By Matt James
The Fresno Bee
FRESNO, Calif. — This is where the sports dream ends.
When Cory Murphy was younger, he would have done about anything to play hockey. Now, he’d just like to be able to walk away from it.
Murphy always told himself he wanted to play hockey until he was at least 30. Well, guess what? You wake up one day and a few dozen pages have fallen off the calendar. He turns 31 in October.
“I think I’m gonna be done playing,” Murphy says quietly. “It’s time to try something new. You know, you gotta grow up sometime.”
His ankle still hurts. After this Fresno Falcons season, he had another surgery, this one to take out the metal plate and 12 screws that held it together through all those games and practices and road trips.
That’s the ankle he broke in a 2006 game at Save Mart Center. It was more gruesome than anything in horror movies. A lot of people figured that was it. The NHL doesn’t have much use for 30-year-old AA hockey players with Humpty-Dumpty body parts.
But he came back for another season. He always said 30. He must have meant it. And now he’s sure he can’t take a lot more. Living in little apartments. Being on the road 100 days a year. The ankle.
“It’s not for old guys with families,” he says. “It’s for young guys. People think we make hundreds of thousands of dollars and that’s not the case. We just barely get by.”
He hid it pretty well, but there were times when Murphy’s ankle felt like someone was holding it over a campfire. The metal plate was up against a nerve, and at times before face-offs, he would raise and lower his leg, like Peyton Manning calling an audible, trying to make the pain stop.
All he could think was, Please drop the puck so I can start skating.
“I had a lot of tough mornings after three games in three nights,” he says. “I have to think about my family. I want to be able to do things with my kids later on.”
After college, he signed with the Mississippi Sea Wolves of the ECHL. A month later, he was traded to the Chesapeake Icebreakers in Maryland. Then Murphy’s agent said he knew a guy in a Russian elite league looking for Canadians, so Murphy went.
He played in Italy for two years in between his Falcons seasons. The years in minor league sports are not nearly as glamorous as you imagine as a kid. Then again, as a kid, you probably don’t imagine yourself in the minors.
This week, he and his wife, Melissa moved out of the team apartments, and into a rental house. They have a 2-year-old boy, Jackson, and a baby girl, Jillian.
Melissa is from Yuma, Ariz., and went to Fresno City because she had relatives in Fresno. The two met at a restaurant on the north side. He got her number and called two weeks later. It’s important not to seem too eager, even if you are a tall, dark, professional hockey player with all your teeth.
“I looked it up in my Dummies Guide for Dating,” he says.
Murphy is one of many former Falcons players who grew up in Canada, came to Fresno to play hockey, got married, stayed, had kids and are now making it their home.
Kris Porter, Terry Friesen and Jason Weaver are all from Canada and still in Fresno, playing softball and golf together, raising kids and gaining weight. Kory Mullin works for the Clovis Fire Department.
Someday, Fresno could have some pretty outstanding youth hockey teams.
“I’m doing some private lessons and stuff right now,” Murphy says. “That’s what everybody did back home. You play hockey, then you coach and help teach the kids.”
Murphy was raised in Perth, Ontario, where his parents still live. He has a Canadian business degree and he’s going to do financial planning with former Falcons goalie Jeff Ferguson.
He goes on to the next dream, the next stage in life, still walking, still competitive, still a little worried about how much he will miss it. In all, he played five hard, fun seasons in Fresno.