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Dual Citizenship: Larry Murphy

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Brendan Shanahan takes a shot as Larry Murphy, then a Leafs' defenseman in 1996, hits the Wings' forward during a game at Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Rick Stewart /Allsport)
DETROIT – For a diehard Maple Leafs’ fan, it borderlines sacrilege, that a Toronto kid would possess propaganda from a rival NHL club, let alone the hated one from the Original Six era.

Maybe it was a premonition that Larry Murphy, who grew-up in Toronto, owned two books about a pair of Red Wings’ greats.

“One was ‘Here’s Howe’, wish I still had that book, and the other was Roger Crozier’s ‘Daredevil Goalie’,” Murphy said. “As a diehard Leafs’ fan it was kind of an odd coincidence that I had those two books as a kid, so I was quite aware of Detroit and the history of the teams and the playoffs.”

If nothing else, the books gave the young Murphy insight into the league and superstars not named Dave Keon, Frank Mahovlich and Tim Horton. But the Leafs remained the primary source of hockey entertainment in the Murphy house, and Edward Murphy made sure that his then 7-year-old son followed in his fan loyalty, taking him to his first Leafs’ game in March 1968.

“It was my birthday, so he took me to my first game,” Murphy said. “We went down there and we bought a pair of tickets from a scalper and sat in the ‘greens’ and I vividly remember they were playing the LA Kings in the late 60s right after expansion. I just thought that this place was the greatest place in the world – the Maple Leaf Gardens. And then of course to get the opportunity to actually play there. But that was a special time.”

Murphy grew-up to play 21 NHL seasons for six different clubs in a sparkling Hall of Fame career highlighted by four Stanley Cup championships. But it was in the twilight of his career that Murphy played for his hometown Leafs before spending the final four campaigns with the Wings.

For a young man, who practically grew-up at Maple Leaf Gardens – Murphy played youth hockey for Shopsy’s that practiced at the Gardens on Saturday mornings – returning to his ‘Ice of Dreams’ was beyond special.

“The first time I skated there in the NHL was with LA, and that actually was huge with family, friends, everybody there,” said Murphy, a Kings’ first-round pick in 1980. “That was a significant point in my career, obviously, going back home. But I missed the Olympia by a year; I never stepped foot in that building, which was kind of disappointing. I loved playing in all of the old buildings, in the (Chicago) Stadium, the Boston Gardens, I just wish I had the opportunity to play in the Olympia. I’m sure it was a pretty spectacular place to be in.”

Murphy played an astonishing 1,615 games for six different NHL clubs, including 28 percent of those games between Detroit and Toronto. He is among nine players who played in more than 1,600 games.

A three-time All-Star – once each with Pittsburgh, Toronto and Detroit – Murphy cherished playing in games for and against Original Six teams.

“Anytime you play an Original Six it’s something special, just for the fact that it’s an Original Six,” he said. “I think for the Toronto side of things, the big two rivals are Montreal and Detroit, and I think for Detroit it’s been Toronto over the years. Certainly there’s Chicago, especially right now with being in the same conference, but the mystique of a Detroit-Toronto game there’s something special and it jumps out at you when the schedule comes out at the beginning of the year.

“It was an easy game to get ramped up for. It wasn’t one of 82, it meant something with a lot of media and it always led to an exciting time.”

It was in the July 1995 that Murphy was traded to the Leafs from Pittsburgh, where he had spent five previous seasons and helped the Penguins win back-to-back Cup titles in 1991 and ’92.

But after two so-so seasons with the Leafs, which including a first-round playoff series loss to St. Louis, Murphy was on the move when he was traded to Detroit at the 1997 deadline. Three months later, he was a three-time Stanley Cup champion.

“For me, we won two (Cups) in Pittsburgh, but they both were on the road,” Murphy said. “The significance of the Detroit win, for me, was winning the Cup at a home game, so you get the celebration. And then it was the first time that the franchise had won one in so long. It made that very special.”

Playing for a winning organization that featured no fewer than five future hall-of-famers was just icing on Murphy’s own celebrated career. 

“It was just the opportunity to play in Detroit and play with that team with such tremendous talent,” said Murphy, now a color analyst for Wings’ games on Fox Sports Detroit. “It was exciting, and we won a lot more than we lost, that’s what makes anything fun, because losing sucks and we learned that.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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