Connor Murphy was born in Boston, raised in Florida and moved to a place called Columbus, Ohio in the fourth grade when his dad got a new job.
Gord Murphy, a former NHL defenseman who is now an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers, was hired as an assistant coach with the Blue Jackets in 2002 and spent eight years with the organization. It was right here in central Ohio where the Murphys raised their children, and young Connor essentially grew up with the Blue Jackets both on and off the ice.
And tonight, the kid who lists the Blue Jackets’ first home playoff game in 2009 as one of his favorite hockey memories will play his first game at Nationwide Arena – albeit this time as a visiting NHL player, one that’s carrying the torch for youth hockey in Columbus.
“This is where it all started for me,” Murphy said. “Once I moved (to Columbus), I started to realize that this was the dream and I wanted to play in the NHL. It’s something that, when you say ‘dream,’ you don’t picture yourself being able to do…you just think some day it would be amazing but you don’t know if it’s going to happen. You work toward it, and the next thing you know, you’re here.
“It’ll be a lot of fun. My first time here it will be pretty surreal going out for warmups and getting ready for the game. It’s something that you don’t picture happening when you’re growing up, but it’s pretty cool to have this opportunity.”
Murphy, 21, played for countless Columbus-area youth hockey teams, rattling off the Columbus Cardinals, Columbus Capitals and the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets program among others. He was part of the first wave of kids playing hockey in central Ohio following the birth of the Blue Jackets franchise, and at the age of 20, became the first Columbus raised and trained player to make it to the NHL.
Murphy made his NHL debut on Nov. 16, 2013 against the Tampa Bay Lightning and he made it count: he scored first NHL goal that night on a wicked shot past Anders Lindback.
He’s comfortable with the role as torch carrier for kids with NHL dreams in central Ohio. Murphy didn’t have a face to put with that dream when he was coming up through the system in Columbus, but now, kids playing any level of hockey in the city know that one of their own realized a childhood dream after playing and practicing in the exact same rinks they do.
“It’s awesome for kids to be able to realize that they have all they need here,” Murphy said. “You see it a lot around the U.S., where parents think they need to move away, to Michigan or Canada (with kids of) really young ages to play hockey and make it to the next level. It’s cool for the kids to see that have what they need here; there are such great development tools. Any level you want to play at, you have it here and any goal you want to reach, you can make it from playing and being coached here.
“I played in all the AAA Blue Jackets levels growing up, the Columbus Cardinals, Columbus Capitals…I still have close friends that I grew up playing with. I have all these great memories of playing in these Columbus organizations. It’s my home and it’s pretty cool to be able to come back and play here.”
It’s something Murphy can only laugh about now, as he recalled his days around Nationwide Arena as a youngster being spent hoping to get some ice time on the “big ice” after a Blue Jackets practice, and maybe sneaking in some time with the injured players or the healthy scratches.
He couldn’t wait for that one day each season when the youth team got to practice where the Blue Jackets did, which makes thinking about stepping on the ice tonight in an NHL game even more special.
“We’re so fortunate to be able to play in the best league in the world,” Murphy said. “You cherish every day. It’s something that you have to cherish and be thankful for. Everyone dreams about being to play in the NHL in a place like this.”