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.

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“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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