Murphy Comes Back

Larry Murphy played just over three seasons with the LA Kings, but he remains one of the team’s favorite alums. He is certainly among the most successful, having won four Stanley Cups over the years. He also has a heart for LA, as he said Saturday night in an interview between periods one and two. “When the LA Kings won the Cup a couple of years ago, I took some pride in the fact that I was here for some time.”

His career ended up lasting more than 20 years and 1615 games, but his memories of the first bit of it are as vivid as can be. He came to the Kings training camp in the fall of 1980 a kid straight out of Peterborough, Ontario, where he had played for the storied Petes franchise.

Actually camp that year (1980) was held in Victoria, BC, and the team then came down to Los Angeles. Murphy remembers his first impressions: “I remember vividly the bus ride from LAX. The trip to the Forum was unbelievable, because I had no experience, no exposure to California, and I just remember how it felt. It was so different. I thought, ‘What would hockey be like in an environment where it’s warm and there’s no snow?’ It turned out for me, and it’s still the case here with the Kings, that it’s a vibrant franchise, because there’s a hardcore fan base. The Kings were never front page of the LA Times, but you had this group of fans that kept the team alive, and passionate. Before I knew it, I’m very comfortable playing here in Los Angeles.”

He also remembers that both Coach Bob Berry and first-year defense partner Dave Lewis had a huge part in his success. “What really helped my career was that with Bob Berry coaching the Kings at the time, we had a real strong team. The Triple Crown line was going good. We faltered in the playoffs, but I think we finished about third or fourth in the league. I was playing a lot, and Bob had a lot of confidence in me. For any young kid, that’s the key, and I learned quickly that you’ve gotta do something well. You’ve got to bring something to the table. If you’re just mediocre, middle of the road, and you fade into the crowd, you’re not going to make it. You’re not going to make a career in the NHL. Bob Berry brought that out in me and basically put me in a role where I was playing a lot of minutes. I was allowed to be a factor out there. I couldn’t think of a better circumstance than that to start out my career.”

He later added, “It was a situation where I could have been on a different team, playing less minutes, just a different coach, but to me, it meant a lot to start here. I was proud of what I did here in Los Angeles, and I was disappointed when I left.” This goes to show that what happens on the ice is just a part of what makes an NHL career, or makes it not happen. Most fans don’t think of that. In fact, sometimes it seems like fans are like kids in school—they assume that their favorite player (teacher) somehow doesn’t exist when he’s not on the ice (or in the classroom), and that those who make it are always those who were scripted to. There are superstars, but there are lots of other guys who sit on a bubble until a coach starts to believe in them. Right team, right moment—it means a lot.

Speaking of Lewis, Murphy said, “He was my first partner, and I pretty well played my first season with him. He taught me a lot that first year. He was the perfect guy to play with because he understood that this rookie might be a little unreliable or frazzled out there at times. He had experience and he was pretty understanding. Sympathetic, real positive about things. That first season went real well, and I give Dave a lot of credit for that.”

Murphy set rookie defense scoring records for assists (60) and points (76), and he says that he still looks at the league each year around the thirty game mark to see if there’s anybody close to doing what he did. Referring to the Kings team that picked him fourth overall in 1980, he commented, “This team was set up perfectly for the type of style that I played. The rookie record, I don’t want to lose it. Anybody that says about a league record that they don’t want to lose it, I think they’re lying. I think you want those to last as long as possible.”

He also said that in the old days, being on the West coast was a huge disadvantage to a hockey team. “It seemed like every road trip, we’re getting on a plane and heading east. We’re flying four or five hours commercial, and then to try to get back, you’ve got to get up at six, or even five, o’clock in the morning, trying to catch a flight and get back out west. I think it shortened a lot of guys’ careers. Nowadays teams charter and travel is not so difficult. Plus the schedule is set up so you play regional teams. It was horrendous. I remember the older guys like Marcel Dionne. It just grinded on those guys. For me, of course, at nineteen, it was great. But for the older guys, for the Kings, it was a big problem, the way the schedule was and the way the travel was.”

It’s no wonder, in other words, that back then, no team from the West ever won the Cup, or even got close. Obviously, those who recall their hockey history realize that until the Kings did it in 1993, no West coast team had ever gone to the Stanley Cup Finals. (Yes, I know about the team from Victoria which won the Cup in 1925. That’s not what I’m talking about). Of course, the only ones who could have done it were the Kings, the Seals in their various iterations, and Vancouver, but Murphy’s point is a good one—the wear and tear cost the teams out West a lot. Since then, of course, that’s been made up by wins in Anaheim and LA plus runs by the Sharks and the Canucks, the latter of whom have had the big stage twice, obviously.

Murphy also talked about the longevity of his career and what kind of player he was until the end. “With time you grow and you improve. My motto was always trying to be the best player you can be and to the day I retired, I always thought that I could improve.”

He also said that his first Cup remains his favorite. “You almost get yourself in the mindset that this is never going to happen, but when you have victory in the first one, that’s the one that you remember. After you win one time, the mindset changes. You realize what it’s like to win, and it’s a lot harder to lose. Every year that I didn’t win the Cup from that first one, you know what you’re missing out on. Losing became much more disappointing after winning that first Cup.”

He was celebrated with a ceremony before the game which his family attended. He received a watch and congratulations from Luc Robitaille, and all the fans got a bobblehead. Nobody thought to ask him at the period break what he thought about being immortalized in that way. No doubt it’s another cool part of the ride.

***

Oh, yeah, for you Kings fans, there was a game on Saturday night. Here’s the summary: the Kings came out flat, as they do against weaker teams. They put a goal in on a nice play by Kopitar. The Isles gradually revealed why they’re one of the worst teams in the league, and that’s because they don’t have the skills to score. They also make individual mistakes worthy of a minor-league team. After the game, it took more than fifteen minutes for their room to open, at which time they were all sitting at their locker stalls, still dressed. That means a coach’s speech.

What did he say? They never tell, but Kyle Okposo might give a clue: “They all buy in and play the right way. . . . We played well for thirty minutes and then shoot yourselves in the foot a little bit. We’re right in the game. It hasn’t been a problem lately. At the end of the day we have to find a way to win, because this is unacceptable.” He finished with, “We’re going to have to find it in here. It’s in here. We just talked about it a little bit and we’re going to be better on Monday [against Anaheim]”.

Their coach summed up the game by saying, “I know what our record is. It is what it is, but it’s not like we’re being dominated in these games,” which is true, but only because teams come out against the Isles, like the Kings did, flat because they believe they’re going to win no matter what. He added that he was glad that his group kept a high-shooting team to a low shot total (24). And he said that his guys need to shoot more, especially his first line.

“If we’re not going to score any goals, it’s going to be tough for us.” Yeah, well, nobody said sports was about splitting the atom.

Notes

The Kings now head out for four games, starting in Montreal on Tuesday. They then head to Toronto, Ottawa, and Chicago. They’ll be back in LA for Edmonton on the 17th.

Martin Jones got his first shutout in his second NHL game. He wasn’t tested incredibly, but he was good when he had to be.

Please read my novel, Pond Hockey, available now. Christmas is a good time to give one away.

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