For consecutive off-seasons, players jumped leagues to the highest bidder, greatly frustrating owners amid threats of suspensions and hefty fines, though none were ever enforced.
In 1913, the competing leagues reached an agreement to split the continent in half, with Port Arthur, Ontario, as the line of demarcation. All new players hailing from east of that line were permitted to sign only with the NHA, unless released by the league. The same agreement sent all western players to the PCHA. It also gave the Patricks what they most coveted, a best-of-five series between the respective league champions for hockey's greatest prize, the Stanley Cup.
Brandon, Manitoba, lies 550 miles west of Port Arthur, placing Morris in the PCHA's possession. But the Quebec Bulldogs, having offered Morris a contract the previous spring, considered him part of their roster. However, Lester Patrick had given up an Ontario player who had likewise committed prior to the agreement, so the Patricks vigorously fought Quebec's signing of Morris. Confusion ensued. Noted the Victoria Daily Times: "For a youthful athlete who has yet to make his mark in professional company, Bernie Morris, the Moose Jaw puck chaser, is certainly raising a lot of trouble" ("Quebec Claims Again ...").
The Bulldogs asked NHA President Emmett Quinn (1877-1930) to form a commission to mediate the dispute. Instead, PCHA President Frank Patrick sent Quinn a telegram: "Kindly notify all NHA club owners that Coast League waives claim on all new players in our territory for this season with the exception of George Rochon and Bernie Morris, whom we have suspended" ("Coast League Make ..."). Rochon reported to the PCHA and his suspension was lifted. Morris, however, relied on the advice of Bulldogs star and fellow Brandon native Joe Hall (1881-1919). Hall implored Morris "not to report to the Coast League until his case had come before the National Hockey Commission" ("Squabble Now On ...").
Rather than establish such a commission, Quinn decided that Morris alone was not worth jeopardizing the east-west agreement between the leagues. The NHA honored the PCHA suspension of Morris for the 1913-1914 season. It was the only time in three years that a league suspension was honored by the rival league, making Morris the only collateral damage in a long-running feud. The following offseason, angered that Ottawa had tried to steal Vancouver's Fred "Cyclone" Taylor (1884-1979), hockey's best player, Frank Patrick raided the 1914 Stanley Cup champion Toronto Arenas, signing five players to form the Seattle Metropolitans' nucleus. None were suspended.
Rather than remain idle during his one-year suspension, Morris declared himself once again an amateur, saying "he will report to the Vancouver Club of the PCHA should he wish to turn professional" though "he has not yet made up his mind" ("Squabble Now On ..."). Morris signed with the amateur Regina Victorias, leading them to victory on opening night. The next day, Moose Jaw, Morris's former team, filed an appeal with the Saskatchewan Amateur Hockey Association (SAHA), claiming Morris was still under their control. Less than three weeks after his professional hockey ouster, the SAHA board voted 4-1 to return Morris to Moose Jaw. Crushed, he declared he would "not play at all" ("Morris Is Awarded ...").
Two weeks later, on January 7, 1914, the Regina Leader-Post reported, "Bernard Patrick Morris, probably the most talked of hockey player in Canada at the present ... was quietly married" the night before to a woman he had met two seasons prior in Moose Jaw ("Bernie Morris and His Wife ..."). That same day, his daughter Olive was born, with the young family quickly boarding the "noon train for Phoenix, BC where Morris will finish out the present season" ("Bernie Morris and His Wife ...").
A Professional at Last
In November 1914, Morris at last turned pro, signing with Lester Patrick's Victoria Aristocrats rather than Frank Patrick's Vancouver Millionaires. Reporting the signing, the Daily Colonist stated that Lester Patrick "had his eyes on him last season and refused to grant waivers when Quebec opened negotiations for his services" ("Boundary Forward To ...").
Morris spent just one season in Victoria. After suffering a heel injury in training camp, he played sporadically early in the season. On top of the injury, the Daily Colonist remarked that "Morris, apparently, has lacked confidence" though he played well enough over the season's final month that "he should be a sensation next season" ("High School Club ..."). Victoria finished in last place, and the next fall Morris was cut when an exasperated Lester Patrick released everyone on the roster but himself and a longtime player. The Victoria Daily Times reported that Morris was "now in the Boundary country and may play in the 'bushes' this winter" ("New Forward Line ..."). Instead, Muldoon wired a contract offer and Morris packed his bags for Seattle.
That Championship Season
The 1916-1917 season was the PCHA's zenith. While the league consisted of just four teams, the league champion was decided on the season's final day for the first time. Five players from three clubs surpassed the previous league points record in another race that went down to the wire. Morris scored a game-winning goal in the final minutes of the final game of the season to win the PCHA scoring title with a record 54 points (37 goals, 17 assists) and send the Mets to their first Stanley Cup Final and a dominating victory over the fabled Montreal Canadiens. In the league's most competitive season, Morris edged Hall of Famer Gordon "Doc" Roberts (1891-1966) by a lone point for the scoring crown.
Morris's record-breaking season was almost lost in February to a cheap shot from a Spokane player that sent him sprawling to the ice with an injured knee. So grim was the prognosis that The Seattle Times reported, "the pennant prospects of the team were given a disastrous blow when Bernie Morris, star center of the Mets and the leading goal shooter of the league, received an injury which may keep him out of the game for the remainder of the season" ("Mets Smother Spokane ...").
When the swelling subsided, "an x-ray of the injured member showed that the bones and muscles were not damaged ... though it may be several games before Bernie's knee comes round" ("Bernie Morris To ..."). The next game was a critical matchup with Vancouver; Muldoon told the Times it was "about the most important of the present season" ("Morris To Play ..."). When the Post-Intelligencer posted the probable starting lineups in the morning paper, Morris was not listed. Muldoon told the P-I that an injured Cully Wilson would have to make his first start in a month in place of Morris. Hours later, the afternoon Times headline exclaimed: "Morris To Play With Seattle In Contest Tonight." Morris, "disregarding the mandates of the club physician, came forth with the announcement that he intended to play if he had to skate around on one foot" ("Morris To Play ...").
The next morning's P-I reported that "poor old Bernie Morris had a bum leg last night, and couldn't play his regular game. All Bernie did was burst through the opposition for four scores and one assist" ("Seattle Team Increases ..."). The Mets thumped Vancouver 8-4. In a seminal moment in Seattle hockey history, Morris again had overcome long odds to shine. Despite the injury, he did not miss a game and finished the season strong.
The following season, 1917-1918, Morris finished second in the league in goals and points while leading the Mets to their second consecutive PCHA championship, though they were upset in the newly instituted playoffs -- the only season from 1917 to 1920 in which they didn't play in the Stanley Cup Final. World War I severely impacted the season, pushing the Victoria/Spokane franchise into a season-long hiatus. Lester Patrick moved south to coach Seattle and Muldoon went to Portland for the year. Havoc was wreaked on team rosters. But with the armistice signed to end the war on November 11, 1918, Patrick and the Victoria franchise returned to the British Columbia capital and Muldoon was back in Seattle with the Mets' 1917 roster nearly intact.
In 1918-1919, Morris finished second in the PCHA in points and goals for the second consecutive season. The Mets were runners-up to Vancouver in the league standings and once again faced the Millionaires in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The format was a two-game series decided by aggregate goals. The Mets were primed to avenge their 1918 defeat. In his playoff preview, Royal Brougham (1894-1978) wrote that "every member of the local septet is in the best of physical trim, rested from a week's layoff and pepped up for the battle of his young life. Bernie Morris, leading scorer of the Seattle squad, will be in his old position at center" ("Seattle Plays Vancouver ...").
The next day, Brougham wrote that a capacity crowd "saw the home club dish up one of the greatest exhibitions of hockey ever on up in the Fifth Avenue arena ... despite the failure of Bernie Morris, star forward of the Mets, to appear at his old position at center" ("Seattle Gets Big ..."). The Mets routed Vancouver 6-1 to all but clinch the series.
Morris? He spent the game in a jail cell. According to the Times, "between the first and second periods, Bernie's lawyer brought a message from the center at Camp Lewis to his fellow skaters in their dressing room. It was a simple message but it did the work. 'Fight like (expletive) tonight and win'" ("Seattle Overwhelms Vancouver ..."). The Metropolitans scored all six of their goals in the final two periods. Morris was "under arrest at Camp Lewis on a technical charge of evading the draft" ("Seattle Overwhelms Vancouver ...").
First arrested a week prior, Morris thought the charges a big misunderstanding. A Canadian citizen, he had been drafted into the U.S. Army. He was required by treaty to register for the draft because he lived in Seattle. Exempted by the Canadian military because he was married, Morris initially was given an exemption and low classification by Seattle's Draft Board Number 6. He was later reclassified and sent a summons to report for his physical on November 5, 1918 – six days before the armistice was signed. Morris stated "he did not receive his notice" ("Bernie Morris Convicted ...") though he admitted "that he failed to notify the draft heads of his change of address and declared in defense that his former landlord failed to forward his mail to him" ("Faces Charge ..."). When confronted with the charges, he claimed to live in Seattle only during the season and said he spent the off-season working for the Canadian government "as a civilian employee in the spruce production division" ("Faces Charge ..."). The draft board took him at his word and no charges were filed.
On February 14, 1919, however, Morris was granted a divorce from his wife on grounds of desertion in Superior Court in Seattle. His wife had refused to leave Moose Jaw, while Morris testified under oath that "his residence had been in Seattle for the past three years" ("Hockey Star Is ..."). To the draft board, this admission meant he had lied about living in the U.S. only during the season, and they immediately sought to prosecute. After his arrest, Muldoon and Frank Patrick "declared that the charges are unfounded and that Morris will be cleared upon a full investigation" ("Faces Charge ...").
The trial was heavily covered in the newspapers, and "consuming more time than that of any enlisted man ever held in camp since it was established" ("Defense In Patrick ..."). The head of the state draft board, Captain Irvin Ziegaus, "asserted that Morris 'is unquestionably a willful deserter of the most flagrant type' and 'has been playing loose and fast with the military authorities of both Canada and the United States since October, 1917'" ("Fight To Have ...").
On April 12, Morris was convicted and sentenced to two years of hard labor at the U.S. Military Prison – Alcatraz. It was "the first conviction on the Pacific Coast ... of an admitted subject of another country for refusing to comply with military orders issued by the United States" ("Hockey Star Is ..."). It also was the first "sentence for desertion here since the signing of the armistice" and The Associated Press called the trial "the most bitterly contested of any man yet tried at Camp Lewis" ("Hockey Star Is ..."). Morris and his lawyer felt he had "been the victim of high-handed methods on the part of Camp Lewis military authorities" ("Celebrated Hockey Player ..."). An exasperated Frank Patrick told reporters he'd "fight the case right up to the president of the United States" and "expressed confidence that the verdict announced yesterday would be set aside" ("Bernie Morris Convicted ...").
Incarcerated at Alcatraz
The case was "appealed in three different ways, through the military courts of the United States, through the civil courts of the United States and through the Canadian government" ("Will Make Fight ..."). On October 15, 1919, his appeal was denied in San Francisco with the United States District Court of Appeals ruling he "must serve out the two-year sentence imposed on him" ("Court Refuses Morris ..."). One week later, Pete Muldoon gave an interview in Vancouver stating that "Bernie may get everything fixed up in December" and be back playing for the Metropolitans ("Seattle Manager Back ...").
On March 13, 1920, exactly one year after his arrest, Morris was granted an Honorable Discharge from the U.S. Army. He raced back to Seattle, making the team train for a five-day trip to Ottawa and the 1920 Stanley Cup Final. "Muldoon announced that he would play" as Morris had "signed a contract in December" with the Metropolitans and remained on the team roster for the season ("Bernie Morris Back ..."). The Ottawa Citizen noted that Morris "got into some difficulty in connection with the U.S. draft law and though it was eventually straightened out and the Seattle star exonerated" he had not played that season. The Times reported his discharge, while the P-I never mentioned the situation; he simply reappeared in the Game 1 box score. On Morris's death certificate, he is listed as an Army veteran with dates of service from November 5, 1918, to March 13, 1920.
Return to the Ice
Morris played in all five 1920 Stanley Cup Final contests, starting Games 2 and 4 – both played by PCHA rules with seven men on the ice – though the Metropolitans lost the Cup to Ottawa. Out of shape, Morris performed well, with the Ottawa Citizen writing that "Morris is very dangerous as he slips in and out" ("Eastern Champions Came ...") and The Canadian Press reporting late in the series that he showed "with a little more training he would be one of the most dangerous men" on the Metropolitans ("Ice Title At ...").
In 1920-1921, Morris was slowed by an ankle injury, though he was named second-team All-PCHA and finished fifth in the points race. Healthy for the entire 1921-1922 season, he was, according to the Times, "the best right wing in hockey" ("Mets Near Playoff ..."). He finished fourth in points and was once again named first team All-PCHA.
A few weeks into the 1922-1923 season, Morris was admitted to Seattle's Minor Hospital after he "by mistake took a spoonful of poisonous liquid instead of a cough medicine" ("Bernie Morris Recovers ..."). Originally thinking he had food poisoning, team physician Dr. William Glasgow examined Morris' medicine cabinet and realized the mistake. Morris, "suffering from a heavy cold, picked up the wrong bottle when he went to take a dose of his cough medicine" ("Bernie Morris Recovers ..."). Morris was rendered unconscious twice the first evening. Glasgow told the Times that Morris "had about as tight a squeak as anybody he has known" ("Bernie Morris Is ...") and "that the recovery from the poison will be slow and that Bernie will be out for ten days at least" ("Morris Not To ..."). He returned to the lineup two weeks later, though he wouldn't score a goal for another week. He still finished sixth in points and fourth in goals and was named to the second team All-PCHA squad.
On October 7, 1923, the Times reported that Morris had been traded to Calgary in what was "believed to be but a beginner in a general shake-up which Muldoon plans in his Metropolitans" ("Morris Traded ..."). The P-I reported that, "the passing of Morris will be regretted by local fandom, as he was a big favorite here. However, it is all part of the plan to provide the fans with new faces" ("Bernie Morris Traded ..."). Morris split his final two seasons between Western Canadian Hockey League (WCHL) teams and the NHL's expansion Boston Bruins.
Absent from Hall of Fame
After his retirement, Morris managed the Detroit Olympics and then minor league teams in Hamilton, Ontario and Cleveland, Ohio. In the mid-1930s, he moved back onto the ice "as the best hockey referee in the Northwest" ("Morris May Referee ...") while serving as referee-in-chief of the Pacific Coast League, a minor league circuit. Off the ice, Morris and former Mets teammate Frank Foyston purchased adjoining farms near Long Lake on the Kitsap Peninsula, where they raised turkeys before Morris switched to minks.
Morris is perhaps the greatest player not inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame. For his career, he was 15th all-time in the PCHA for games played yet sixth in goals, sixth in points, and fourth in assists. He missed 49 games in his PCHA career – 38 to suspension and incarceration, seven his rookie year from the heel injury, and two each in 1920-1921 and 1922-1923. In career per-game marks, Morris ranks second in the PCHA for goals, assists, and points. In each category, he trails only Vancouver's Cyclone Taylor, a Hall of Famer.
Combining NHA/NHL and PCHA statistics to rank all players of the era, Morris finished in the career top 20 for goals, assists, and points. Of the 12 players in the top 20 for each category, he is the only player absent from the Hockey Hall of Fame. In per-game statistics for the era, Morris is sixth in goals, fourth in assists, and fifth in points, the highest ranked in each category not in the Hall of Fame. There are only two players to make the top 10 for all three – Morris and Cyclone Taylor. Amazingly, there is only one player to rank in the top 20 for each career mark and top 10 for each per-game stat – Bernie Morris. His Hall of Fame snub aside, Morris was undoubtedly one of his generation's greatest players.