NHL referee Brian Murphy

Brian Murphy preferred to avoid the spotlight during his 32 seasons as an NHL linesperson and referee. So the increased attention created by his upcoming induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Boston on Dec. 6 has been a different experience.

“You don’t get into officiating to be recognized,” Murphy said. “Anybody that does is in it for the wrong reason. So when you do get recognized, it’s kind of unexpected and it’s an overwhelming feeling, especially when you click on the (U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame) website and see the people that are in there. It’s a who’s who of U.S. hockey people, so to be included in something like that is unbelievable.”

Murphy will be joined in the 2023 induction class by former NHL forwards Dustin Brown and Jamie Langenbrunner, longtime NHL executive Brian Burke and Boston College women's hockey coach Katie King Crowley. The 58-year-old will join former referees Bill Chadwick (1979) and Paul Stewart (2018) and linesperson Kevin Collins (2017) as inductees honored strictly for their achievements as on-ice officials.

Murphy, who retired in 2020, is among eight officials to work more than 2,000 NHL regular-season games. His resume includes 1,983 NHL regular-season games as a linesperson, along with 88 during his two-season stint as a referee (1999-2001), and another 304 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Murphy worked in the Stanley Cup Final nine times (1995, 1996, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017), as well as the 1999 NHL All-Star Game in Tampa, Florida, and the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park in Boston. He officiated on the international stage at the 2004 and 2016 World Cup of Hockey and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

“It’s one thing to be elite and it’s one thing to have longevity, but it’s a whole other thing to be elite for a long period of time," longtime NHL linesperson Jay Sharrer said. "I think that’s what a guy like Brian embodies. Not only was he a top [linesperson], but he was arguably one of the best in the business, for a long period of time.”

NHL referee Brian Murphy Winter Classic 2010

Murphy reached that level with a tireless work ethic. He never expected to go into officiating when he was growing up in Dover, New Hampshire, playing hockey on a backyard rink and at Dover High School as a goalie.

While attending the University of New Hampshire, Murphy drove the Zamboni at a local rink to earn money and learned the referees for the men’s league games there made more per game than he did during his eight-hour shift. He started with a local midget tournament and worked his up to men’s league and high school games in New Hampshire.

Murphy’s former high school coach, Dan Raposa, referee for Hockey East, provided encouragement and opportunities, such as bringing him along as a linesperson for a scrimmage at the University of Maine in the mid-1980s.

“It was a Canadian school having a preseason scrimmage against Maine,” Raposa said. “I was impressed, too. Let’s face it, when you’re a men’s league ref or a high school ref, you’re not doing the lines. You’re not working as a [linesperson]. And here it is, a Hockey East scrimmage.

“I remember (Maine coach) Shawn Walsh saying to me, ‘Hey, Rapper. I like this guy from Dover, New Hampshire. Bring him back again sometime.’”

Murphy’s career took off after that. Hockey East supervisor of officials Dana Hennigar hired him as an official in 1986. By 1988, Murphy was officiating the Beanpot, Hockey East and NCAA championship games.

Murphy officiated at a USA Hockey camp and the U.S. Olympic Festival 1986 in 1987 and caught the eye of former NHL referee Bryan Lewis and NHL director of officiating John McCauley. He debuted as an NHL linesperson when the Washington Capitals hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 7, 1988.

“I tell my kids all the time that, ‘Life is about people believing in you,’” said Murphy, now the supervisor of men’s officials for Hockey East. “Dana Hennigar with Hockey East, and John McCauley and Bryan Lewis were the people that believed in me and really gave me the opportunity to make it the NHL.”

NHL referee Brian Murphy in action

Murphy also put in the work. Though he says, “People will tell you the goalie has got to be the best skater on the ice,” he knew he needed to improve his skating to work in the NHL. Raposa described a distinctive, “swoosh, swoosh, swoosh,” sound created by the power of Murphy’s skating stride, which he developed from countless hours working on it.

“I think I coached a total of 30 years, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone who is not on a team work on their skating as much as Brian did,” Raposa said. “I think it’s something his peers in the National Hockey League would say that when there’s an episode or an incident that requires the [linesperson] to be on the scene quickly, boom, you could hear ‘Murph’ coming. He had a fleetness of foot that was incredible for a big guy his size.”

At 6-foot-3, 238 pounds, Murphy was an imposing figure when he entered the NHL. He trimmed down to 208 pounds by the end of his career by altering his training and diet. His commitment to his fitness was a key factor in his longevity.

“I remember when I first met him, and, obviously, all of us trained a lot differently back then, and he was built like a linebacker,” said Sharrers, who worked 1,419 NHL regular-season games and 204 playoff games as a linesperson from 1990-2017. “He was just this big, thick dude, and I’m like, ‘This guy is just a big monster.’ Then, you see how he transformed, like a lot of guys in terms of how they changed their training, and just how fit he was, yet still very strong.”

When the NHL added a second referee to its officiating crews in 1988-89, Murphy tried refereeing to help with the expansion. But the process required him splitting time between the NHL and the American Hockey League to gain experience and he decided to return to being a linesperson in 2001-02.

Murphy notes his tenure bridged multiple generations of arenas and star players. He officiated games in legendary old arenas such as the Montreal Forum, Maple Leaf Gardens, Boston Garden and Chicago Stadium and their replacements. He worked the lines in games featuring Hockey Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Mario Lemieux as well as current stars Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Connor McDavid.

“That was probably the best part of about being around so long is that I could experience those two different eras,” he said.

Murphy said he also takes pride in his tenure as president on the NHL Officials Association from 2005-2013 and his work with USA Hockey and Hockey East in helping young officials learn the craft.

“I’m probably just as proud of those achievements as I am of anything I did on the ice," he said, "because anything I did on the ice was probably more individual.”

The traveling life an NHL official took Murphy away from his wife Lisa and daughters Casey and Shayna for much of his career. His 4,400 nights in Marriott hotels are evidence of that.

That’s why he appreciated being able to officiate his 2,000th regular-season game, between the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets on March 16, 2019, at TD Garden. Boston is as close to a home game as Murphy would get.

“The players and the coaches made it a great night for me,” he said. “Not that many officials get to work that many games and to get to that point and achieve that and celebrate it, I think that’s one of the best things the League does is allow the officials to celebrate some achievements and that was certainly an achievement for me. It was a night my family won’t forget, and I’ll never forget either.”

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