Digit Murphy Helps Brown's Team Add Up

Dec. 10, 2002

Brown University's distinguished women's hockey coach Margaret Degidio (a.k.a. "Digit") Murphy feels she's a "player's coach."

"It's not my way or the highway," says Murphy, who's now in her 14th season at the Ivy League school. "I listen and take things under advisement. I involve my kids a lot in some of the choices we make because they're smart kids. We have a nice combination of student involvement."

Murphy's always been "involved" in conjuring up ways to get the most out of her players. After all, "Xs and Os" aren't the only reason why her career record through Nov. 16 is 231-92-8, and why her teams have won three Ivy League titles, and why last season's squad reached the finals of the NCAA Frozen Four -- nipping top-ranked Minnesota in the semifinals.

"I'm hugely emotional," understates Murphy, whose accolades include New England Coach of the Year as well as induction into the Cornell University Hall of Fame (Murphy's a 1983 graduate of Cornell). "But I took it to (the team) last year. We went back to the basics. I told them 'You've got to get back to fundamentals and discipline and you don't have it.'

"Along with hard work, they've been the cornerstones of our hockey program. I felt we were getting more self-absorbed."

As a result, Murphy "colluded" with assistant coaches Jon Guiffre and Ryan Stone to find a way to get through to a team that had stumbled to a 6-6-1 start.

"We took the names off the back of our jerseys because we were playing for the back and not the front (where an oversized 'B' is emblazoned)," says Murphy. "We stripped the locker room ... name plates and everything.

"It was a culmination of ideas, and all of a sudden the moon and the stars were aligned and we went 19-2-1 the rest of the season. It was a storybook story without the storybook ending."

True, because Brown lost to Minnesota-Duluth in the finals. But the tactics employed by Murphy underscored what makes her unique.

"As a coach, yes, we've won the ECAC but not the big one -- yet," she says. "But to me it's more about product. If you watch my team, when we celebrate a championship, the kids celebrate. The coaches aren't in the mix.

"It's the kids' day in the sun. We help them learn lessons. It's about the Brown hockey program and the philosophy that drives us as a unit. It's in our tradition, and the e-mails I receive which say 'Damn, I hated it when I played for you but I appreciate it now.' "

If Murphy's recruits don't appreciate the fact she has zero tolerance for egos, they end up as "former" recruits.

"I keep teaching the kids that it's not all about them, it's about the big picture," she says. "I tell kids on recruiting trips it's not about being the big fish in a small pond. If you can't handle that, don't come here.

"Some recruiters laugh at that and use it against me. But the kids who come here want to be here -- and it works."

The kids who've "come here" include some of the very best who've laced on skates, players like goaltender Ali Brewer, who won the 2000 Patty Kazmaier Award, and gold-medal winning Olympians like Katie King, Tara Mounsey, Becky Kellar, etc. But despite all this success, Murphy is anything but complacent.

"I've been lucky enough to grow with the sport and I couldn't be prouder of Brown's tradition," says Murphy, herself a native Rhode Islander. "That being said, a lot of my fire and passion comes from the lack of respect that we've had for our sport.

"It drives me to elevate our sport to the level it deserves -- top billing. I'm all about not being subtle. I think I'm brutally honest. I'm not vanilla. If we need to talk about issues, and some of them are controversial, you talk about them. That's how you make progress.

"People say you get more with honey than vinegar," continues Murphy. "But sometimes it cracks me up about how they want you to be the good, old girl and they want you to be sweet."

Murphy, sweet? Not quite. And as she said about being emotional, the last thing she does is hide her emotions -- regardless of the venue.

"Perhaps the most satisfaction I've had -- and I've been involved in hockey for 20 years, in one capacity or another -- was at the '98 Olympics in Nagano," says Murphy, who served as a TV analyst for Turner Broadcasting. "I was very emotional because I saw 10,000 people on their feet cheering USA Hockey's gold medal for women's hockey.

"I saw it viewed by masses of people who appreciated the game. Even if Canada won, it was going to be okay because the USA was going to get its moment in the sun."

Given Murphy's avowed passion for her sport, perhaps the sun seems dim by comparison.

orginally appeared on USA Hockey Online