Looking for a way to rebound after falling behind 3-1 early in the second round of the OHL playoffs, you could forgive Kitchener Rangers’ captain Ryan Murphy for channeling his inner James Taylor. After all, in trying to lead by example he’s got Carolina on his mind.
“It was unbelievable. Obviously it was a bit of a shock to me when I got the news. I had no idea that you could be recalled at such a late point of the season,” Murphy explained. “But it was a great experience for me. I got four games in, which was great. I got a good amount of ice. I was comfortable up there. Coming back to Kitchener, I just tried to keep up the same pace that I played up there and I think that’s done well for me.”
Murphy’s four-game sojourn in the NHL allowed him to learn some valuable leadership lessons. These are lessons that he hopes to help drive his OHL squad to greater success.
“When I was up there, Eric Staal’s obviously the captain in Carolina and he’s a great leader,” Murphy explained. “He’s a great player but he also holds other people accountable for their mistakes, or he gives recognition to guys who make good plays. I’ve learned a lot from him and I’ve tried to take it back here to Kitchener.
“I learned that you really can’t make any mistakes because they’re going to capitalize on them, and you can’t take any shifts off. That’s what I’ve been trying to do in these playoffs. I’ve done pretty well and right now we’ve just got to focus on this series and play smart hockey.”
Before the shock of the call-up, Murphy’s head coach Steve Spott provided some short-lived disappointment to his blueliner.
“We just got off the ice on a Thursday and we had a game coming up on the Friday,” he said. “Coach Spott called me in and told me that he had bad news, that I wouldn’t be playing in the games that weekend with Kitchener — he kind of played a little joke on me. When he told me the news I was pretty excited.”
And from there, it was a whirlwind of activity.
“I got the news, about an hour later I got picked up to go to the airport, hopped on a plane and was there that night,” Murphy explained.
In four NHL games, Murphy averaged just over 21 minutes — including a personal best 25:27 in his third match against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Overall, he finished at -4 (which included a -3 against Tampa Bay), and registered seven shots on goal.
In addition to that experience, Murphy gained confidence.
“The main thing that I learned was that they’re all just hockey players like myself,” he said. “You can’t play any different according to what level you’re playing at. As the games went on, I got more and more comfortable out there, but if I had to put it down to one thing, it’s definitely the speed and the strength of the players up there.
“The pace is a bit slower, but it’s still good hockey [in the OHL]. As much as I tried to keep the pace as I would play in Carolina, it’s hard to do it here.”
And for a player who has donned the maple leaf for Team Canada and enjoyed OHL post-season success, pulling the Hurricanes’ jersey over his head ranks as his top hockey experience.
“My ultimate goal growing up was to play in the NHL,” Murphy said. “That first game was probably the best feeling of my life. You can’t really describe how great it felt to step out there, with the crowd going crazy.
“I even got to start in my first game beside Eric Staal and some other pretty big names — it was obviously a bit overwhelming but it was a great experience.”