Told he was traded to the Vernon Vipers, Chase McMurphy loaded up his small black pick-up truck and headed back to Canada.
Five days later, the roadrunner known as Murph landed in the Snakes’ den, able and willing to spice up the offence for the final two-thirds of the B.C. Hockey League season.
“It was a long drive coming from Nebraska, about 22 hours back home and then six from Calgary to here so I’m been driving since Saturday,” smiled McMurphy, who sipped on Diet Cokes, dined on Subway sandwiches and listened to a variety of music on his cross-country trek.
The 19-year-old was with the Tri-City Storm of the U.S. Hockey League. Situated in Kearney, in the northeast corner of Nebraska, population 169,000, the 4-6 Storm average 2,100 fans a game. He played in six tilts with Tri-City.
“I was hurt for the first little bit and then I was in and out of the lineup after that,” said McMurphy. “I just wasn’t really happy there and I was excited when I found out I was coming here. First practice was great, I really like it here.”
His first practice, Wednesday, was also perhaps the most intense of the season as the Vipers prepare for the first-place West Kelowna Warriors (tonight at Kal Tire Place) and the visiting Prince George Spruce Kings (Saturday night).
Associate coach Kris Mallette lost a collision with bruising alternate captain Brendan Persley during a drill and rookies Mark Hamilton and Matty Saharchuk got in a brief scrap.
“I stepped into a drill and he blindsided me,” joked Mallette, an enforcer in his Kelowna Rockets’ days. “I got a black eye and had to get new goggles. He says I stepped into him. It’s under review. Then, we have our first practice fight and I miss it.”
McMurphy grew up with Vipers Jared Wilson and Riley Guenther, playing with and against them in minor hockey. He spent three years with the Alberta Junior League Calgary Mustangs before headed to Nebraska.
“Basically, get out of Canada and experience some other kind of hockey,” he said, when asked why he left Calgary. “It wasn’t really the best for me, but the hockey, compared to the AJ, it was really good. There’s a lot less hitting with more speed and more skill. The BCHL seems to be pretty equivalent to that.”
McMurphy rung up 49 goals and 126 career points with the Mustangs, including 21 snipes last season.
“I’m really fast. I like to use my speed and set up the play more than I like to shoot the puck. I get most of my goals in front or on breakaways.”
The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder cheers for both the Oilers and Flames and lists Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the best player he’s ever faced.
The son of a Calgary policeman, he has autographed Sidney Crosby and Dion Phaneuf jerseys in his closest.
As for heroes, McMurphy said: “I kind of look up to everyone and learn from everyone.”
Said Viper head coach Jason Williamson: “He’s a big body, a right winger. We were kind of lacking on that right side. He’ll be a top-nine, top-six guy. He’s got some skill, he’s put up numbers so he can be a secondary powerplay guy we can start to use right away and just a guy that adds depth to our lineup.”
Williamson, who escaped injury at Wednesday’s fiery practice, expects big things tonight.
“Friday’s a first-place showdown. Our guys should be up and ready for that. It’s Parents Weekend so I’m sure our guys will wanna impress in front of their families. West Kelowna is very skilled up front so we have to be sound defensively, just make them work and hopefully our work ethic is what we’ve shown earlier this week.
“Prince George is a team that is finding ways to win. They’re banged up and they’re missing some key guys so we just gotta go to work Saturday night too.”
Hamilton may draw extra attention from the Spruce Kings after he knocked out leading scorer Jake LeBrun in an Oct. 4 game in Prince George. LeBrun has been on injured reserve since.
Hamilton, meanwhile, has committed to the University of Maine Black Bears for next season. He had signed with the UMass-Amherst Minutemen in April, 2012 but de-committed last summer when the Minutemen changed coaches.
“I was talking to Maine for a bit and I liked everything they had to say,” said Hamilton, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound d-man, whose three goals has him ahead of five Viper forwards. “It’s a good hockey school.”
Asked what the Black Bears liked about his style, Hamilton replied.: “Just that I’m physical, kind of a big presence on the blue line back there. They like that I play with a kind of a in-your-face game.”
Hamilton helped the Salisbury Crimson Knights win the New England Prep School title last year and was scouted by Williamson at the Under 18 nationals in Pittsburgh. He was rated by NHL Central Scouting but went undrafted.
“It’s definitely different from back home, but I love it. I’m starting to get more adapted to it as I play more and more. You can’t beat it. It’s a lot of fun. I’ve got a couple of lucky goals. They don’t ask how, they ask how many. Not a problem.”
Hamilton, son of a corrections officer, believes the Vipers can still get better and are starting to get tighter. He’s high on McMurphy.
“He’s quick and he’s pretty big out there which I like. He’ll help us out a lot for sure.”
Mallette, who runs the defence, says Hamilton was a touch apprehensive earlier this season but is now easily noticed making an impact.
“His game has taken some steps in the right direction. He has decent offensive instincts and he has a mean streak. He’s a very tough kid to play against down low and that’s you want. He should be a strong college player.”
SNAKE BITES: Hamilton has two older brothers who played football. His mom, Phil, is a personal trainer and runs the family gym in Winthrop, Mass., an ocean-side Boston suburb…The Vipers have eight solid d-men and goalie Austin Smith is coming off IR this weekend, leaving three net detectives in town…Leading scorer Mason Blacklock remains on IR, while Demico Hannoun is with Canada West at the World Junior A Hockey Challenge in Yarmouth, N.S. Hannoun scored once as Team West grounded the Czech Republic 4-1 Tuesday. Team West topped Group B at 2-0 and have a playoff game today…Viper grad Connor Jones, of the No. 6-rated Quinnipiac Bobcats, was named the Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association’s player of the week with three goals and an assist in a pair of wins at Colgate (7-2) and No. 14 Cornell (3-0). Jones is now one of 10 active players in the country with 100 career points.