Whether he was using makeshift equipment to stop shots around the house from his brother Cole or on roller skates with the best youth inline players in the country, Tucker Murphy has always had a knack for stopping pucks.
“I was about 6 years out when I started playing goalie,” said Murphy, who first tried hockey as a 4-year-old. “My brother was a hockey player and I went after what he was doing. Then one day, he got bored shooting at an empty net and kind of threw me in there without pads.”
Murphy soon started the series of transitions that have brought him to the Richmond Generals, where he is the starting goalie on the toughest team to score on in the entire Metropolitan Junior Hockey League.
“We found stuff around the house to use as pads,” Murphy said. “I really liked the gear that goalies had and that kind of stuck and I started getting into it.”
By the time he was 8, Murphy was the goalie for the Richmond Rattlers when they won a national roller hockey championship. Murphy continued for many years as one of the nation’s top roller hockey goalies in his age group, but friends convinced him to try ice hockey as well.
Two seasons of AAA youth hockey with the Washington Little Caps, where Murphy was often peppered with shots, fast-forwarded his development as an ice hockey goalie.
Now, as Richmond tries to make the move from Metropolitan League runner-up to champion in just its third season, Murphy is both stopping and moving pucks.
“He moves the puck excellent,” Generals coach and general manager R.C. Lyke said. “He can move the puck just like a defenseman. It gives us a real big advantage, having a goalie like that who plays the puck as well as he does helps us break out of the zone much easier.”
More importantly, Lyke said Murphy can be counted on to make the big save. That was evident a year ago when the Generals were on their way to the league final.
Murphy picked up the most playing time in a three-way rotation that included World Junior Championships participants Kuroiwa Yoshihiro from Japan and Nazarovs Kristaps from Latvia.
Although Murphy spent two games as a backup who dressed but did not play with the Johnstown Tomahawks of the Tier II North American Hockey League, he has spent the rest of this season with Richmond. Murphy is one of just six players back from 26 on last year’s roster.
Murphy got the Generals off to a fast start even when he was facing 30-plus shots for each of the first 10 games. That workload has been reduced all the way to 19 and 25 shots during shutouts in two of his last four appearances.
“We have a big defense that is extremely physical and is really clearing things out,” Lyke said.
And that defense is backed by Murphy, who seems to come natural to the leadership that is part of his position.
“His biggest success comes from his maturity and his composure,” Lyke said. “He has a very calming presence. He doesn’t jump around a lot. He’s extremely vocal.”
Murphy, from nearby Chesterfield, Va., is driven to lead Richmond to a championship in 2013-14. The 19-year-old has a .934 save percentage and 2.20 goals-against average this season.
“That’s absolutely motivation,” he said. “It was so close you could almost touch it, but we fell short. Mentally, you have a goal now, you know how close you can be but fall short, and you know the little things that can happen and change the entire thing.
“One of the roughest experiences with that [2013 championship] game was looking around that room at guys who were 20 years old and that was their last junior game, knowing that was it for them. It’s really rough to see that.
“I know the same situation could happen this year,” Murphy continued. “I’d love that last game to be the national championship game and to be celebrating.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.