Cory Murphy: Reverse training for the NHL
By Andrew Podnieks
In 2006, the IIHF published a report admonishing the NHL for plucking so many young players from European leagues and then wasting that talent in the minors or on the bench. The report suggested players are best left alone in Europe to develop, and when they are mature and game-ready, only then should they move to North America. Cory Murphy, an Ottawa-area Canadian who now makes Toronto his summer home, has learned firsthand how valuable development time spent in European hockey can be.
Like most Canadian kids, Murphy grew up dreaming of the NHL and winning the Stanley Cup, but that dream never materialized. He was deemed too small to be a defenseman, not strong enough to deal with large, power forwards going hard to the net. As a result, Murphy was never drafted during his four years at Colgate University. "I was always thinking of the NHL," he said yesterday after Team Canada's practice at Mytischi Arena. "A lot of guys go to college and then make it, so I thought I could, too. For me, I was always a bit of a smaller guy in junior, so college gave me a game that had a little more wide open ice. And, I could get a pretty good education."
College was also an option that came to him naturally. "I grew up going to college games--Clarkson, St. Lawrence, places near Ottawa. I liked the atmosphere and the way the games were played," Murphy noted.
While at Colgate, Murphy proved an enthusiastic student. "I studied political science because the classes I was most interested in were things like history." Although he considered taking this degree in the direction of law, Murphy's first and main concern was hockey. So after graduating, he had two options: play in the minors in North America or go to Europe.
"My agent thought it would be a good idea going over to Finland to play," Murphy said. "I wanted to work on my game, my skating, get some confidence, and play at a high level. And here we are six years later."
Six years later, indeed. Murphy went to IFK Helsinki and did just what he intended, but for all these years he played in relative obscurity from an NHL perspective. He was never invited to an NHL training camp and was scouted only cursorily. His biggest international moment came when he played for Canada at the 2005 Spengler Cup.
But Murphy didn't gripe about it: "The lifestyle in Finland is better than playing in the minors. I loved living there--you get to see Europe and travel. The road trips are short, so you get to spend every night in your own bed. You play fewer games, so it's also less demanding physically."
The year 2006-07 proved to be a career-defining one for Murphy. "There's been some interest [by the NHL] in the past but never anything like this year--a couple of teams had been interested, but I kept thinking I'll just play one more year in Finland and I'll be that much better." This year, though, he finished 11th in league scoring overall and tops among defensemen, and his feat was even more exceptional given that he missed a month due to injury. He won the Lasse Oksanen Trophy as the Finnish SM-Liiga's regular-season MVP.