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Murphy Making Most of Chance

by Mark Pukalo / Tampa Bay Lightning

Cory Murphy played his first NHL game last season, a few months short of his 30th birthday. The Kanata, Ontario native took a unique route to the big leagues and his long, interesting ride has landed the defenseman as a quarterback of the Lightning power play.

Murphy played four successful seasons at Colgate University, totaling 111 points, and made a trip to the NCAA tournament. But instead of going to the minor leagues where he had opportunities, he bought a plane ticket to Finland.

“My agent and I just decided that going to Finland for a year or two would be better,” Murphy said. “I just wanted to go over, play a lot, improve my game, and it turned into six years.”

The more wide open play in Europe and bigger ice surfaces suited Murphy, at 5 foot 10, 180 pounds now, and gave him a chance to hone his offensive skills. Murphy said rinks in SM-liiga, the top professional league in Finland, weren’t quite as big as in other countries, but he still bumped into some walls when he came back to North America.

“I became more confident in my game,” Murphy said. “It was great for me mentally and physically.”

His patience was rewarded. Murphy, who turns 31 Friday, played the first two seasons in Finland with Blues, scoring 20 goals in 91 games.

“It was kind of a feeling out process for me,” Murphy said. “I was by myself in a foreign country, trying to figure out how it all worked over there.”

Injuries hampered Murphy the second season and he said his third year with Ilves Tampere was a turning point. Murphy scored 18 goals in 2003-04 and 12 more the following season. Teams from other countries started to notice. He was offered more money by Fribourg-Gotteron of the Swiss league and decided to give another league a try. Although he scored 13 goals that season, the team wasn’t very good and he chose Finland again.

His decision couldn’t have worked out better. Murphy ended up with HIFK Helsinki and had his best season with 13 goals and 50 points in 45 games. He was named the top player in the league.

“I just liked the team,” Murphy said. “It’s a really great organization, with a lot of history and great fans. It’s a big city, we lived downtown and the people were very friendly.”

Murphy said the atmosphere at hockey games in Finland was like European soccer matches, with banners and constant singing.

“Hockey is the No. 1 sport there,” Murphy said.

You can tell he has quarterbacked power plays for a long time. Guys that are composed like that make a big difference. - Mark Recchi
It was fun, even though it was dark. Murphy said from November to the end of February it was still dark until almost 10 a.m. and night was falling by 3:30 p.m.

The standout season opened many more doors for Murphy. He played for Canada and won gold in the 2007 World Championships, scoring seven points in nine games, and signed a contract with the Florida Panthers.

“That was the plan, going over there,” Murphy said. “I was glad to get the opportunity to come back.”

Murphy had two goals and 17 points in 47 games for the Panthers last season, but after Florida made a trade for power-play quarterback Bryan McCabe, Murphy became expendable.

The Lightning claimed Murphy on re-entry waivers Jan. 19 and he scored four points in the first three games. He has five points in nine games total.

“He’s a very intelligent player, who makes plays when he needs to,” said Lightning forward Mark Recchi, who plays the point with Murphy on the power play. “He’s very composed back there. You can tell he has quarterbacked power plays for a long time. Guys that are composed like that make a big difference.”

The change was good for Murphy.

“It’s been great,” Murphy said. “Since day one, everybody’s been awesome here. It’s been a positive experience for me.”

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