Act like you belong. That's the adage that perhaps best sums up where Ryan Murphy stands in his last kick at making Team Canada.
On top of the possibility of the NHL lockout gifting Hockey Canada with a windfall of would-be teenaged big leaguers — including Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Murray on the back end — another pre-world junior storyline revolves around the Kitchener Rangers' skilled, smooth-skating defenceman place in the grand scheme. After being cut each of the past two seasons (time lost due to a concussion clearly limited him last December), Murphy represented well in August's Canada-Russia challenge. Rangers coach Steve Spott is head man for Team Canada. Murphy, 19, says he cannot start pressing if he wants to make the team.
His next audition is the Nov. 8 Team Russia-Team OHL Subway Super Series game in Guelph, the third of the annual six-game series between the Canadian Hockey League and the country's traditional rival.
"I think the most important thing for myself is just to play my own game and I can't change who I am just to put on a [Team Canada] jersey," says Murphy, one of 34 Ontario leaguers named to Team OHL for the middle leg of the Super Series. "I'm just going to go out there and show them what I'm trying to show them in the league and my own style of game and hopefully things work out for me."
Of course, wearing the Maple Leaf during the Christmas holidays is the second-biggest mecca for a major junior star after ascending to the NHL. Murphy might have been a shoo-in last season if he hadn't a sustained a concussion in early November after taking a head shot from Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Tom Kuhnhackl, who received a 20-game suspension. He was effective once he was back to game fitness, notching 65 points in 47 OHL games from Jan. 1 through the end of the playoffs.
"Everything that leads up to the camp in December is just a stepping stone," says Murphy. "This is just another one for myself. It started this summer with having a good experience there and the game coming up is, as Spotter [Steve Spott] said, a legitimate evaluation. I'm looking forward to it and there's a lot of good competition so we want to bring our A-game and it's a good rivalry [between Canada and Russia] so I'm just fortunate to be part of it."
Canada could return three defencemen from the 2012 bronze medal-winning team, with the London Knights' Scott Harrington also back. The Ottawa 67's Cody Ceci, the Ottawa Senators first-round choice, is also in the mix among OHL players. This will be the first time since 2008 that the world junior is on the wider European ice sheet, so the defence corps Spott takes to Russia might have more of a puck-moving bent.
"I think we're looking at a mix of everything," Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast says. "We need guys who can carry the puck out of trouble, move the puck, guys that are very strong defensively in their own end.
"The game is a little bit different on the big ice surface," Prendergast adds. "Certainly the Europeans over the last couple years got a lot stronger physically. We need our defencemen to skate very well and be able to move players out of the way and not get caught in the traps they use over in Europe, as far as trying to sucker defencemen or players out of positioning to get in behind them. We need smart hockey players that can skate and think the game."
Murphy notched just one point during the Rangers' season-opening stretch of eight road games that ended with Spott challenging his team leaders after a 3-4-1-0 start. They responded with three wins last weekend, with Murphy notching eight points.
"We're getting some good bounces this week and good luck and with all that we had team success," Murphy says. "And with team success comes individual success."
The six-game Super Series might draw added attention due to the NHL's shutdown. It begins Nov. 5 with Team QMJHL, featuring Team Canada returnee Jonathan Huberdeau, taking on Russia. Whoever comprises the final 22 (plus a third-string goaltender) will face the inevitable comparisons to the juggernaut 2005 Canadian team that rolled to a gold medal. That team featuring Sidney Crosby won Canada's first gold in eight years. The team Murphy is hoping to be part of will try to win Canada's first in four.
"I think any time you put a team in a national tournament that has a Canadian sweater on that the standards are: there is one colour we're after and that's gold," Prendergast says. "That team in 2005 was just a phenomenal hockey team. Our best opportunity to win this tournament is when we get an opportunity to bring our best players with us and if the lockout persists going into Christmas and we get an opportunity to take our best players over there, it's the same expectations we're going to have with whoever we take over there. We want to come home with a gold medal."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.