Players will come and go, that’s the hockey business.
However Belfast have had their fare share of players who seem to stick around season after season, current Head Coach Adam Keefe is an example of an import who loves just the Northern Irish capital. There are Brits too who enjoy it such as Mark Garside and Colin Shields, who will be in a feature I will write about sometime in the near future, but this piece is about the man who this season celebrates 10 years as a Giant with a well earned testimonial. This is about you, Stephen Murphy.
When Dundonian Stephen Murphy arrived in Northern Ireland in 2009, few would have expected him to be still around ten seasons later. “Murph” has been a cornerstone in teal and up to recently, has been the recognised starter. However, in the last couple of seasons he has seen less ice time due to injuries catching up on him and the emergence of Jackson Whistle last season and this season: Tyler Beskorowany.
He definitely looks a certainty for a shirt retirement when he decides to hang up the blocker and skates. Supposing this does happen and the Giants do indeed bestow the of retiring his number 31 honour on him, and it would be an absolute travesty in my eyes if they didn’t, then Murphy would join an illustrious club. That club includes luminaries such as Shane Johnson, Colin Ward, current assistant coach Rob Stewart, Paxton Schulte and former GM Todd Kelman. He would also become the second Brit to have the honour after home-grown defenceman Graeme Walton.
Murphy started his career at the tender age of just 16, when he iced for BNL side Paisley Pirates for whom his cousin, the very same Colin Shields, had dipped his toe into professional hockey two seasons before. Although he only made two appearances in that initial 1997-98 season for the Pirates, Murphy did more than enough to secure a move to BNL rivals Fife Flyers. In the next two seasons, Murphy established himself as the Flyers number one despite his tender years before trying his luck in America as the 2000-01 season approached. He failed to appear for both Omaha and Cleveland in his time over the pond, and so finished the season back as a Flyer: making the first of 39 appearances for the senior GB men’s team after starring at junior level previously.
A two season stint at home town club Dundee Stars followed before Murphy was on the move again, and this time South of the Border as he joined the Bracknell Bees. He moved again after one injury-hit season at the Bees, and a second stint abroad. His destination this time was Sweden and he had more success than he had in America. Spells in the Allsvenskan with Björklöven and Arboga occurred whilst cementing his place in the GB set up. Unfortunately Arboga ran into cash problems and Murphy moved back to Scotland for the 2006-07 to ice for Edinburgh Capitals who were embarking on their second season as an Elite League club.
The Capitals finished at the bottom of the ten team league, but Murphy turned in a season which was rewarded with him being awarded the EIHL Netminder of the Season accolade. A change of club followed the season afterwards as Stephen moved to Norway to ice for Fredrikstad based Stjernen in the top flight of Norwegian hockey. A move back to the EIHL followed in 2008-09 and a reunion with former Stars team-mate “Sir” Tony Hand at Manchester Phoenix. Alas the season was to be Phoenix’s last one as an Elite League club as they resigned at the end of that season. Keen to play at the highest level possible, a move to Belfast happened and the rest is now becomes history.
In his Giants career, Stephen has picked up numerous honours. Twice an Elite League Champion, a Play-Off title plus various individual honours. Those alone should be more than enough to see him receive the shirt retirement which I touched upon earlier in this article. Until the emergence of Ben Bowns, Stephen Murphy is probably the best British netminder of his era and a serious candidate for the British Ice Hockey Hall of Fame which would be a superb reward for a great servant to this game. February 19 2019 sees the Giants reward him with a testimonial game, be there if you can – the man deserves a fabulous turnout.
Header photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk