Remember that empty field down the road from where he grew up? It’s now a 19,000-seat hockey arena. And the area around the old high school? There’s a strip mall and a huge movie theater.
The city of Kanata, Ontario, did some growing in the years that Murphy left to play college hockey at Colgate and professional hockey in Finland. But as the Panthers conclude what Murphy described as a “road trip I probably dreamed about since I was a kid,” the last stop will likely be the most memorable for the Panther defenseman.
The Panthers pulled into Murphy’s hometown of Kanata late Thursday evening to prepare for Saturday’s game against the Eastern Conference champion Senators. For Murphy, who grew up attending Senator games at the old Ottawa Civic Centre before the team converted that empty field down the road into the 19,000-seat Scotiabank Place, it should be a memorable homecoming.
“Right now, I’ll probably have around 50 friends and family there,” Murphy said. “My one buddy bought 40 tickets, and they’re all going. And my whole family and others are going.”
Murphy, the 29-year-old rookie, has proven to be a key, off-season acquisition for the Panthers. Having spent the previous six seasons playing professionally in Finland and Sweden after having gone undrafted, Murphy has scored a goal and five assists. The Kanata Kid has also shown a knack for being at the right place at the right time. He’s been invaluable on the power play, quarterbacking that unit and, on this trip, setting up Nathan Horton’s game-tying goal Tuesday in Montreal.
For Murphy, who’s making his first stop as an NHL player in every city, the three-game swing through Canada has been fun. He admitted to looking up at the banners hanging from the rafters during warmups in Montreal. The stop in Toronto was a homecoming of sorts, since he’s spent the past five summers there with his family. And playing the Senators will be a chance to see family and friends and look back at what was his childhood home and what is now Scotiabank Place.
“That area was empty when I was a kid,” said Murphy of the land where Scotiabank Place now sits. “When they built it there were a couple farm houses, but that was it. Now, it’s still pretty bare out there, but it’s growing. That whole strip mall out there, where all the restaurants are, there was nothing. I went to high school there and it was just the high school, fields and forest.”
Signed in March as an unrestricted free agent, Murphy was named the Finnish Elite League’s MVP last season. Brought in to help the Panthers offensively, Murphy hasn’t disappointed.
“When we signed him, what we were looking for was his ability to move the puck, quarterback the power play, to find the open man,” said GM and coach Jacques Martin. “He’s really good at that and has helped in those areas. (Montreal) was a great example of that. He could have shot, but instead he found Nathan at the side of the net.”
Martin had an idea of Murphy’s abilities when watching him at last year’s World Championships.
“He was impressive there,” Martin said. “He was playing against the top competition and handled himself well. He showed that ability there, quarterbacking the power play for Team Canada and showing his ability to move the puck and finding the open man. That was impressive. Even getting pucks to the net. That’s a skill and he has that.”
Teammate Richard Zednik says Murphy fulfills the role of a quarterback on the power play. “You need a guy to move the puck, a guy who’s active on the blue line,” he said. “It makes it so much easier when you have a guy there making the right play, and with (Cory) he does that whether he shoots or passes.”
Murphy deflects credit for improving the Panthers’ power play. “I’m fortunate to be in this situation right now,” he shrugs. When asked how much of an adjustment this season has been, he adds; “Obviously, it’s a huge change for me. It was a little overwhelming. But it’s all hockey when you get on the ice.”
And Saturday evening Murphy will be doing what he’s always wanted: Playing on the ice and concluding a dream road trip.
“I grew up going to these games, going to these buildings,” he said. “Now to be back and the way I went, the route I went, it’s going to be fun and I’m excited for my family that’s going to be there.”