By Glenn Odebralski for floridapanthers.com
|Defenseman Connor Murphy is a potential first-round pick.
For potential 2011 first round draft pick Connor Murphy it's always been about hockey. Why wouldn't it be as he grew up around the rinks as his father played professionally and then moved onto coaching.
His father? Former Panthers defenseman and current assistant coach Gord Murphy.
Born on March 26, 1993 in Boston, Massachusetts, Murphy moved with his family to South Florida when his father was selected in the Expansion Draft by the Panthers. Murphy took his first strides on the ice just up the street from the BankAtlantic Center.
"That's where it all started," said Gord who was a ninth-round selection by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1985 and spent six seasons and 410 games with the Panthers. "I can't say enough for the way the program was run there at the time. It used to be called incredible
ICE and they had the Learn To Skate program which my older son (Tyler) and him attended. That's basically where they got started. There was a lot of opportunity there. They came up through the house league there and played a couple of years there before I moved on.
"They still have memories and remember the rink. They remember their times there. They remember being on a team with Brody Sutter who was at our camp last year. That was really where they got started."
"My dad played in Florida, so I started skating there," said Murphy who considers himself a smart, two-way defenseman that models his game after the New York Rangers Marc Staal. "When I moved up to Atlanta, I played for my first travel teams there. Most of my youth hockey was with the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets."
Growing up around the NHL rinks in South Florida, Atlanta and Columbus with his dad playing and then coaching in the league really helped develop Murphy’s love and appreciation for the game.
“It’s one of the perks, for sure,” said Murphy of being around the rinks. “Every once in a while, when the injured guys were there, I’d get to go skate with them and my dad.
“From a fan point of view, I love seeing those players and rooting for them in the crowd. And it’s another thing to be able to see what work they put in and see what work it takes to be at that level. I can look off of those guys, try follow in those footsteps, and be able to make it and play against those guys in the future and maybe even be on teams with them.
"Obviously the highlight of my career was when we went to the Stanley Cup Finals and the Year of the Rat. They were young at the time but being able to have him there. I remember at the end of the year and after the playoffs after we lost out, it was a tough time but being able to have the kids, have the boys and see the excitement in their faces. We had an end of the year party and we were able to get our picture taken with the Eastern Conference trophy. That was a real memorable moment for me and it was one that was extremely special and to be able to share that with the family is something that I'll always remember." - Gord Murphy On His Fondest Moment Spending With His Son While In Florida
“It's helpful from when they were able to understand it and figure it out and be around there,” said Gord who finished his NHL career racking up 85 goals, 238 assists for 323 points in 862 games spanning 14 NHL seasons. “He's always had that hockey bug in him all the way through and just being around the rink and seeing how the pro guys how they prepare themselves, their work ethic, how they look after themselves off the ice, he was able to see that at a young age and see the discipline, the amount of commitment involved so he was exposed to it early and it definitely helped him.”
Having his father as a former player and as a coach can be a double-edged sword, but ultimately it helped Murphy get to the point of being a potential first-rounder.
"He points out some repetitive things when he sees mistakes," said Murphy. "He doesn’t over-coach me. He’s just there at my games when he can be. Sometimes he sees things my coaches can’t."
"I think we all as parents, we all know our children," said Gord. "We know what they're capable of.
"You want to see them play their best and do their best. You don't want to see them cheat themselves. I don't think I was every really extremely hard on him. I tried to be fair. I just tried to have him understand and appreciate the value of the commitment there that when you go to the rink, we want you to have fun but you also have to make sure you're being true to yourself and your teammates."
After playing for the travel teams in Ohio, Murphy moved on to the US Development program. Spending the last two seasons in Ann Arbor has opened up many opportunities for Murphy. It hasn't been easy however, especially this last season as he had to overcome an injury at the start of it. After captaining his team to a silver medal at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, Murphy suffered from spondylosis during the first week of his season. Having a stress fracture in his L5 vertebrae, Murphy missed five months of action.
"Last year and this year I had a lower back problem," said Murphy. "It put me out for five months this season.
"I wore a back brace. I did a lot of core therapy, and was able to come back strong."
After getting clearance to play, he finished with six points (three goals) in 14 games played in league action. Then Murphy went to the Under-18 World Championships and had a fantastic tournament. He led all US defensemen with three goals (four points). He saved his best for last as he scored twice in the gold medal game, including the overtime winner in a 4-3 victory over Sweden.
"As a parent, you ride a rollercoaster of emotion with him, you try to be supportive and you try to help him but it's tearing up inside when he's going through something like that but he's come out the other end here real well," said Gord. "You try to take the positive out of it, take that silver lining out of it and to his credit, he was able to handle that adversity and turn it into something positive."
Murphy was rewarded for his efforts following the injury as he went from being unranked at the midterm rankings by Central Scouting to being ranked 25th overall in their final rankings.
"It was a little bit of surprise for me," said Murphy of his ranking. "I didn’t really think much about it. I thought more of my physical condition, my ability to come back and contribute to my team at the end of the year, and the World Championships in April. It was a nice accomplishment to be ranked that high."
After finishing up the tournament, Murphy prepared for the Combine and did extremely well during the interviews and the workout session. After meeting with 26 teams, Murphy posted in the top ten in Fatigue Index (tied for eighth at 39.5), Standing Long Jump (second at 115.5 inches), max number of Curl-Ups (tied for sixth at 48) and Upper Body Power (tied for 10th at 217 inch distance on 4kg ball) among other categories.
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|2011 NHL ENTRY DRAFT |
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With the combine behind him, all that's left is the draft which starts on June 24th in Minnesota. While things might be flying at him, Gord tries to keep his son grounded.
"I've just told him to enjoy the process. It's a busy time," said Gord. "I tried to tell him not to get too caught up in all the hoopla and all the hype and just enjoy it, keep grounded, keep your foundation and stay true to who you are and make sure you don't change. He knows that it's still a long road. This is just going to be the first step of many and getting drafted is sort of getting your foot in the door. We're trying to keep perspective and at the same token, I also want him to just try to have him enjoy it and take it all in."
Gord and Connor will be joined at the draft with his mother Nicole as well as Tyler and Lexi (Connor’s sister). Through numerous drafts before as a player and as a coach, Gord is excited to take it in in a different perspective.
“I'm looking forward to going to this and just going as a dad,” said Gord. “Just to take that all in and be able to go through that experience for an entire family, we're really looking forward to it. You obviously get a much different perspective when it's your child as opposed to when you're going through it yourself. As a dad, as a parent, you kind of have your nervous protective instincts but it’s an exciting time. We're extremely proud of him and what he's accomplished and everything he's been through, the adversity and to come back. We're extremely proud of him and we're looking forward to the draft day.”
It’s obviously unknown where Connor will land or with who, but Gord wouldn’t mind it being with one of his old teams, for selfish reasons of course.
“I want to make sure he's doing it on his own and it's going to be for himself and for his career. The team that really wants him and they see his talent and are the ones that take him, I'm not going to be too upset with any team taking him. I really look forward to that day.”
Wherever he gets drafted, it will be just the first step to following in his father’s footsteps.