CALGARY — Before knocking on Ryan Murphy’s door – to tell him he had made the team – Team Canada head coach Steve Spott thought about pulling, what would have been by far, a world class prank.
Murphy, who plays for Spott with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, had been cut from Team Canada on two previous occasions.
“It did go through my head to bring him downstairs in front of the (selection committee making the cuts),” said Spott. “But I said, if he’d had a cardiac arrest going down the stairs, I’d have felt awful about that.”
The joke might sound unbelievably cruel if you don’t understand the close bond Spott and his star defenceman have forged. When Spott was promoted to become the head coach and general manager of the Rangers, Murphy was the first player he drafted.
When Murphy had been cut twice before by Team Canada, it was Spott who helped soothe the disappointment and worked to rebuild the defenceman’s confidence.
And there’s also the fact that Murphy, with his wicked sense of humour, is renowned for carrying out his own pranks.
“Murph is one of the biggest pranksters I know on our hockey club,” said Spott. “And that might have been the ultimate for him.”
But this time it was no joke.
“To finally not get that call (to be cut), it was the best feeling of my life,” said the first-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes. “To get that knock on the door from coach Spott made it that much more special.
“It beats every other year when I’d see the boys tweeting a picture of all their new stuff.”
The smooth-skating, offensively gifted defenceman is among the 23 players who will head to Ufa, Russia, for the tournament which begins on Dec. 26.
Spott also took care of some other business on Friday, naming locked-out Edmonton Oilers star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as Team Canada's captain and Jonathan Huberdeau and Scott Harrington as alternates.
Murphy had his best showing of the camp against a team made up of university players on Thursday afternoon. After the game, the 19-year-old was forced to wait more than an hour to find out his fate. He said he spent most of his time on Skype with forward Daniel Catenacci, who was also in camp. The session between the two ended moments before Catenacci was called to be cut.
Other forwards not making the team were Hunter Shinkaruk, Mark McNeill, and Tom Wilson. Defencemen Mathew Dumba, Ryan Sproul and Frankie Corrado were also dismissed along with Laurent Brossoit, who was the lone goaltender cut.
By far the biggest surprise amongst the players cut was Sudbury Wolves defenceman, Corrado, who had a stellar camp which included scoring two goals.
“(Spott) said it was a tough decision,” said Corrado. “He said it was one of the toughest (decisions) they had to make, so I can always take that, but obviously I’m not happy I’m not on the team.
“I feel like I played well and I played as hard as I can.”
Murphy’s roommate, Ottawa 67’s forward Sean Monahan, had been sent home in the first round of cuts, meaning he had to gut out the wait alone in his hotel room. Once he found out he had made the team – via Twitter – he started looking through the peephole of his door to see what was happening in the hallway.
“I was waiting for it,” said Murphy. “Finally I got that knock and I saw coach Spott out there with a grin on his face.”
Spott said Muphy’s addition to the team wasn’t a case of favoritism though, noting that close friend and assistant coach Andre Tourigny, who will run Team Canada’s defence, would have had the final say.
Murphy said his previous experiences at camp had taught him to play his own style of game.
“Last year I went into camp thinking I had to be perfect in my defensive end,” said the Aurora, Ont., native. “I think that maybe took away from my offensive game, but that’s why I get invited to camps like this, because of my offensive ability and to run the power play.”
Spott said he had spent a lot of time talking to Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman. The 44-year-old coach said he wanted his team built for speed on the Olympic ice surface in Russia, so keeping Murphy makes a lot of sense as long as he can stay defensively responsible.
The biggest surprise, in terms of age, might have been the inclusion of Halifax Mooseheads stars Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. The world junior championship has always been touted as a tournament for 19-year-old players, but the pair was so fantastic in camp, they earned their spot without ever looking out of place.
“They played like they were 27 and for me that’s what made the difference,” said Spott. “They didn’t play like 17 year olds.”
Team Canada will leave for Europe on Saturday, first heading to Helsinki, Finland, for a few exhibition games before flying to Ufa.
Last year Canada finished with the bronze on home ice in Calgary and, as per usual, the expectations are high – especially for Murphy, because he’s been a spectator for so long.
“The next step is a gold medal.”