Cetacean Nation had an opportunity to chat with the newest member of the the Pod, our #8 defender Colleen Murphy. We first saw Colleen in the NWHL last season, when she put her skills on display as a member of the Buffalo Beauts. If she was a rap star, her name might be Tenacious D, she is that kind of player. In an excellent article prior to Colleen joining the Buffalo Beauts last season, our friend Nathaniel Oliver wrote about another of her nicknames. In a typically excellent piece on our young defender from North Carolina, he recounted the story of a nickname she had acquired from her college coach at Northeastern: “The Little Bulldog.” (https://thehockeywriters.com/the-little-bulldog-buffalo-beauts-colleen-murphy/) Cetacean Nation certainly endorses that description of Colleen’s tenacious style of play, but would refine it a bit as we did in the title. Colleen is a skilled puck carrier, and an offensively skilled defender. She is also a rock solid defender in her own zone, tenacious as we’ve noted. But our #8 Colleen Murphy is a also a harrier of opposing players. Constantly attacking and harassing her targeted opponent to disrupt plays before they develop, getting under their skin, and into their head, to get them off their game. The type of player you hate to play against, but love to have on your team,. And, now we do.
After playing her first season in Buffalo, Colleen joined the Whale on a PTO contract this season in game eight, playing initially as #37. She is now on the roster as a permanent part of the Pod, and skating wearing #8. Colleen grew up in Cary, North Carolina in the Research Triangle area of the state, which has also produced several familiar hockey players, such as Whale teammate Kim Tiberi #5, Alyssa Gagliardi, Randi Griffin #37, Erin Maloney, and Meghan Grieves. Cetacean Nation asked about Colleen’s early involvement with athletics, and how she got started in hockey. She replied “My mom was a collegiate gymnast at West Virginia University. She put my younger sister, Katherine, and I in class when we were little but then pulled us out after the first or second session because she knew neither of us would be any good, lol. Smart move by her, since I’m not the most flexible nor graceful person there is I started playing inline hockey when I was 8 after my family moved from Florida to North Carolina. I was invited to a birthday party at an inline rink, the first time I skated. My parents were told about a “learn to play” and it all started from there. This sport was perfect for me because being a little, pudgy kid, gliding on wheels vs running in any other sport seemed like a no brainer. Inline was popular in NC at the time and a lot of ice players from the area started there first. I played a couple years of inline then switched over to ice with most of my teammates. This was during the same time the Carolina Hurricanes made a couple playoff runs 02’-06 and we were inspired to play on the ice.” Colleen also revealed another NHL connection adding “My mom is from Cherry Hill, NJ and grew up with the ‘70s Flyers and my dad is from Pittsburgh. I always try to root for Pittsburgh and Philly sports teams. When they’re not playing Carolina of course.”
Colleen’s career began to take shape, and by the time she reached high school age, some decisions had to be made. She made a huge one, choosing to head north to continue her career and education, at the North American Hockey Academy. She told the story this way: “ I left home when I was 13 to go to NAHA in Stowe, VT. I had always played boys hockey in Carolina but I was at the point where the boys were getting too big to play with without risking injury. At this age, I made it a goal of mine to play Division I hockey and I needed to leave NC to do that. It was tough leaving home, but NAHA was my best option. I actually think it was tougher on my parents to send me away. Freedom for me!” Colleen continued “I played all four high school years at NAHA. I’m pretty sure my Junior and Senior seasons we played about 85 games each. Crazy. You must LOVE hockey to make it through that. NAHA really aided to my development as a player and helped with recruiting. It’s hard not to get seen when you play that many games. NAHA was unique because I only lived there during the hockey season. A lot of memories stem from the van rides to “who knows where” Canada and interactions in the dorms. You’re living with your teammates and best friends. Endless fun and some drama, haha. Not to mention, some say we won a lot, so that helps.” Those wins included the 2011 Junior Women’s Hockey League Championship, and were fueled by Colleen’s 43 goals and 143 assists as a blueliner during her NAHA career.
Colleen further explained “I did not go to a normal high school. In fact, I was completely online schooled for my high school credits. Now, I’m sure that may seem easy to some people, but it was difficult because I had to self-teach most of my classes and stay motivated to complete assignments on time without supervision. I like to think I’m able to work remotely pretty well now because of the skills I picked up through online school.” That is a truly remarkable circumstance. The employer that Colleen puts that skill to use for is for Tower Engineering, located in Raleigh, North Carolina, 550 miles away from Terry Conners Rink. Colleen makes one of the most epic commutes in sports, every week, to play in the NWHL. She explains “I wouldn’t be able to do this without the support of Tower Engineering Professionals. I work in HR and Safety and love my job and the people I work with. My manager, Kelly, and CEO/Co-Founder Andy, are very understanding that I try to have a life outside of work which makes Tower a great place to be a part of.”
After completing her career at NAHA, it was time for Colleen to pursue her dream of playing Division 1 hockey. And that pursuit led to Northeastern in Boston. Colleen explains “ My first visit to Northeastern was casual. I walked around the campus, saw the rink, and briefly said hello to the coaches. I really liked the school’s layout, having a campus feel even though being in the middle of Boston. Mind you, this was in the Summer, and everything was much nicer than Winter when I’d be spending most of my time there. But I also thought it’d be good experience to live in a large city after living in NC and Stowe. When I followed up with the coaches, they told me I was a little small for a defenseman. I took that as motivation during my Junior year (at NAHA) to prove to them that being a small defenseman has its positives. I guess it worked because not too long after, I got the call about being a Husky. I remember on my official visit and first practice I watched, the team got bag-skated. That’s when I really knew this was the place for me! “ One of the positives that Colleen’s coaches have discovered, is that it doesn’t really matter so much what your physical stature is, when you are 95% heart.
Cetacean Nation asked Colleen to tell us a little about her experience at Northeastern, and her memorable moments. She responded “My favorite moment at Northeastern was winning the Beanpot back to back my Freshman and Sophomore years. We were never favored against our rivals BC or BU but we ended up upsetting BU in OT in their home rink in 2012. That was A LOT of fun. It had been 14 years since Northeastern had won the Beanpot. In 2013, we beat BC in the championship game. That was extremely special because we won on our home ice at Matthews arena.” Colleen also scored a goal in the Beanpot the following season against another arch rival, Harvard. During her Husky career she scored fifty points, including a dozen goals, and was particularly dominant in Hockey East play, with a career plus/minus rating of ➕23, and All Star recognition. But it was no bed of roses by the time her career wound down at Northeastern. Colleen told us “My Senior season was interesting. We had a new defense coach and unfortunately, we didn’t see eye to eye on some things. I started to burn out and didn’t do as well as I wanted to. This factored into my decision to not play in the NWHL for its inaugural year. I wanted a break from competitive hockey and to start a career back home.”
That is the path that Colleen took, and she explained “When I got home, I still wanted to play to some extent, so I joined the Carolina Lady Hurricanes (formerly Carolina Aces) Women’s B team. They offered just the right amount of competitiveness I was looking for at the time. We ended up medaling 2 out of the past 3 years at USA Hockey Nationals (shout out to my Lady Canes). Playing with them was so much fun that I gained my love for the game back and the itch to play at a high level again. I missed being a role player and being a part of that specific team dynamic.” Colleen found the opportunity to scratch that itch in the NWHL. She related “The opportunity to play for Buffalo last year kind of came out of nowhere. I wasn’t actively seeking out options in the league but rather it just started from a conversation and some convincing from my Canes teammates. Witley Nichols and Kelsey Neumann planted to seed to reach out to the Buffalo coaches. Witley’s dad, Robbie, knew Ric (Seiling, then Beauts Coach) and put some good words in for me. I still don’t know what he said but it must’ve been convincing enough in order to pick up someone who hadn’t played at that level in 2 years and would only show up for games, lol.” Colleen had a great debut season with the Beauts last year, but not everything fell into place moving forward.. Colleen recounted “ My first year in the NWHL with Buffalo was great. Buffalo treated me well and I really enjoyed playing theee. I felt very lucky to be a part of the league and to really see how much of an impact we have on the hockey community. It was exciting and I think it will only continue to get better.” Colleen continued and explained why she did not return to Buffalo this season. “I’m not exactly sure what the correct term would be to use here, but I wouldn’t really call it “retiring”. At the end of last season, I fully expected to play with Buffalo again. Unfortunately, under new management and with my situation, things didn’t work out. I guess you could say I was more of a “free agent”. That’s when I reached out to Coach Ryan in the Summer. I wasn’t expecting to be picked up by another team and when the season started in October, I accepted the fact that I probably wasn’t going to play in the league again. I went about my life in NC, playing with the Lady Canes, men’s leagues, and getting involved in ball hockey. Honestly, it was tough because I still felt like I had more to give the league and I wasn’t done playing. I had gotten a small taste last season and wanted more. In the back of my mind, I kept some hope that I’d get the chance to play again. Coach Ryan and I would be in contact every now and again, which kept me motivated. Fortunately, I got an early Christmas/Hanukkah present when he asked if I’d be interested in playing against my old team in Buffalo. Clearly, I jumped at the opportunity, which has led me here!”
A pretty great holiday gift for Whale fans as well, but wait! Shades of Shannon Doyle, Colleen just mentioned Ball Hockey! Turns out, just like #6, our #8 has shot around that orange ball on the world stage as well. Colleen filled us in. “What is ball hockey? That was the first question I asked my Lady Canes teammate, Denise, when she asked me if I wanted to play ball hockey in Russia last June. I thought it was a joke. Long story short, ball hockey is an organized version of street hockey and very competitive. Everything is the same except you play with a ball and run instead of skate…um ew? Skating is the best part about hockey and to replace it with running sounded terrible. I was completely wrong. I told Denise I never played, she hadn’t either, but a few girls on Team USA dropped out last minute and they needed replacements for the Worlds Tournament in Moscow, Russia. I thought this would be an amazing experience, so Denise, Witley, Leeny, and myself from the Lady Canes joined Team USA to play in Russia. Witley and I also joined the Raleigh ball hockey league which has been nothing short of awesome and I’ve fallen in love with it ever since. We also made Team USA for 2019 and will be going to Slovakia for the next World’s tournament in June. Pretty exciting. Luckily, I don’t even notice how much I’m running because I’m thinking the game while doing so. I actually think it’s helped with my conditioning. Huge relief.”
Several of the Whale Cetacean Nation has interviewed have mentioned the Raleigh area as a possible future expansion site for the NWHL. We asked Colleen about the hockey culture in the area, and to tell us a little more about her involvement. She replied “ The hockey in Raleigh continues to grow and I can only see it becoming bigger in the future. When I was in the youth system, I only played boys. There was maybe one girls U19 team for all age divisions at the time. I had to play with a neighboring DC girls team for a season or two to get used to the differences of the game. Now, there are multiple girls teams from U10 on. It’s really great to see how far NC girls hockey has come. It’s not just Raleigh either. There are programs in Wilmington and Winston-Salem, just to name a few.” Colleen continued “ I help Coach the girls U14 Jr. Hurricanes with Andy from Tower. It’s a lot of fun especially since I started coaching the girls when they were U12’s and get to see them grow as players and people. I try to get involved with any girls hockey going on in Raleigh, whether it’s the Lady Eagles or Jr. Hurricanes program, so whenever there’s an opportunity for me to jump on the ice, I take it. My friend and fellow NWHLer, Alyssa Gagliardi, comes back down to Raleigh a few times a year for camps that I help out with.” Here are a couple of great videos about hockey in the Raleigh area, featuring Colleen of course: https://abc11.com/2993682/. & https://www.wralsportsfan.com/hockey/video/17704799/