GLENDALE - Coyotes defenseman Connor Murphy recently returned to the United States after a memorable experience at the 2017 IIHF World Championship in Cologne, Germany.
Murphy, 24, was picked by Team USA to serve as team captain at the annual 16-nation tournament. The Americans won six of their eight games, but were bumped from the event by Finland in the quarterfinals.
"I'm very thankful that USA Hockey gave me the opportunity to be team captain and that they keep inviting me to play for them," said Murphy, a four-time participant at the World Championship. "It was a great experience. We played in a really nice arena there in Cologne, and we came together really well as a team. We had good coaching and a good staff. Obviously it ended sooner than we all wanted it to. Everyone had high goals going into that quarterfinal game and we believed we had a good team that could've won it, but when you get into the quarterfinals it's one game and anything can happen, and we ultimately came up short."
Team USA entered its quarterfinal match as the Group A champion and winners of six consecutive games. Its 2-0 loss to the Finns left many observers scratching their heads.
"It was frustrating," Murphy said. "Finland did a really good job defending and staying tight with us and we started to get frustrated and took some penalties and got away from our game. We ended up trying to be too fancy and gave up a couple of Grade-A chances that they were able to score on and we were not really able to solve how they were playing against us and get goals. They were the lower-seeded team that was kind of desperate and we may have gotten a little too comfortable. It was definitely frustrating we weren't able to pull through."
On the plus side, Team USA did post impressive victories over Sweden, which went on to win the gold medal, and Russia, which won bronze.
"It was really fun beating Russia because they go pretty hard at that tournament and they make sure they are a top team every year," Murphy said. "They beat us pretty bad the last couple of years … What was cool about this year's game was that it was back and forth and there was a ton of skill and with that big ice everyone was trying plays and showing what they have. It was pretty cool to see that back-and-forth action and to be part of that."
Murphy notched one goal and one assist in eight games and played as part of the USA's first defensive pairing. His partners were Detroit's Danny Dekeyser and Carolina's Noah Hanifin.
"I was happy I was able to play a good defensive role and play big penalty-kill minutes," Murphy said. "I had a couple of great partners and it was exciting to be in a leadership role and having a new experience to see how that side of it worked. It made it more of a challenge and more rewarding to play well."
Head Coach Jeff Blashill informed Murphy he would be team captain the day before Team USA's first exhibition game.
"It's an added honor to play for your country with a 'C' on your jersey and very humbling, and I took pride in it," Murphy said. "It was definitely a shock because I'm used to being a younger guy on the team, but once I realized how much I liked my teammates and how comfortable I am with them, I just settled down and was just being myself. No one expected me to change as a player or person, so I just tried to be myself and played as hard as I could and made sure everyone was enjoying the tournament and playing their best."
While captain, Murphy said he tried to use some tactics he observed by longtime Coyotes captain Shane Doan.
"The biggest things I've learned from Shane about being a captain are just being sincere and being a good person and trying to be close with every teammate that you have," Murphy said. "'Doaner' does an unbelievable job of touching base with each player and he shows each teammate how much he believes in them … It's easy just to sit back and be quiet, but he's not like that, and it's been good for me to see a great leader like that."
Murphy wasn't the only member of the Coyotes to play for Team USA at the tournament. Rookie forwards Christian Dvorak and Clayton Keller also competed for the Americans.
Keller, the youngest player in the tournament at age 18, turned heads by notching five goals and two assists in eight games.
"I was impressed by his production, but not surprised," Murphy said. "I've seen the skills that he has, and he was put with good linemates and was able to capitalize on his chances and play with confidence. It was nice to see him step up and make big plays. He was definitely a big part of our team doing well."
Dvorak centered the team's third line. He chipped in one goal and provided solid defense.
"'Dvo' is an unreal teammate and he adapts well to whatever situation he's put into," Murphy said. "He wasn't put into as big of an offensive role as he was with the Coyotes this year, but he accepted that right away and played real steady. Our coaches pointed him out in the video clips to show how responsible he was in our defensive zone and how good he was at getting the play moved up the ice. Sometimes it's not all about the offensive stats, it's about doing the things that helps the team win. He played the right way and he came through when we needed him."
Murphy said he his teammates enjoyed their two-week stay in Cologne. Their hotel was near a vibrant town square and there were plenty of interesting places to visit within walking distance. The food was good, too, he said.
"They have some really good restaurants there, and gelato places," Murphy said. "We took advantage of that."
Coyotes forward Tobias Rieder also played in the tournament, for host Team Germany. Murphy said it was fun to visit with Rieder and to see him on his home turf.