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Cory Murphy

An undersized defenseman with a big heart, Cory Murphy had a most interesting career in hockey.

The Ottawa-native starred at Colgate University from 1997 through 2001. Mostly because of his diminutive size he was never drafted by a NHL team. Scouts also knocked his skating.

Undeterred, Cory Murphy would continue to work on his game and would one day make, playing nearly 100 career games with the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils.

But he did it in a most non-traditional way for a North American player.

Instead of plugging away in the low minor leagues, Murphy found his way to Europe, dominating in Finland and then Switzerland for six seasons.

"If you play hockey, you want to play in the NHL, but I looked at it as an opportunity to see parts of the world I wouldn't otherwise get to see and to get paid to play," said Murphy, who played for the Helsinki team last season. "It was actually a good thing for me. I got to work on my game and to get better and now I've got my shot, so I want to make the most of it."

Murphy got to perfect his game as a power play specialist and offensive defenseman. By the 2006-07 season he was named as the Pekka Rautakallio Trophy as the best defenseman in Finland and the Lasse Oksanen as the best player in the entire Finnish top league.

He was even asked to represent Canada at the 2007 World Championships - a rarity for a non-NHL player. With one goal and seven points he helped Canada win the gold medal.

All this added up to Murphy being recognized as the best defenseman in the world who was not in the NHL.

Suddenly NHL general managers started approaching Murphy with their wallets open. He would sign a two year deal worth $1.65 million with the Florida Panthers in the summer of 2007.

"Sure, there were times when I thought this wasn't going to happen," admitted Murphy, who is listed as 5-feet-10, which might in fact be the case when he is in skates and on his toes, "but I didn't let myself get bummed because I didn't think about it that much.

"Obviously I wanted to get back here if I could. But I didn't look at it like I was upset to play there. It's a good living and it's good hockey, so I was enjoying it."

Florida's coach Jacques Martin was impressed.

"Finland is the most physical league in Europe, probably the closest league to the NHL," Martin said. "He spent a lot of years over there and he matured, and with the new rules and the success he's had we felt he had the ability to help us offensively."

Unfortunately Murphy was unable to find the same success at the NHL level. He would play in 91 games, scoring nine goals and thirty six points. His NHL trial was negatively affected by a troublesome shoulder injury.

Murphy would return to Europe in 2010 to further explore the continent. He would play in Switzerland, Russia and Sweden.

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