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."
“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"