By Don Scott
The 1987-88 Hershey Bears season was one for the record book in more ways than one. It started with the initial time the team won 50 regular season games and finished with a 12-game playoff sweep for the franchise’s sixth Calder Cup.
The team was loaded with a bunch of veterans and one rookie defenseman in particular who, following that one-year stay in Chocolate Town, went on to play in the NHL for 15 years, followed by 16 campaigns as an NHL assistant coach.
Gord Murphy was just 20 during that magical year and despite playing 10 rehab games for Providence years later, never returned to Hershey until December 1st, as the associate coach for the Hartford Wolf Pack.
“Today is the first time I’ve been in Hershey since the end of that playoff season,” said Murphy recent during a pre-game interview. “I’ve driven by the area many times, but this is the first time I am actually in town because I was always playing or coaching somewhere over all those years.
“In the past, the NHL teams used to play a pre-season game with their AHL team and I’d always look at the schedule to see if that would happen,” continued Murphy. “I know when I was with the Flyers they did have some games here, but I was never fortunate to play in any of them. I always followed the Bears to see how they were doing, so this has been an exciting day for me.”
‘Murph’s memories of Hershey are nothing but fond.
“I sure picked a good year to be in Hershey but then I feel any year is a good one to be here,” said Murphy. “I can’t say enough about the area and communit, plus the team and the support they get from the fans. It was icing on the cake to win the Calder Cup and do it a record-setting 12 straight games.
“I was a 20 year old who came from Toronto, so this was my first experience in the United States that gave me memories that impacted me and helped me in my transitioning to be a pro hockey player,” Murphy added.
“Murph” played 862 games for Boston, Florida and Atlanta between 1988 and the 2001-2002 season, then went right into coaching the following year with Columbus, followed by Florida and Philadelphia until this past summer. He was quickly picked up by the New York Rangers and assigned to Hartford.
“I don’t think I ever played on a team anywhere that had that many veterans who were quality people and were leaders, plus there was the coaching of John Paddock, and Frank Mathers as general manager who made it such a well-run organization from top to bottom” said Murphy. “My feelings about Frank were he had this aura around him so I could just tell he still had the intensity he had as a player. I loved to listen to his stories, which he enjoyed telling. It really spoiled me because I thought it would this way every year which certainly didn’t happen.”
When it was mentioned that some of his teammates were going to be inducted into The Hershey Hall of Fame, Gord replied, “I just heard that Don Biggs, Ross Fitzpatrick and John Paddock are going to be honored, and that’s fantastic, not just because of their careers, but because they are outstanding people who deserve that recognition.”
Pausing for a moment, he then went on to say, ”There were so many guys from that Cup team that became pro coaches at different levels and that’s no surprise because they were the leaders I mentioned before. The list, other than me, includes Kevin McCarthy, John Stevens, Craig Berube, Mike Stothers, Don Nachbaur, Al Hill and Wendell Young.
“They were all real professionals who worked at their craft, studied and had a passion for the game that for me as a young guy just coming into the pros, I had some many guys to look up to and emulate,” Murphy added. “It was so helpful to my career, so that’s why I still follow and envy those guys.”
Pushed to talk about some behind the scene things that fans wouldn’t know about Fitzpatrick and coach Paddock, he replied, “Fitzy had a unique sense of humor and it was always well timed. He’d sit in the weeds and then come out with something funny and his timing was always impeccable.
“As for Paddock, he was my first pro coach who I found to be very stoic, very patient and had a good feel for the team and the room,” added Murphy. “To handle all that responsibility by himself and have a team with all the leadership in the room, he still knew when to tighten the reins and leave the room to those leaders.
Murphy ended with, “I learned from him how to have a relationship with a player, whether it was a young guy like me or a veteran. He was fair, but he could be firm, but it was always with the right intentions and he did it with the utmost respect.”