- HOCKEY PROFESSIONAL -
Today I introduce a Canadian who has previously featured on this blog as a guest author. Today he tells us about another side of hs life; his life as a professional hockey player - LUKE MURPHY.
Luke lives in Shawville, Quebec with his wife, three daughters and a pug. He played six years of professional hockey before retiring in 2006. Since then, he’s held a number of jobs, from sports columnist to radio journalist, before earning his Bachelor of Education degree (Magna Cum Laude).
Luke Murphy`s debut novel, 'Dead Man`s Hand', was released by Imajin Books on October 20, 2012.
Welcome, Luke ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR SPORTING JOURNEY.
Like most boys growing up in Canada, I aspired to play in the National Hockey League.
With the death of my mother in 1992, losing a battle with cancer she had fought so hard for years, I sensed it was time to get serious about reaching my dreams, and moved away to pursue hockey.
From 1992-1995, I played for the Pembroke Lumber Kings in the Central Junior Hockey League. During these three seasons, I was awarded Rookie of the Year, Most Sportsmanlike Player (twice), League Top Scorer, and runner up to League MVP. But during the ‘90s, I noticed a shift in the game of hockey. Standing 5’9” and weighing 160 pounds put me at a disadvantage against much bigger and stronger athletes who now competed in the NHL. So, my goals shifted. I accepted a hockey scholarship to Rochester Institute of Technology. If I couldn’t make a living playing hockey, at least I could achieve an education and open doors for my future.
After four rewarding years at College (2nd team All-American), receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing with a Minor in Sociology, I wasn’t ready to give up on the game I loved.
The summer after graduation, I received an invitation to the Florida Panthers Training Camp. I trained hard during the summer, on and off the ice, and showed up in the best shape of my life. I had a successful camp, scoring the game winning goal in a pre-season game against the Ottawa Senators. Unfortunately, I broke two bones in my hand, ending my camp early. But my hard work paid off, as the Panthers offered me a Minor League contract, $500 a week to play the game I loved. I spent six years in the minors, and retired in 2006 with no regrets.
My NHL dream was never fulfilled, but my years of ‘chasing the dream’ weren’t wasted, as I made many friends along the way, visited many beautiful cities, and created experiences that will last a life time.
WERE YOU GOOD AT SPORT AS A KID? ANY SPECIFIC SPORT?
I noticed at a young age that I was a gifted hockey player. Every year I was the best player on my team and in my league, I would always win top scorer and MVP.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A PROFESSIONAL SPORTS PERSON?
I turned pro in 1999, and played parts of six seasons, retiring in 2006.
WHO DID YOU PLAY FOR?
4 games for the Florida Panthers in 1999, then I spent seasons in:
Port Huron, MI
Oklahoma City, OK
New Orleans, LA
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING INVOLVED IN SPORT?
The thing I miss most about being involved in professional sports is the camaraderie, a group of individuals who go to war for one another night in and night out. Putting it all on the line and knowing that each member of your team has your back no matter what. Road trips with the “boys”. There’s is no better feeling than the closeness and the support that teammates share throughout a hockey season.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A PROFESSIONAL SPORTS PERSON?
Probably the pressure to be at the top of your game all the time. As you get older, it gets harder and harder to prepare yourself both mentally and physically for a long, gruelling season. Younger players are constantly moving up, players are waiting in the wings for their chance to take your place. There’s not much job security in the minor leagues, there is always someone looking over your shoulder waiting for you to mess up. You have to be your bets every night. I always set the bar high and expected me to be the best.
WERE YOU A TEAM PERSON?
I loved being part of a team. This can be shown by the awards I won (sportsmanship award numerous times). I was always a team captain for every team I played on, and I always led my team in assists (school record at RIT).
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
I think holding my own and proving to not only myself but the world that I could skate with the “big boys” (2 weeks at the FLA Panthers camp). I went there as an undrafted, unsigned, undersized free agent with not much hope in the world. And despite breaking my hand, I impressed enough to receive a contract offer.
WERE YOU GOOD AT OTHER SPORTS?
Without bragging, I was fortunate enough to be better than average at every sport I attempted. I played competitive soccer and baseball in the summers. I played school sports in rugby, basketball, tennis and volleyball. Now I enjoy golfing on my spare time.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I’m inspired by an underdog story. My favourite player growing up was Denis Savard. The things he could do with the puck were jaw-dropping.
But when it comes to my personal success, I’ve always been a self-motivated person, no matter what I try my hand at (hockey, writing, social, family, etc.). I think that when I set my mind at something, I will stop at nothing to achieve my ultimate goal. Like playing in the NHL and having a novel published. I will go above and beyond to be the best.
WHAT WERE YOUR BIGGEST HIGHLIGHTS AS A PROFESSIONAL?
The only championship I was a part of as a professional was in Oklahoma when my team won the league, but I was injured that year and only played 5 games, so it didn’t feel the same for me.
My biggest highlight was the two weeks I spent at the Panthers camp. To go through what I went through to get there made it all that much more satisfying.
I think that just being around professionals 24 hours a day for two straight weeks was rewarding. I got an inside glimpse on how NHL teams worked, the routines and lifestyle that they were accustomed to. I was treated with class and professionalism. Everything was first-rate, and for a kid just coming out of college, who was used to eating Kraft Dinner and Wieners, it was an awe-inspiring experience.
It was eye-opening to see professional athletes, not young players trying to make it, but veterans who had been around the league for years. Seeing their continued work ethic, as they strive to get better all the time, no matter how long they’d been playing. They continued to learn about the game and work to improve.
I also think that seeing how helpful and encouraging these veterans were to the younger guys, knowing that they had been in their shoes at one time. It was like a big family, giving advice and doing all they could to make the newcomers feel welcome and comfortable.
Overall, just being a part of the NHL experience, is something I will never forget.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR YOUNG ASPIRING SPORTS PEOPLE?
In my humble opinion, the most important lesson you can teach a young athlete is the value of sportsmanship. I think that in today’s competitive sports world, the aspect of good sportsmanship gets overlooked, and mistreated. There are too many incidents in professional sports that give kids the wrong idea.
Every child is going to lose once in their life. Whether it’s a regular game, a championship, a contest, or any kind of competition, each kid is going to suffer the throes of defeat. There’s no avoiding it, and that’s why children should be educated on how to accept defeat graciously.
When we talk about sportsmanship, most people consider sportsmanship after a loss. But for me, sportsmanship doesn’t just mean losing graciously, but it also means winning with class. I’m talking about respecting your opponent, during victory or defeat.
“When you lose, say little, when you win, say even less.”
It’s about respecting your opponents, your coaches, your teammates, the game, and yourself. Sportsmanship and class are more important than winning.
I believe that sportsmanship in hockey is critical for players of any age. In today’s game, I think too much has been made about the importance of “winning”. I totally understand that professional sports are all about the business and money. Parents now, more than ever, see this as an opportunity for their child to achieve the kind of wealth and life they had only dreamed of. I`ve been around the game for a long time, at all levels, and I truly believe that parents have had a major negative impact on their child`s attitude towards the game they play.
DID YOU SUFFER FROM ANY MAJOR INJURIES? HOW DID YOU PERSONALLY HANDLE THEM?
Unfortunately, partly due to my size and the way I played the game, I suffered many injuries during my career, both serious and minor.
I broke bones, sprains, herniated discs, cuts, bumps, bruises and scrapes. My scariest injury was in 2000 when I got hit in the eye with a stick. The end result – broken nose, slit eyelid, scratched cornea, blind for over three months and I never fully recovered 100% sight in my left eye.
The toughest injury, because of the situation, was my first.
Mentally, injuring myself at the Florida camp was one of the toughest things I`ve ever faced or had to overcome. I was on such a high at the time, my confidence and mental toughness at its peak. I was in the best shape of my life, and I was fulfilling a lifelong dream. When I broke my hand, I felt mental exhaustion and partial defeat.
What could I think? I was an undrafted, unsigned free agent who was sent home with a cast on my hand. I had no team and no future prospects. Remaining positive and upbeat was a challenge.
Three days after my cast was put on, I received a phone call from the assistant general manager of the Panthers, Chuck Fletcher. Mr Fletcher told me how impressed he was of the camp I had, and that he was very interested in pursuing a deal to sign me. He told me to give him a call when the cast came off.
Now I didn’t know Chuck Fletcher, so I didn’t know if he was blowing smoke or just trying to make me feel good. But I knew his reputation as being a professional and good at his job, so I took it for what it was: a guy in a high position of an NHL franchise telling me how impressed he was. That felt pretty good.
Now I have to tell you at this time that I have always been mentally tough. I don`t know whether it has been from losing my mother at a young age and trying to cope, or if it`s just something in my genes. But I`ve always been the kind of person to get through any obstacles that have been thrown my way. I`ve always been self-motivated to succeed and I understand that some people are like this and some aren`t.
I saw Mr Fletcher`s call as HOPE, even if it was only a thread to cling to, I was going to use that conversation to motivate and drive me.
The first thing I did was stayed positive.
Then, I took care of myself physically. I couldn’t lift weights, but I rode the bike every day and worked my legs to not only maintain what I had, but strengthen even further. I watched hockey, and skated with the local junior team. I spent time with family and friends, sharing my NHL experience. At that point, I knew even then that I had achieved something that most people will never experience...I was a part of an NHL camp.
When I talked to Mr Fletcher again, I signed a minor league deal with the Panthers and my lifelong dream was finally realized.
DID YOU HAVE A PREFERRED TRAINING SCHEDULE?
Because I have always been self-motivated, I was always one of the hardest working players on my team both on and off the ice. Because I only played in the minors, and didn’t make enough money during the winter to survive the summers, I worked road construction when I got home, 10-12 hour days, 5 days a week.
I woke up and 6am every morning to run before work. Then I would work construction from 7-5. After work I would go home to eat, then head to the gym for my workout. Weekends would be spent trying to find ice to skate (there was none available in my small town). So as you can see, it wasn’t easy for me to train and keep up physically. It was a grind. I didn’t have the luxury of taking summers off to strictly focus on training like NHL and AHL players.
Could my career have been prolonged or maybe been more successful had I been able to just focus on training during the summer rather than working a full time job to pay bills? Maybe.
DID YOU ENJOY TRAINING?
I loved training when I was younger. There wasn’t a better feeling both mentally and physically as after you have completed a great workout. As I got older, it got harder and harder to maintain, but the adrenaline rush was huge.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE SPORTS PERSON NOW? WHY?
I don’t think I have a favourite sports figure these days. The players I admired growing up are all retired (guess that shows my age), and I haven’t really been able to make a connection with anybody today. Times have changed, players have changed. You rarely see anyone who plays for the love of the game anymore. Nowadays it’s all about the “money”.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED?
Chuck Fletcher, who was the assistant GM for the Panthers in 1999 and is now the GM for the Minnesota Wild, once told me that I had a lot of courage. Like I said, I was never the biggest guy, most of the time I was the smallest player on the ice, but I never backed down from a battle in the corner, and I always got my nose dirty.
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED?
Funny, I can’t remember any. I know that I have run into a few pessimists in my day, people who tried to bring me down or deny me of my goals, but I ignored them, and tried even harder to prove them wrong. Water off a duck’s back. I was told on more times than once that I was way too small to play the game. But as you can tell, these negative comments never stayed with me.
WHAT DID PRIZES MEAN TO YOU?
I was always proud of my personal accomplishments, but they never meant as much to me as team championships. But it was always nice to be recognized by my peers or those in a position to vote on awards.
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY AS A PROFESSIONAL SPORTS PERSON.
Living in Macon, GA, I had some pretty perfect days, being in the south and sunny all the time.
I wake up and head to the rink for 9am, always one hour before practice. Practice runs from 10-12, then I spend an extra 30 minutes on the ice practicing other skills. After practice I sit in a cold tub to get rid of the lactic acid. Head to the restaurant with my teammates for lunch. If I don’t have any promotional activities (visiting schools, working charities, etc.), then I head to the gym for a workout. By 2 or 3 I’m on the links playing a round of 18 holes with my buddies. Supper again with the boys then maybe go to the bar for a couple of drinks afterwards.
What a life!!
HAVE YOU MET SOME GREAT PEOPLE ALONG THE WAY?
One thing about playing professional hockey player was the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting professionals, whether being teammates, coaches, etc. But the most fun I have is interacting with the fans. They are what truly matters. Also, because of the internet, I’ve been able to stay in contact with most of the people I’ve met in my hockey life.
WHAT MADE YOU STOP?
Age and injuries. I had always wanted a family of my own and as fun as playing hockey in the minors can be for a young, single guy, it’s no life for a family man. You have long road trips, you could be traded or released at any time, and there’s no stability or money in it. My wife wanted to start her own career and because she is Canadian, could not legally work in the United States. So it was time to hang up the skates and start another chapter of my life, a new job in a new place.
I wish I wouldn’t have broken my hand in the Florida Panthers camp.
ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
I know how lucky I am.
I’ve been fortunate enough to live out two of my dreams when some people never reach one. It takes a lot of hard work and luck along the way but you should never think about ever giving up chasing your dreams. Set goals and set them high, and never let anyone tell you that something is impossible. Never let anyone tell you that you “can’t”.
Clancy's comment: Thanks, Luke. I've enjoyed our interview. Now, rest up those weary bones and start writing that next book.