RALEIGH, N.C. — Kitchener Rangers defenseman Ryan Murphy was finishing practice on Thursday when his head coach, Steve Spott, pulled the young blueliner aside. The bench boss said he had some bad news.
Murphy was informed that he wouldn’t take part in Kitchener’s weekend action, which included three OHL games in three nights. While Spott initially began the conversation with a somber tone, he was simply having fun at his protege’s expense.
Murphy wasn’t being reprimanded — quite the opposite, actually.
With Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason and now Jamie McBain out with injuries, the Carolina Hurricanes were left with just five healthy D-men heading into their match-up against the Jets. They chose to recall Murphy for Thursday’s contest on an emergency basis, giving the former first round pick his first taste of the NHL.
“I was wondering what I did wrong at first, but then (Coach Spott) told me the news,” Murphy said with a smile. ”Even if the game was in an hour I would have tried to get down here. Definitely a bit of hectic travel, but it was worth it.
“It’s definitely something I’ll remember for a very long time.”
Murphy claimed to be nervous heading into his debut, but there were no signs of jitters once he hit the ice. He was smooth carrying the puck, didn’t make any significant mistakes and jumped into the rush quite a few times — looking more like a veteran out there than a teenage rookie.
Justin Faulk, who plays a similar style of hockey as Murphy, was pleased with the newcomer’s performance.
“Compared to my first game I think he did a little better than I did,” Faulk said, which drew some laughs from the media. “It’s tough to come in especially in mid-season and have your first game. He looked calm out there and made some nice plays and it was nice to see that.”
Carolina would fall to the Jets, 4-3, but it certainly wasn’t due to the play of their latest call-up. Some shaky goaltending from Cam Ward and a late breakdown by Joe Corvo ultimately led to the Canes’ demise, who remain tied for the Southeast Division lead with the Lightning.
Murphy was paired with veteran Jay Harrison on Thursday, and the two complimented each other well. Murphy, an offensively-gifted player, frequently jumped into the rush and created scoring chances; Harrison, a responsible, defensive-minded rearguard, provided the Canes with a more stable presence.
“It was great, he walked me through everything.” said Murphy of his partner. “If I didn’t know what’s going on he would explain it to me. He’s a talkative guy so that was good for me and we I really got along good with him on the ice.”
The one knock on Murphy has always been his defensive play, which scouts have classified as questionable in the past. But if Thursday was any indication, it appears he is more than capable of performing well in both ends of the ice, as seen through his ability to remain in position in his own zone, generate accurate outlet passes and win puck battles behind the net.
“(The NHL is) a lot faster, a lot more stopping and starting,” he said. “Definitely a lot bigger guys out there. I’m tired, but I played hard and I’m happy with my game.”
Getting the Start
Carolina’s coaching staff made the decision to start Murphy on Thursday, which Kirk Muller believes made the process easier on the Aurora, Ont. native.
“We just said, ‘Let’s get him right in. No sense sitting on the bench and watching,’” Muller said. “It’s easier just to jump right into it so we thought it would be best to start right away and see how he does.”
Not only would the Canes let Murphy take the ice for the opening face-off, but he’d get more playing time than almost anyone on the team, as well. In total, he racked up 23:51 of TOI versus the Jets — second on the team only to Faulk.
While a lot of different people contacted Murphy in the hours leading up to puck-drop, many of those he spoke to had the same advice.
“The main thing everyone was telling me was just to have fun.” he said. “It was a blast, it was my first NHL game. The crowd was amazing and it was definitely a dream come true.”
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The Hurricanes will return to action on Saturday when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit PNC Arena for a Southeast Division tilt.
Andrew Hirsh is a credentialed NHL writer based in North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter @andrewhirsh or email him at email@example.com