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Ottawa native Cory Murphy's long hockey odyssey comes full circle Saturday night

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Cory Murphy muttered two words.

"Lyndon Slewidge," said the Florida Panthers defenceman.

Murphy's long hockey odyssey, which began two minutes from where Scotiabank Place was built and included six years in Europe, finally comes full circle Saturday night when the Ottawa native stands for the national anthem before a game against the Senators - performed as usual by the Ontario Provincial Police constable Lyndon Slewidge.

"It'll probably hit me during the anthem," says the 29-year-old Murphy, an NHL rookie at last. "But once the game starts, there's a pretty good team over there so I'll have to focus and just play the game."

He'll have his own cheering section.

"I think my buddy has a whole section up in the 300s. Probably 50 or 60 people there for me," Murphy said with a laugh.

A few years ago, Murphy would have been up there in the nosebleeds with his buddies.

"I went to those games - I went to the games in the old building (Civic Centre)," said Murphy. "The minute they got that team I was pretty excited. I lived two minutes from the new rink in Kanata. When the schedule came out this summer, first thing is I went to the first game of the season and then I looked at the first time back home (in Ottawa).

"It'll be special for sure."

Special indeed. This is a guy that didn't take no for an answer. Undrafted by the NHL after a terrific collegiate career at Colgate, the diminutive blue-liner took his game to Europe. Not that it was always easy there, either.

He was cut after a tryout in Stockholm right after leaving Colgate in 2001, he wasn't re-signed after his second season with Espoo in Finland in 2003, Swiss club Fribourg-Gotteron also decided they weren't interested in bringing him back despite 35 points (13-22) in 44 games in 2006.

No big deal, there's always another team, another chance.

"The whole thing about Cory Murphy is that Cory Murphy did it," his agent Bill Zito said from Chicago on Friday. "Every time they closed the door on him, he said 'I'll keep playing and see what I could do."'

It was Zito who gave him the idea of going to Finland after his Colgate days were done. The agent first discovered Murphy while attending a Colgate-Harvard game with the intent of scouting a different player. But he couldn't stop noticing Murphy.

"It's a one-goal game with five minutes left to go in the third period," recounted Zito. "And Murph has played pretty good. Some kid has his head down coming up the middle and Murph takes the kid's head off. They call a penalty on him even though it was a clean hit. Harvard scores on the PP - game over. The kid from Harvard skates by the box and chirps at Murph. The kid should have kept his mouth shut because he got his bell rung by a little guy. But he didn't.

"Now there's a minute left, and for whatever reason the kid is on the ice, the puck goes in the corner, Murph wound up from Cleveland and just ran him into the boards - and just stood over him. So after the game, I said to the Colgate coach, Donnie Vaughan, 'Who is this guy? I love him."'

And so started the Zito-Murphy relationship. The agent's idea to go to Finland had worked before with prized client Brian Rafalski, now a star defenceman with the Detroit Red Wings, as well as with Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas and Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Hamilton.

"I looked at going to Europe as an opportunity to see the world and play hockey for a living," said the level-headed Murphy. "I was excited about it. ...

"I'm glad I did it and things happen for a reason," continued Murphy. "It just took me a little longer and that's the way I had to go to get here. I don't regret anything. I'm just going to try and enjoy this and get better here."

He was held back because of his size. He's listed at five foot 10 and 185 pounds but that's generous to be sure. Luckily, the new NHL is a kinder place for smaller, puck-moving defencemen. A standout season last year with HIFK Helsinki, when he was named league MVP after putting up 50 points (13-37) in 45 games, finally gave him a shot.

"A lot of things went right last year," said Murphy. "I had a great coach (former NHLer Paul Baxter) and great teammates. Coach played me a tonne. That was a confidence-builder for me, for sure."

Panthers assistant GM Randy Sexton - ironically a former Senators GM when Murphy was growing up - decided to take a chance, signing Murphy to a two-year deal paying him US$775,000 this season and $875,000 next year. It's proving to be a bargain early this season, with Murphy already piling up six points (1-5) in seven games, enjoying quality minutes on the power play.

"It's been good, there's a good power play here and I'm getting an opportunity," said Murphy. "It's pretty easy playing with those guys."

On Saturday night, when Murphy is once again quarterbacking the Panthers power play in his hometown rink, maybe he'll pinch himself to make sure he's not dreaming.

"I always wanted to hope that some day it would happen," said Murphy. "I guess at times I thought, 'Maybe it's not going to happen.' But it never really ate at me like that. I was just playing hockey and trying to get better. Thankfully for me, it did happen."

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