Connor Murphy has a wealth of experience representing Team USA internationally. He has just finished his third IIHF World Championship, losing 7–2 to host Russia in the bronze medal game. While the team was obviously overmatched against the star-studded host team, there was still disappointment.
“Yeah it’s too bad,” he began. “They came out with more jump and got the early lead. We didn’t give up at that point because we came back yesterday, but it was going to take a real push to get back into it and it didn’t happen today. They were the better team and they deserved to win.”
In Saturday’s semifinal, the Americans also fell two goals down early but came back to take the lead before ultimately falling 4–3. Sunday’s contest for third place started just 20 hours after that semifinal, whereas the Russians had a few hours more, having played the earlier semifinal. Murphy wasn’t going to use that as an excuse, however.
“This whole tournament’s a challenge. You try to stay even keel and be ready to play on a quick turnaround. But I don’t think that’s an excuse for us. Playing back-to-back … we’re Americans and we should be able to handle it because most of us are used to doing that in the NHL or AHL – sometimes you’ve gotta play back-to-back in different cities traveling overnight on the bus. So no, that’s not an excuse. It’s tough but you dig down and try to find a way to grind out a win.
“But we can be proud of what we accomplished this tournament. We know that for years to come we’ve got a lot of young guys who can step up and play well for Team USA and hopefully win medals in the future.”
Playing on the Americans’ top penalty-killing unit, Murphy was on the ice a lot against some of the Russians top stars, such as Alexander Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk. Even though the younger American squad had their hands full and the Russian power play struck twice, Murphy relishes the challenge that these matchups bring.
“In the NHL, I’ve been paired up against Ovechkin before. They’re offensive guys and you take it as a challenge to play against guys with that level of skill, and it’s fun. You want to win the challenge and win the game. We didn’t this time but hopefully we’ll get other cracks at it in the future.”
Finishing out of the medals is always disappointing, but there are positives to take from this experience.
“The positives are that a lot of people didn’t give us a chance. Last year too, we won bronze but they didn’t give us a chance then either. We came close to making it to the final yesterday – it was a close game. It really says a lot about how hard these young guys worked. A lot of these guys, we didn’t really know what they were like as players and they played well in big moments, so that’s something that they can hold their heads high about. But it wasn’t good enough for a medal and we have to accept that.”
Even though he’s only 23 years of age, Murphy was one of the leaders on this team and even wore an “A” on his jersey. In his previous two World Championships he was held pointless, but this year he stepped up and contributed offensively with three goals and two assists in nine games.
“I’ve played in a few of these now,” said the Arizona Coyotes‘ defenseman. “Maybe that’s not a good thing because it means I’ve been out of the playoffs in the NHL, but I’m really proud to represent my country. The fact that I’ve been here before gives me a little bit of experience and allows me to take on a bit of a leadership role in this tournament, and I’m just trying to do whatever I can in that respect.”
In addition to two previous World Championships at the senior level, he also played in the 2013 U20 World Championship and the 2011 U18 World Championship, where he won gold both times – he even scored the gold-winning overtime goal in the 2011 tournament against Sweden.
“It’s tough to compare,” he said when asked where this year ranks in his international experience. “We won bronze last year and that was a great experience, too. We’ve got a lot of guys on the team that have worn the USA jersey in the past and had success, so that’s an expectation that we have of ourselves when we come together. I think one of the reasons that we’ve outperformed some of the expectations that others have is because we have such high expectations of ourselves.
“Having those expectations is one of the things that makes this so disappointing. You don’t like to be on a long flight home thinking about what you could have done differently, but that can be a positive experience too. Whatever doesn’t kill you just makes you stronger.”
Follow Derek O’Brien on Twitter via @Derek_J_OBrien