The growth and success of the USA in gymnastics, soccer and other sports, including hockey in the early days, has been helped along and fueled by the talents of coaches from other nations. So it is that China recently came calling to one of Rhode Island’s favorite daughters, Margaret Digidio Murphy, to build its fledgling women’s hockey program.
“Digit”, as she has been fondly nicknamed, is a pioneer in women’s hockey. She grew up playing the game with her hometown Cranston Panthers.
She graduated from Cranston East High School before becoming a four-year starter at Cornell University. There, she was voted team captain for the Big Red as both a junior and senior, earning three All-Ivy 1st Team selections and leading her team to two Ivy League titles.
In 1981, she was named “Ivy League Player of the Year” and finished her career with 123 goals and 90 assists. Elected into Cornell’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994, the women’s hockey MVP Award at Cornell is named after her.
After college, coaching soon came calling. She took the helm of Brown’s women’s hockey program in 1989. In 1997, she won the ECAC/KOHO and the New England Hockey Writers’ “Coach of the Year” awards. During the 2006-07 season, a 3-1 victory over Boston University made Murphy, at that time, the winningest coach in Division I women’s hockey history. Over that time, her teams captured 6 ECAC and 5 Ivy League titles. She ended her collegiate coaching career with 318 wins.
Murphy has also played a pivotal role in women’s international and professional hockey. She coached the U.S. National Team at the Lake Placid Olympic Festival in 2004 and was an assistant at the 1992 IIHF Women’s World Championships and the 1996 Three Nations Tournament. In addition, she was a member of the 1998 Olympic Selection Committee.
She became head coach and general manager of the Boston Blades for the 2012-13 Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) season, leading the franchise to the 2013 & 2015 Clarkson Cup championships, along with an appearance in the 2014 finals. Murphy was named the 2013 CWHL “Coach of the Year” and was the winning coach for Team Red in the inaugural Canadian Women’s Hockey League All-Star Game.
She currently serves as the Head Coach and head of development for the Chinese Women’s Hockey Team. She is the driving force behind that nation’s goal of competing for a women’s hockey medal at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
In preparation for those Games, the 56-year-old travelled between North America and China 14 times this season, leading her Kunlun Red Star, one of two Chinese expansion teams in the CWHL, to the Clarkson Cup finals. To get there, she skated a combination of Western imports and Chinese nationals.
She became the de facto manager of hockey operations for China after accepting the coaching position just after her first-ever visit there last year. She immediately helped to select the CWHL for KRS to join, and began recruiting players. She’s also tabbed to be the next coach of the Chinese Olympic women’s team, which she believes will medal in 2022.
She’s poured every ounce of her personality and infectious energy into growing the women’s game in a country that remains a mystery in the hockey world, but one that is eager to tap the sport’s best resources, like Murphy.
“China has set a new standard for women’s sports,” she says. “The number of fans they’ve brought in in one year with such a progressive mindset and such a magnitude of resources is a dream come true.
“China is very passionate about winning,” says Murphy. “They’re results driven. I’m a little more process driven. We have a common goal. China wants to win. When you have a great process, the winning happens.”
With Digit Murphy behind the bench, we have no doubt.