Matt Murphy was still familiarizing himself with many of his teammates – he wasn't sure whether it was Connor or Kellen Jones whose cross-ice pass set him up for a goal Saturday (it was Kellen) – but Murphy is just so comfortable playing in a Komets uniform that no one was the wiser.
“I felt right at home,” said Murphy, who had two goals in Saturday's 3-2 victory over the Wheeling Nailers and an assist in Sunday's 5-1 loss to the Iowa Heartlanders, after returning from Belleville of the higher-level American Hockey League.
Murphy, a defenseman, had five goals and 13 points in 33 regular season games as a rookie out of the University of New Brunswick, but his play seems to have taken a leap this season. He has three goals and four points in three games for Fort Wayne and has played five games for the Belleville, which has had him for two stints.
“I think he progresses with confidence. The more he plays, the more confidence he gets, especially getting to the American Hockey League and getting in game situations up there,” said coach Ben Boudreau, whose Central Division-leading Komets (8-3-1) face the Kalamazoo Wings (6-4-0) at 7 p.m. today in Michigan. “(Murphy) brings that confidence down here and you can see, when he's shooting the puck, it's going in.”
Murphy's productivity at both ends of the ice was pivotal for the Komets as they won the Kelly Cup – he had four assists in 11 playoff games – and he's one of the many success stories they've had with players from UNB.
This season, their former Reds have included captain Matthew Boudens (currently with Henderson of the AHL), Marcus McIvor (an alternate captain), Oliver Cooper and Samuel Harvey, who is 4-0-0 and with a 1.51 goals-against average, a league-leading .959 save percentage and one shutout.
Murphy has excelled because of his familiarity with the Fort Wayne systems, his understanding of Boudreau and assistant Olivier Legault, and his camaraderie with the seven other players who were here last season.
“Obviously, for me, it definitely helps that I was here last year,” said Murphy, 26. “There are still lots of familiar faces in the room. Even with Ben and Legs, they do a great job of bringing new guys up to speed with the systems, and those systems are pretty similar to what we used last year.”
The Komets' lineup has been continually in flux because of players going to and from the AHL, and Murphy could get called back to Belleville at any moment, but he's shown much development since playing his first pro game Feb. 12 – when he had an assist in 3-2 shootout loss to Wheeling.
“I think I've grown a lot,” Murphy said. “I felt prepared coming from the University of New Brunswick – they do a great job there – and I felt like I was really good player coming in. But it's a whole different league. It's different and you've got to learn how to play the game, the situational aspects, a lot of different stuff. So there was definitely a big learning curve for me in my first year pro.
“But I also took a lot of stuff from when I was up in Belleville, then coming back here, and I've so far been kind of trying to put it all together. I'm pretty happy with the way I've been developing.”
Notes: Defenseman Jameson Milam, 37, who came out of retirement to join the Komets, has been released. He had three goals in 12 games in his fourth stint with the team. The Komets still have four veterans – Connor Jones, Kellen Jones, Zach Tolkinen and Corbin Baldwin, who has been on injured reserve all season – and they can only play four during games. However, there has been speculation the Komets could re-sign forward Shawn Szydlowski, who has been recovering from offseason back surgery and has been cleared for contact, and this could signal they're making room to add him.
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Wings Event Center, Kalamazoo, Mich.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Memorial Coliseum
Radio: 1190 AM, 107.5 FM