Digit Murphy’s star only keeps shining brighter in the NWHL

digit murphy
Courtesy of Brendan Poe

The single-elimination Isobel Cup Semifinals will be shown live on Thursday, Feb. 4 at 5:30 p.m. ET and 8:30 p.m. ET. The winners of the semifinals will advance to the Isobel Cup Final on Friday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. ET. In addition to coverage on NBCSN, live coverage will stream exclusively on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

It’s not like Digit Murphy has much more to prove in hockey.

The Toronto Six head coach has succeeded at every level of hockey and then some. She molded the CWHL into the first option for pro women’s hockey players, she was the first person to found a pro women’s lacrosse league and now she’s the first coach for the first Canadian NWHL team.

It’s no wonder everybody wants to play for her.

“I would hope it’s the impact I’m making on them, not just about hockey,” she told NBC Sports this week. “It’s about life and how we kind of approach everything, it’s being kind and respectful to everyone you know and not thinking you’re all that and a bag of chips just because you’re a coach.”

Ask anyone in hockey and they’ll tell you Murphy is more than a coach, she’s a force. Her polarizing nature in women’s hockey has been an obvious bridge between some of the divisions in recent years.

Last season, the formation of the PWHPA had several former NWHL and CWHL players sit out the NWHL season. Many of them signed with Toronto, and there was a shift.

Murphy’s presence is arguably the biggest reason why.

[2021 Isobel Cup schedule]

“Digit being president, trying to build the team, that kind of persuaded me,” said defender Kristen Barbara. “It gave me an opportunity…. I think she’s a really big advocate for women’s professionalism. just being around the game, she was in a male atmosphere, stuck to the world of hockey. In women’s hockey there’s been a huge shift because she is so vocal.”

Any Six observer is going to come away with the impression the squad has a ton of energy, and a ton of it is on the positive side. Following their first ever franchise win against Boston on Tuesday night, the team had a dance party outside the locker room to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story.”

Murphy enthusiastically praised her team in the presser following the game, shouting at times, “Last time I thought we WON and we LOST. Tonight, it was AWESOME.”

She sets a ton and a vibe unlike any presence in the league before her, which is considerable given she held out on being in the NWHL at all for so long.

“Ownership hasn’t been like this in a lot of leagues, in women’s hockey usually the league owns it,” said Murphy. “I feel like the NWHL is onto something. They have owners who care. They’re putting a lot of time, energy and effort into the bubble and their resources, look we have a brand new locker room, that’s cool.

“It’s really cool to be a part of the NWHL.”

A pioneer for women’s sports

Digit’s path through hockey started at Cornell after growing up in Cranston, Rhode Island. At 59 years old, she’s a pioneer for women in sports in general, and is easily one of the faces on the women’s hockey Mount Rushmore.

She’s been a driving force in changes for players in women’s college hockey, an advocate for her players in China in the CWHL, and now her sights are set on making the NWHL a better place than she found it as well.

“Digit has been everywhere,” said Toronto Six owner Johanna Boynton in December. “She coached in the CWHL, she coached in China, she’ coached and she played everywhere. She’s the real deal, a pioneer and a trailblazer. She’s devoted her career to this passion…. She’s never daunted. She’s just a really passionate, enthusiastic leader. Digit is all in.”

Boynton, with NWHL commissioner Ty Tumminia — who originally was a part of Toronto ownership — are a part of a new wave of the NWHL that looks different than the past five seasons. There are more sponsors, there’s television space, there’s a media presence.

That begins with the group of women coming in this season, and Murphy is a part of that. Boynton, and Tumminia, knew how important Murphy is to the newfound identity of the league.

“She’s got relationships, she’s been around these athletes, she knows the game,” said Tumminia back in December. “She’s got deep stakeholder relationships, it was apparent we had to bring somebody in like Digit, like Digit’s talent, her intellectual property. She brings a lot to it.”

Early success behind Murphy’s leadership is another selling point for people in the league, especially any potential Canadians watching for the success of the Toronto project.

The Six are an expansion club, but as we’ve seen in the NWHL before with Minnesota, that doesn’t mean they can’t compete. Like the Whitecaps, the Six brought in plenty of players with experience at the highest levels of women’s hockey.

If Murphy hadn’t been one of the first members of the organization hired, the Six might never have gotten off the ground in the same fashion. Her magnetism to people around the sport has brought talent into the Six who otherwise may never have suited up in the NWHL.

“I think at some point everyone’s crossed paths with Digit,” said Emily Fluke, who signed with Toronto after a season in Boston. “She’s all about women’s sports and just women in general and she gets you really excited, she brings that energy.”

“She’s all over the place but great at the same time,” said Mikyla Grant-Mentis, who played in two games with Buffalo last season before signing in Toronto. “She has that energy she brings, honestly sometimes it’s more than the whole team combined.”

Women’s hockey is going to succeed behind people who care about the game succeeding, and Murphy has put her heart and soul and life into making it happen.

It seems like the opportunity to run the Six and build something within the NWHL might be the next step in her legacy for the sport, and perhaps the one that springboards professional women’s hockey into new heights.

“I think they want to play for me because they feel the love,” she said. “Right away they feel  like we’re gonna help them and we’re gonna have so much fun.”

Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.

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    Barkov sets Panthers’ points mark in 5-2 win over Red Wings

    Florida Panthers Power Play
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    DETROIT – Aleksander Barkov set the Florida franchise record for most career points, Carter Verhaeghe scored two goals, and the streaking Panthers beat the Detroit Red Wings for the ninth consecutive time, 5-2.

    Barkov recorded a second-period assist, giving him 614 points, breaking a tie with Jonathan Huberdeau for the team record.

    Matthew Tkachuk had a goal and two assists, giving him 14 points over the last five games. Eric Staal and Gustav Forsling also scored for the Panthers, who are 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 20 shots.

    Pius Suter and Dylan Larkin scored for the Red Wings, who have lost 10 of their last 12 games. Ville Husso had 20 saves.

    The Panthers led 2-1 after the first period.

    The first Florida goal came after Lucas Raymond‘s turnover in his own zone. Sam Bennett made the steal and passed it to Tkachuk for his 33rd goal.

    Verhaeghe made it 2-0 with a slap shot that got past a screened Husso. The Red Wings challenged for goalie interference, but the goal was upheld after a video review.

    Just after killing off the subsequent penalty, Detroit got on the board when Suter jammed in a rebound of David Perron‘s shot.

    Forsling scored on shot from the point midway through the second period to restore Florida’s two-goal advantage. Barkov had the second assist, allowing him to break the franchise points record.

    Larkin scored on a delayed penalty off a pass from Raymond at 7:53 of the third to cut the Panthers’ lead to 3-2.

    Staal scored on a breakaway off a pass from Anthony Duclair with under four minutes left, and Verhaeghe added a power-play goal.


    Panthers F Eetu Luostarinen had an assist in the 200th game of his career. … Florida is 29-2-3 when leading after two periods. … The last time the Red Wings beat the Panthers was Feb. 20, 2021. … Barkov has 42 points in 38 career games against Detroit. … Andrew Copp notched his 150th career assist on Larkin’s goal.


    Panthers: At Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

    Red Wings: At St. Louis on Tuesday night to open a home-and-home set.

    Ferguson stops 47 shots, Senators top reeling Penguins 2-1

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    PITTSBURGH – Drake Batherson‘s power-play goal from in front with 2:09 left in regulation lifted the Ottawa Senators to a 2-1 win over the reeling Pittsburgh Penguins.

    The Penguins finally beat Ottawa goaltender Dylan Ferguson on a Rickard Rakell goal with 5:21 to play, but a hooking penalty by Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel gave the Senators the man advantage and Batherson responded with his 21st goal of the season.

    Ferguson, making his first NHL start and first appearance in the league in more than five years, made 47 saves to send Pittsburgh to its fourth straight loss. Thomas Chabot scored his 10th goal of the season for Ottawa as the Senators snapped a five-game slide.

    The Penguins fell behind Florida in the race for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Tristan Jarry played well but couldn’t get in the way of Batherson’s jam shot from just outside the crease.

    Ferguson began the night having played nine minutes at the NHL level as a teenager for Vegas early in the Golden Knights’ debut season in 2017-18. He has bounced around various levels of the minors ever since and was in the process of being sent down to the ECHL by the AHL’s Toronto Marlies earlier this month when the Senators signed him to a two-way deal.

    Something clicked. He played well enough in six games for Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in Belleville to receive a call-up on Sunday. Just over 24 hours later, the Senators made the now 24-year-old Ferguson the sixth goaltender they’ve used this season when they gave him the nod against the struggling Penguins.

    Ferguson looked like he belonged from the opening faceoff. He made a series of sharp saves early, including a couple of stops from in close against Jake Guentzel and a flashy glove save on a slap shot by Malkin.

    Jarry, a two-time All-Star who has struggled to find any sort of consistency since returning from an extended stay on the injured list, took a step forward, turning aside multiple odd-man rushes and a breakaway by Brady Tkachuk in the second period.

    The lone goal Jarry allowed came 16:46 into the first when Chabot took a feed from Claude Giroux and rather than fire a shot from high in the slot skated down to the right circle and beat Jarry to the far post.

    Jarry was solid the rest of the way, though he spent most of the game watching Ferguson dazzle at the other end before Rakell broke through with just over 5 minutes to go.


    Senators: Travel to Boston on Tuesday to face the NHL-leading Bruins.

    Penguins: Start a difficult back-to-back on the road on Wednesday when they visit the Avalanche in Denver.

    Sharks goalie James Reimer declines to wear Pride jersey

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    San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer didn’t take part in pregame warmups, saying the team’s decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

    Reimer said in a statement Saturday that he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, adding that he “always strived to treat everyone with respect” and that members of the LGBTQ community should be welcome in hockey.

    “In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.

    Reimer is the second NHL player this season to refuse to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, with Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov declining to in January. Reimer was not slated to start in Saturday night’s home game against the New York Islanders, which is Pride night.

    Additionally, the New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

    The Sharks said in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusiveness.

    “As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said in a statement. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”

    The You Can Play Project, which works to promote inclusiveness in sports, said the organization was disappointed in Reimer’s actions.

    “Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said. “Wearing pride jerseys, like any celebration jersey worn, is not about the personal feelings of an athlete; rather the communication from the team that a community is welcome in the arena and the sport.”

    Panarin, Shesterkin lead Rangers to 6-0 rout of Penguins

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    NEW YORK — Mika Zibanejad had a goal and two assists, Artemi Panarin scored twice and Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves as the New York Rangers routed Pittsburgh 6-0 on Saturday night for their second win over the Penguins in three days.

    Vladimir Tarasenko, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba also scored for the surging Rangers, who have won nine of their last 11 home games and are 12-4-0 in their past 16 at Madison Square Garden.

    Shesterkin won his fifth straight and posted his second shutout this season. He nimbly denied Pittsburgh forward Mikael Granland with a sprawling save five minutes into the third period to preserve the shutout, the 10th of his career. His other one this season was a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

    “When you put in hard and honest work, miracles happen,” Shesterkin said through a translator. ”We played wonderfully today – scored many, many goals. Honestly, I hope the fans loved it. We’re playing for them.”

    The Penguins lost their third straight and trail the Rangers by 12 points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, still in wild-card position, is trying to reach the playoffs for the 17th straight time.

    “Tonight was a humbling experience for all of us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. ”At this time of year, you have to have a short memory. We still have control of our destiny.”

    Patrick Kane and defenseman K’Andre Miller also had two assists apiece as New York improved to 7-1-1 in its last nine home games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers are five points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils, who lost at Florida on Saturday.

    “This was a big game for our goalie and our team,” Panarin said. “If you work at playing the right way, you have opportunities for goals.”

    Since Dec. 5, when they turned around their season with a 6-4 comeback win at home over St. Louis, the Rangers are 29-9-5.

    As he did on Thursday when the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-2, Zibanejad opened the scoring. He got his team-leading 36th goal at 5:10 of the first, beating Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. Trouba and Miller assisted.

    Panarin made it 2-0 at 19:49 on the power play, whipping the puck past Jarry from the left circle off a pass from Adam Fox.

    Tarasenko increased the lead at 3:54 of the second with his fifth goal since joining the Rangers in a trade with St. Louis on Feb. 9. Tarasenko has points in 10 of his first 18 games with the Rangers.

    Kreider made it 4-0 at 6:43 with his 31st goal and third in two games against the Penguins. Kane and Vincent Trocheck assisted on Kreider’s 260th career goal, which moved the Rangers forward within two of Vic Hadfield for fifth place on the franchise list.

    New York won Thursday when Kreider scored the go-ahead goal in the third and added an empty-netter.

    After Casey DeSmith replaced Jarry in net following Kreider’s goal, Trouba beat the replacement with a sharp-angle shot at 8:39 for his eighth to increase the margin to 5-0. Trouba has points in six of his last eight games.

    Panarin scored again at 16:38 of the second – his 22nd goal of the season – to make it 6-0, with assists to Kane and Filip Chytil.

    “We’re building chemistry, building every day and every game,” Kane said.

    Panarin has points in eight of his last 10 games and leads the Rangers with 77 points overall, while Kane has seven points in his last six games.

    “It’s nice to see that many great players on your team,” added Panarin, whose first two NHL seasons were played alongside Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks. “We’re happy tonight.”

    Zibanejad assisted on goals by Tarasenko and Trouba and has 25 points – including 14 goals – over his last 20 games.

    “It was just one of those nights when the puck goes in for us,” Zibanejad said. “And obviously Igor gives us a boost making all those saves.”

    NOTES: The Penguins were missing defenseman Jeff Petry after he was hit with an unpenalized elbow from Rangers forward Tyler Motte on Thursday. … Pittsburgh also scratched defenseman Jan Rutta and forward Dalton Heinen and played defenseman Mark Friedman for the first time since Feb. 11. … The Rangers were without injured defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 10th straight game.


    Penguins: Host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

    Rangers: Host the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.