Bob Murdoch (left) and Don Murdoch

The Murdochs: Fast Track to Hockey Stardom

Every Canadian hockey story, like that of the Murdochs of Cranbrook, seems to start in the backyard

Anthony Dransfeld

For the Townsman

Every Canadian hockey story seems to start in the family backyard. Jack and Olga Murdoch from Cranbrook, B.C. put in a nice outdoor rink complete with lights, for their boys, Bobby and Donny, to learn the game of hockey. In short order brothers Frank, Danny, and Derek Spring, and every kid in Cranbrook with a love for hockey, were showing up at the Murdoch back yard, playing shinny, shooting the puck, and skating on the spacious rink, which was always kept flooded and in great condition by Mr. Murdoch.

That is how it began for the Murdoch Boys. After finishing their Minor Hockey at home, they were off to Junior. Bobby began playing with the Cranbrook Colts, and then went on to the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL Senior hockey in Cranbrook for the Royals came one year later, before Bob turned Pro in 1974-75.

Donny started his Junior career with the Vernon Vikings, where he scored 50 goals in 73- 74. The next season Medicine Hat traded for his rights, which turned out to be an astute move for the Alberta team. Don scored 82 goals, a WHL record for a rookie, which has remained untouched in 46 Seasons. The next season proving his talent was no fluke, Donny Murdoch poured in 88 goals..

After the completion of his outstanding Junior career, Donnie Murdoch was selected sixth overall in the first round of the 1976 NHL Draft by John Ferguson, representing the New York Rangers. In just his third ever hockey game in the NHL, the curly haired 19-year-old whiz kid from Cranbrook, potted five goals against the Minnesota North Stars and their goalie Gary Smith. The five goals by a rookie in the NHL has stood up for 44 years.

Murdoch missed 19 games with an injured ankle later that season that inevitably cost him the Calder Trophy for Rookie of The Year in 1976-77. Still he scored 32 goals that inaugural season in only 59 games, ending fourth in Ranger team scoring behind Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, and my favourite player growing up, Rod Gilbert. Quite impressive. More was to come from the Kid.

Don Murdoch and the Big Apple

Imagine for a moment, you are a 19-year-old super gifted hockey player, who comes from a small lumber town of 12,000 people high in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada. Drafted in the 1st round by the New York Rangers, after a blazing Junior career (220 goals in just three seasons), the birddogs (scouts) began sniffing around.

The result was being picked 6th overall. There is no city in the National Hockey League that has the nightlife that New York does. Studio 54, a very trendy bar and might club in Upper Manhattan, is very close to Madison Square Gardens. The Rangers had their own private table at “54”. John Lennon of the Beatles would be sending over a bottle or three of Dom, Andy Warhol the painter would swing by. John McEnroe the tennis player, would be inviting the boys out to Long Island for a barbecue, and a tennis tournament for friends. Debbie Harry and her Band Blondie were around. Gorgeous women would “accidentally” leave their apartment keys on the Ranger table. You get the picture. Lots of distractions at Studio 54, and not a mentor, or role model around for the younger New York Ranger players to get advice from. Still the red goal light kept coming on for young Donny Murdoch. 97 goals in four seasons. Not too shabby.

The “Party Hardy” culture of the NHL was real. I know this first hand, because I was friends with a couple of Philadelphia Flyers when they hit Vancouver, we got it on pretty good in the early 1970s. Everyone in the League drank to excess, and other things — it was their culture.

NHL Rookie Record, 44 Years and Counting

Donny Murdoch’s five-goal game in 1976 as a rookie with the New York Rangers, has come under the spotlight once again. 73 years ago, in 1947, Howie Meeker of the Toronto Maple Leaf’s allegedly equaled Mr. Murdoch’s record. Well not so fast. Wally Stanowski, Meeker’s line mate, actually scored two of the goals, pucks that ole Howie did not even touch. The Leaf’s at the time were struggling and in some need of P.R., so two hours after the game was over, they changed the scoring, giving the rookie Meeker two more goals. Well, Stanowski was livid that Meeker would stoop to such a thing, and go along with management.

Stanowski would never speak to his line mate, Meeker, again and demanded a trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs. “I have no respect for this organization, nor Meeker,” he said at the time. Stanowski was traded. So, 44 seasons ago Don Murdoch lit the goal light five times as a rookie player in the National Hockey League. A lofty record to beat. Even the incomparable Mario Lemieux could not do it. As it stands today Don Murdoch holds the record with five.

Donnie Murdoch was 12 years old in Cranbrook when he was awarded a Bronze Star from our Government in Ottawa, for saving a five-year old boy’s life who was being attacked by an out of control big dog. This happened next door to the Murdoch family home. Donny was bitten extensively. The lad’s father was RCMP here in town. Someone in the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa flew out to Cranbrook to present young Don Murdoch with his Medal. 53 years ago. I hope he still has it.

Perplexing to many in the BC Hockey Community is why Don Murdoch has not been inducted in the BC Sports Hall of Fame.

A good book to check out is “100 NEW YORK RANGER GREATS” (2009) by Russ Cohen, John Halligan, and Adam Raider. Don Murdoch made this select group of all time New York Rangers. Altogether 1016 hockey players have suited up for the Rangers since their beginning season in the early 1920s. A great honour for Mr. Murdoch, and well deserved.

Moose Returns

Bobby Murdoch returned to Cranbrook after his professional hockey career. His wife Janice Murdoch taught school here in Cranbrook, and Bob gave back to local hockey by coaching the Cranbrook Colts, and then the Kimberley Junior Dynamiters. I guess you could say Murdoch received instant credibility from his players, the minute he walked into the Nitro Dressing Room. Why? When you score 22 goals in your NHL rookie season as Bob did with Oakland Golden Seals, you get instant respect from your players.

Rick “Rocky” Allen, a well-respected hockey man in these parts, and one of the “sharper” knives you will find in any drawer, was GM of the Dynamiters, and is a long time scout for the Kamloops Blazers. Both Bobby and Rick did the 20-mile drive to Kimberley many times in the dead of winter on sketchy icy roads. Dedicated hockey men for sure.

25 years ago, Don Murdoch started a hockey school with fellow NHL alumnus Danny Gare. When Gare retired, Donny brought in Kootenay Ice Captain Colin Sinclair (Memorial Cup Champs 2001) they moved the school down from Invermere to Cranbrook. Don and his associate, Colin Sinclair, was assisted by Veteran NHL Player Adam Cracknell, and former Pro Player and Phoenix Coyote Scout Tim Sanche , who hails from Kimberley B.C. Everyone I have spoken to, speaks very highly of this Hockey School.

Don Murdoch played, scouted and coached in pro hockey for 24 seasons. With his mother Olga (an RN), sisters Jeannie, and Jackie and brother Bob here in Cranbrook, it was much pretty much a given, Don would come back to his hometown. By the way I did some of my interview with Donny and Bob, up at the Cranbrook Golf Club a few weeks back. They partnered with Jim and Dale Stypula winning the tournament by six strokes. Hockey Players do possess that eye hand coordination for sure, it never leaves them.

In Closing…

Life has pretty much come full circle for Don Murdoch. He is back in his hometown of Cranbrook, British Columbia after many years in the USA in Professional Ice Hockey. Don was the colour commentator for the Kootenay Ice before their move to Winnipeg. Donny was very insightful in his observations of the Ice games. Everyone in the Hockey Community listening by radio quite appreciated his astute views and honest comments, honed from Don’s many years of scouting for the New York Rangers, and the Tampa Bay Lightning, when Don joined Phil Esposito in Tampa’s inaugural season in Florida (Espo was President and GM) Don worked closely with Tony Esposito, himself a terrific goaltender with the Chicago Black Hawks. Don has certainly played and seen a lot of hockey in his lifetime.

Don and brother Moose (Bob) have discovered Pickleball and play it daily when they are not playing golf. Their sisters Jeannie Murdoch and Jackie Yost reside locally. The Murdochs are a close-knit family.

Many thanks to Richard (98) and John Hudak for their inspiration and support in making this article possible.

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