DIGIT-IZING THE POD (and more)


Cetacean Nation recently had the chance to chat hockey and a lot more, with hockey legend Digit Murphy. One of the most familiar names in all of women’s sports, Digit has a resume that looks like it would have taken four lifetimes to compile. But, she’s just getting started, and it is more than just hockey. Women’s Empowerment, and Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Teaching are all aspects of Digit’s mission. And not surprisingly, there is a thread that runs through it, sometimes a cable. And that connecting filament is hockey.

Digit has never coached or played for the Whale, or in the NWHL for that matter. But her’s is an influence that is carried on by a stellar group of her former players, who have become successful not only in the game of hockey, but in the game of life. And several of those players have names you are familiar with.That is because so many of them have pulled on the jersey of the Connecticut Whale. More even, than Coach Murphy realized when we chatted. As Digit’s own website reminds us, only about 4% of sports coverage is of women’s sports. In Digit’s case however, the trickle of information available about many women in sports, is replaced by a waterfall in her instance.

Cetacean Nation thought it would be great to get Digit’s unique perspective on the aforementioned Whale she has coached. So we did, and it was. But before we get into that part of her interview, let’s find out a little bit about Digit herself. A lot of her accomplishments, awards and initiatives are a matter of record, and we will get to that. But let start by seeing what a few very familiar former members of the Pod had to say about their coach.

Our former #24 Nicole Stock played for Digit at Brown University, and for the Boston Blades in the CWHL. Nicole told us “Digit was instrumental in getting the women's game off the ground. She has had her hand in so many facets of the game since she played at Cornell. Digit inspired many in our generation to pursue our passion of playing hockey and even helping lift the NWHL. Digit was a mentor to me growing, and well before my time as a player at Brown. She encouraged me to be a leader and fight for women's rights. Digit continues to lead and inspire the younger generation of student-athletes.”

Our former #61, the legendary Kelli Stack added “Digit is the best. She is so passionate about hockey and her players, and would do anything for anyone. She is a ball of energy, I honestly don’t know how she manages to do what she does with the enthusiasm she does it with, it’s amazing to witness, haha! I loved playing for her because she understood me as a player. She trusted me and allowed me to play my game. She didn’t try to put me into a box and make me play a certain way. She was so easy to talk to and listened to all of her players. Easily one of my favorite coaches I’ve played for. She’s just a really good person and mentor on top of being a great coach too.”

And our amazing “Once And Future Whale” our former #56 Jessica Koizumi explained: “Coach Digit is the definition of a trailblazer, for not just women's hockey but the women's movement. She is intense by nature, but it comes from such a passionate caring place. I had a blast playing for her. She treated us like professionals, let us play, and brought a humor we all appreciated. Her famous line, "eat a pancake" or her glasses that disconnect in the middle are all Digit staple memories, many of us will never forget.”

You get a sense from these remarks, some of the impact Digit has had, some of the intangibles that make her unique. But there are as mentioned, tangibles as well. She was a 200 plus point scorer as a player at Cornell. Digit Murphy coached 24 seasons at Brown University, and earned 318 victories as a head coach there by the time she left in 2011. A record at the time, that still ranks in the top five nine years later. She won numerous championships during those years, and continued her winning ways wherever she went, including a pair of Clarkson Cups with Boston in the CWHL, and a Bronze medal at the World Championships. She was Coach of the Year on several occasions, is a member of several Halls of Fame, and has been involved the US Olympic Team and US National Team in various capacities. She has founded, pioneered and nurtured numerous projects, businesses and enterprises centered on the empowerment of women, from youth hockey, to Pro Lacrosse to the HeRSTORY Museum, to her current passion, the Grit Hockey camps (www.digitmurphy.com) So, how did this hockey icon get her start as a Little Future Draft Pick? Well, we knew just who to ask, and Digit revealed this about her roots:

"They call Cranston the cradle of hockey in some places. You’ve got the Bennett family and Kathy Alano is from Cranston, and you’ve got David Quinn from Cranston. These guys are NHL people, so look up Cranston Rhode Island and hockey and you’ll see a lot of crossover. I am probably the only woman/girl that played out of the organization and did something. I’m not the only one from Cranston I’m not seeing a lot of other women.There is Beth McCann who coached at Salve Regina, but not a a lot of other women."

Digit continued:

My dad was a big Bruins fan and we used to watch on the TV, with the antennas and all in the snow. But you could kind of catch the Bruins on TV 38 from Boston. So I grew up in a in a little bit of a hockey culture. My Dad didn’t play hockey, my parents had me right out of High School, they were really young parents. My Dad was a carpenter, and my Mom was a stay at home Mom for a little while, and then went to work at the hospital as an administrator. So I am actually first generation college in my family. We’re talking in the 60s, and there is nothing else you did but play outside then. I just played everything, spirts, climbed trees. I grew up on a dead end with the curb on the streets for the bases. We really had a big neighborhood of just kids in a very small block and we just played sports all day. The girls kind of didn’t do much, but I was really, really good at sports. So it’s not just playing, but I was one of the leaders because I was one of the best, and at a young age. I was just gifted at some level as an athlete, I have a good hand eye etc. Baseball turned into street hockey, turned into ice hockey.”

But being talented in those days was not enough, as Digit found out. She told us:

"I hit a point in my life where it was like: Oh wow, you can’t play because you don’t have the right anatomy I was like wait what? I found out I was a girl and kind of that’s where it started. I wanted to wear is a Little League uniform and that was a problem. My mom wasn’t that kind of a woman who was going to go up and like fight people, so she said just wait to you can play softball. Well, I think I was like ten years old, that’s when Little League started. I was really ticked off, because on the sandlot I would be the shortstop, I would be the captain, literally hitting it out of the park at ten years old but couldn’t wear the uniform. So they said to me: Now you can keep score. And I had to keep score, and I was just so ticked. So then I eventually graduated to be allowed to play softball.”

That sort of lack of an equal playing field had to be a hard knock for a young athlete. But then there was hockey, and as Digit relates:

"At the same time I’m playing hockey on the pond, because there’s no real leagues. And again I’m playing with the boys in pick up games. But then my Mom and Dad were friends with the Zamboni driver down at the Cranston Ice Bowl, which was this rink that no longer exists. My brother was playing hockey and I couldn’t, because there’s no girls league. But there was a small little rink for figure skaters next to the hockey rink, to practice their jumps. So because we knew the guys at the rank, they’d open the door for me. And all I did the whole time was play out on the ice, you know work my hands, work my shot. Then I was “discovered” by the first all girls program In Rhode Island, the Cranston Panthers. A woman, Jackie Bogosian, and her husband started the Cranston Panthers ‘74-‘75. And somewhere around there I started playing for them. They found me, and said: Hey, do you want to play hockey? And I was like: Yeah! And that is kind of where I started my career. We played up in the Assabet League, against teams like Choate and any other prep schools we could find, like Taft. We were good a bunch of the kids on that team.It was a very good program for back in the 70s there was a lot of success.”

Digit continued her story, saying:

"Then from there, and I didn’t know this until recently, we were one of the first recruiting classes at Cornell. We got noticed I’m sure, because we played in the Assabet League. One of the coaches went up there once, so I went to Cornell. I graduated in ‘83, and the rest is history.” We weren’t going to let Digit brush off her “video game like” stats so quickly, so we asked about the 123 career goals and 90 assists. She laughed and said “Yeah, and don’t forget we only played 20 games (not like these guys today who are playing 60 :). I don’t want to downplay it, but it was a a different time The competition wasn’t as good, and I could score at will. And looking back, I would gladly turn in my points for an opportunity to play on an Olympic team. We were the trailblazers back then and I just happened to be someone who is really good at scoring goals. I could just score, I could see space (on the ice), and I’m happy that I could do that and now who knows, you’re an American! The older you get….I’ll just take it and run with it I guess. I only wish I had the opportunity to do what I did today. That’s why I’m so passionate about creating opportunities for kids to play, All those years I felt blessed, and not exactly cheated, but we just didn’t have it the opportunities, it just was what it was We didn’t make money until we were in our 50s. sometimes people ask me why I do it and I tell them they just don’t get it. I have to do it, I have to do this because it’s in my DNA"

She concluded with "My story after college in a nutshell, is I went to school as a business major and I went into business for four years. And I found that four years out I was bored. I quit my job, went back to school to become a Phys Ed teacher. In the meantime I got the Brown job! and the rest again is history. Basically my whole life I’ve been following my passion"

Of the many great things that Digit is involved with, is a regular little video she posts on her social media called “37 Seconds”, so named because as Digit explains in her intro to each video: “37 seconds because Title IX has 37 words. Look it up! “ Here’s an example: instagram.com/p/B8fYP9jgVSy/… So when Cetacean Nation wanted to get Digit’s thoughts on some members of the Pod she has coached, we used a modified “37 seconds” approach. So here is what Digit had to say about our Whale (“I can’t believe all these people played for the Whale!) when we tossed out a player’s name to her. Here are her responses, starting with our current #4, Taylor Marchin.

Taylor Marchin: "Oh my gosh, Taylor! Taylor was one of the most underrated people and players that I’ve ever coached! When she played for me with Team China (Kunlun in the CWHL) she was the unsung hero and someone who was so incredibly consistent day in and day out. She just did the work that no one noticed. She was considered a journeyman player, but if I had a whole team of Taylor Marchins, we would win the National Championship every year. I’m not kidding, she gives that kind of energy and effort that you need. She’s a team player that just does the work, and is going to take it to the next level. An unbelievable person (off ice as well), just a quality, quality kid!"

Kelli Stack:  "Wow, Kelli Stack, another one! So those two I took to China, enough said! Kelli Stack is probably the most complete player, and I’ve coached a lot of people, that I’ve ever coached. She has the ability not only to lead, but to actually make decisions and almost coach the team herself. I’m not kidding, she’s that complete of a player. Her instincts are incredible, and she will take her whole team on her back and will it to win. It was a pleasure and an honor to coach her. If I ever coached another national team, I would call her in a minute! I don’t care that she’s a lieutenant or cop or whatever she is, I’d be like: I don’t care I’m gonna pay you double, get the heck over here!"

Lindsay Berman:  "OMG, Berms! She was one of my intern coaches at National Camp. And Lindsay Berman was actually at one of my camps when she was a kid, as a player. We had a really,really good camp back then we used to call Boot Camp for Kids. if you want to have a good D1 experience, come to Digit Murphy’s hockey school! She was there and she was always one of the best players on the ice. And now, she’s progressed to a coach. She just has a real focused intensity about her, and she’s always learning. She’s always got a really nice energy, not like me I’m an intense kind of in your face! emotional juggernaut. And Lindsay is probably the exact opposite, she’s that’s kind of really nice person that when she coaches you up, you’re going to say wait, what? You’re just saying it so nicely, I’m gonna have to do it. It’s so great it’s ridiculous, and that’s Berms! She is so awesome!"

Kate Buesser:  "Kate Buesser! I was just with Kathy Stone (long time Harvard Women’s Hockey Coach) last week and we were saying where the heck is Buess? Kate Buesser is another player like Taylor Marchin, but the difference between Kate and Taylor is that Buesser is a freaking energizer bunny! A person that does everything! I don’t even want to say she’s different than Taylor, because when I think about it they always do the little things right. Buesser would have been on like the third line on the national team, or the fourth line but she would have made my second line or third line because she was so consistent. Kate Buesser was consistent with her play and she would set people up and she was an unselfish player. She brought energy and leadership and enthusiasm to the locker room every day."

Shiann Darkangelo: "As you know, she was one of the kids that went to China (CWHL) with us and she is a very smart, savvy! threat of a player, a kind of a presence. With her size and her strength she just has the ability to intimidate, and has the potential to take over a game. I think in terms of the national team, she was someone that should’ve got more looks. A a person, she is probably one of the most dedicated, cerebral athletes. She was brought up really well, and you can tell she has great core values and moral standards. She can stick up for herself, and she’s got a really great leadership skill set. Another phenomenal, great human. Always in for the mission, all day long. She’s committed, she’s loyal, and she thinks about things. A truly multi dimensional person."

Molly Engstrom: "Molllllly! All right, so she’s another person whose time was too short with USA Hockey. Molly is a very outspoken women’s advocate and leader, and I think when we are playing in the USA Hockey sandbox, sometimes you have to be a good girl. And I think that Molly is intense, and she’s always speaking her mind. I think that’s a trait that more women should have. As a player she was just a rock em sock ‘em defenseman, that you just don’t want to mess with. A great shot from the point and so great as a leader on your team, and as someone in your locker room. She’s like Kelli Stack, I mean you want that kid in the locker room. I mean you want that kid because they’re going to go out and run you over to get the job done, if they don’t take any prisoners, well so be it. But you know it is what it is and those are the kind of players just like Taylor if you have a whole team of any of these kids you win the national championship any day of the year"

Bray Ketchum: "Bray has been a leader in the women’s professional hockey world. She has made an impact, and has made inroads Into getting women’s hockey exposed for the future leaders of the world. That’s really what she brought to the table, her commitment to the professional game when she was on the Blades with me.She would help with things like the golf outing, and from a business minded perspective. She always brought that energy, she brought that kind of great Yale mindset."

Nicole Stock: "Oh my gosh, Nicole Stock, a game stopper! She would stop everything, she was the biggest back-stop at Brown, and she has all the records. I mean Ali Brewer was a Kazmaier winner, but Nicole Stock, she should have been on the national team. She didn’t get a lot of looks because when she played for Brown we weren’t in the spotlight anymore, because we had been kind of overtaken by the scholarship schools. But she was probably one of the best goalies. She was a right hand catch, and she was good, insanely good in my opinion."

Jessica Koizumi: "Jessica, yes! An awesome human and one of the most dedicated players that ever played for me. Because she used to drive from her job coaching at Yale, all the way to Boston then she would play games on the weekend. One of the most hard-working dedicated people, who wanted women’s professional sports to succeed, that I’ve ever met. She is definitely committed to the game and the sport!"

Zoe Hickel: "Zoe is another one of my favorites. She comes from Alaska, her mom Christie was a really great athlete and she’s a woman’s advocate as well. I really gravitated towards Zoe and the way she played, and in her positive energy. Every day, Zoe Hickel is a ray of sunshine, like that’s what she is, a ray of sunshine on and off the ice.Never says a bad word about anyone. She is just always playing for the team, and I know she has an attitude because of her mom and the way that she was raised in Alaska. And she played for Shannon Miller. She’s just a no nonsense player, great hands, great skater, just a great person. An all-around great human and those kinds of kids are the ones that help you win championships!"

Anya Battaglino Packer: "Anya! Anya has passion and moxie! She’s driven to help whoever, whatever bandwagon she’s on. For example, when she was with the Blades, she was all in. She would carry the water, she would be a cheerleader! She’s one of those kids who just loves the game, and was like I wanna play, I wanna play! And I was like, yeah but like we’ve got Hilary Knight here, you’ve got to wait your turn. She just never gave up and look at her now! She’s the kind of person that has a drive to get what she wants and needs. Hats off to her. If she’s was here right now I’d give her a huge hug. She’s a firecracker!"

Cetacean Nation thought we could see a lot of Digit Murphy in those players. She laughed and said “I don’t know, I didn’t coach them for that long. I think they gravitated to me, and I gravitated to them. I take no responsibility (credit) for the way that they play. I try to make people better and lead, guide, and direct people. That’s my goal as a coach, and if I can do that, then I’m a good coach. I don't want them to be me and I don’t want to be them. I want to make us a team, and to collaborate and to get the puck in the net. That’s what I do.” We previously referenced Digit’s amazing daily “37 Seconds” broadcasts, and one recent offering really piqued our interest. In it, Digit offered the opinion that “women do not like being coached by women”. Thought provoking to say the least, so we asked a Digit to ditch the 37 second restraint, and elaborate on her theory, which she did for us:

"These are my three theories on it, and I know I’m right. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve been watching it.  Number One: When you’re in those years between 16 and probably 23 or 24 you are trying to get this independence from your mother. I have six kids, including two daughters,  and I’ve watched them both go through it. You want to not listen to your mother because, I don’t know why it just happens. It happens with all women? Both of our daughters came back they come back after after so many years. It's in your DNA that you’re exactly like your mother, so you fight with her.  So that’s the first reason why I think that a woman’s voice kind of grates on your nerves."

Number Two: "They can’t manipulate women. They can’t get away with that so they don’t like that. Women in general like to be right,  they like to manipulate situations. That's  in our DNA, it’s part of how we get what we want as people. It's how women are."

Number Three: "We have created a culture where girls hear only hear a man’s voice in sports growing up. We hear only men’s voices on the television. on the football field on the soccer pitch, on the ice. Men coach sports, that’s what they do. So all the sudden when you have this other thing in front of you and it’s a female, you have two responses. Either: This is awesome, this is great! Because you’ve been taught this throughout your life, or hmmm, I fight with my mother, and  this is not a man’s voice, I’m skeptical. In college this puts women had a distinct disadvantage when they’re recruiting, because the odds are stacked against you. And the other thing is your father always takes you do your sporting events for the most part. Is that changing? Absolutely, we have a lot more single parent households now, mostly Moms. But at the end of the day, Dads do sports, men do sports, so there’s a double whammy on the  women that want to be coaches."

Digit continued, "I think those are the reasons,  but here’s the good news. When  you are coached by a woman,  and she’s really good, you are so in your zone. You have twice the experience that you ever  would playing for a man. And that’s what a lot of my players would say. If you interview Cara Gardner, Cara Morey, or Cassie Turner. I hear my words coming back to me in their words.Which tells me how grateful they were for the opportunity." She added "My expectation as a fan is that coaches should live up to their media expectations and do their job and not blame it on emotion, and figure out a way to pull up their bootstraps and be professional Have I made mistakes? Absolutely have I been unprofessional yup but at the end of the day I’ve learned I’ve lived I’ve learned to be contrite and learn to apologize and that’s what professionals do. People are so intent on being right, that they lose perspective of the big picture.You need to have responsible behavior, perspective you can’t be afraid to do the right thing even if there’s consequences as long as you can explain them. Shoot for the stars, land on the moon!"

Digit concluded with these thoght:  "I am done with the way the world is now and I try to change it,and that’s what I do every day of my life. And things  are changing, hopefully in some part  because of people like myself and Arlene Gorton (long time Brown AD)  and some of these people who really were beating the bushes all those years. It is why I started HErSTORY  and all the other things that we do.it’s really about storytelling and bringing women to light in sports." Cetacean Nation thanks Digit Murphy for offeing these amazing insights, and hopes that in some small way, we are also helping with the storytelling. Fins Up!

Photo courtesy of Brown University Athletics