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Digit Murphy Among Hockey Greats Forging New Era of Elite Hockey in China


Since becoming the first American-born coach to capture two Clarkson Cup titles back in 2015, the two-year absence of Murphy from the game was far too long. While she has continued to forge an impressive path for female sport in America, co-founding the groundbreaking UWLX lacrosse league, its successful 2016 campaign helped raise awareness of the game while elevating the importance of this exciting generation of female lacrosse stars.

The opportunity for Murphy to return to hockey brings with the chance to not only build on her amazing legacy as one of the greatest coaches in NCAA hockey history, with the Ivy League’s Brown Bears, but it presents the chance to potentially achieve even greater things. In the same week in which International Women’s Day was held, it proved to be a highly fitting time, as Murphy is destined to carve an important legacy for professional women’s sports on a global scale.

Bestowed the honor of chief coach for Kunlun Red Star, Murphy is at the helm of the first professional women’s ice hockey team in China. Considering how the IIHF has discussed closing the competitive gap in women’s hockey, Murphy’s involvement in China is a significant step forward. Part of her international involvement also included working with Canadian coach Rick Polutnik and athlete ambassadors Correne Bredin and Ylva Lindberg with Team Slovakia, part of the IIHF’s Mentorship and Ambassador Program.

A generation ago, China did ice a fairly competitive women’s ice hockey team. Led by goaltender Guo Hong, known affectionately as The Great Wall of China, the program competed in the top level of the IIHF Women’s World Championships from 1992 to 2008, before facing relegation in 2009. In addition, China also competed in the inaugural women’s ice hockey tournament at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, facing off against Finland in the bronze medal game. They would follow it up with their second gold medal at the 1999 Asian Winter Games.

In addition to her coaching role, Murphy will also be given the opportunity to serve as one of the club’s board members. As a side note, Red Star also has a men’s team which has already made significant inroads, joining the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

Murphy is not the only notable and accomplished name to be part of this exciting new era for ice hockey in China. She is joined on the International Advisory Board by Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Esposito and former NHL coach Mike Keenan. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of their accomplished careers is the fact that all have proud international achievements.

Having served on the coaching staff of Team USA for the 1992 IIHF Women’s World Championships, Murphy has also served in a consulting capacity for USA Hockey in later years. While Esposito gained a place among hockey’s immortals for his heroics with Team Canada 1972, he was also part of the Executive Committee in a golden outcome for the host country in the 1987 Canada Cup, of which Keenan was part of the coaching staff. Keenan’s impressive coaching achievements also include leading Metallurg Magnitogorsk to the KHL’s Gagarin Cup in 2013-14.

Joining them among a group of eight advisors includes Alexander Barkov, Scotty MacPherson, Roman Rotenberg, Vladimir Yurzinov Jr. and Bobby Carpenter, the first American born player to score 50 goals in the NHL. He is also the father of the ultra talented Alexandra Carpenter, a star player with the NWHL’s Boston Pride, who captured a silver medal with Team USA in women’s ice hockey at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

This ecstatic group of advisors shall work in a collaborative effort to recruit ice hockey talent from the world over, while also dedicating focus on developing the game domestically. Of note, Beijing shall serve as the host city for the 2022 Winter Games. Having also hosted the Summer Games in 2008, this marks the first time that the same city shall host both versions of the Games. Considering that as host country, China shall be icing teams at both ice hockey tournaments in 2022, there shall definitely be an emphasis on a positive outcome, while ensuring that the highest standards are met.

Part of the effort to ensure that a strong legacy shall endure after Beijing 2022 is the fact that China is looking to develop a national youth women’s ice hockey team. While will also be one of her key responsibilities, this may serve to be Murphy’s greatest contribution. To start a national youth team from scratch and work towards possibly establishing it as a podium contender at future IIHF U18 women’s world championships would be an incredible accomplishment, one that Murphy is definitely capable of achieving.  

Having shown great strategic ability to organize and promote a viable league in UWLX, while working tirelessly during her memorable run with the Boston Blades, balancing administrative capacities with her world-class coaching abilities, Murphy is ready to help bring women’s Kunlun Red Star to reality. As the offseason shall focus on raising awareness of the organization with marketing events on both sides of the Pacific, Murphy shall definitely be in her element, having long established herself as an admirable ambassador for the game and an influential woman in sport.

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