Hockey | World Junior Championships
Longtime Dublin pals share gold-medal moment in Russia
Connor Murphy and Sean Kuraly became buddies the moment they met in 2004. Sons of Canadian parents and former hockey players, they were 10-year-old “rink rats” who became inseparable — on the ice, off the ice and in each other’s kitchens.
“They would spend just about every living moment together,” said former NHL defenseman Gord Murphy, Connor’s father. “They’d eat dinner at one of our houses — or both of them some nights — and then they’d play hockey in the street or in the basement until they just about fell over asleep.”
Only the pursuit of NHL careers could send the two away from Dublin three years ago at 16, but they never go more than a few days without trading text messages or phone calls.
These last two weeks, then, have been magical.
Murphy, a defenseman, and Kuraly, a center, were teammates for the United States, which won a gold medal yesterday in Ufa, Russia, after defeating Sweden in the world junior championships.
They are the first central Ohio players to reach the world juniors, an elite tournament for the best under-20 players in the world.
“To win a gold medal and sing the national anthem with your teammates … you see that and you dream about it,” said Connor Murphy, a first-round draft pick of Phoenix in 2011. “But to do it all with my best friend? Well, I just couldn’t be happier. This is a lifetime memory.”
Kuraly, a fifth-round pick of San Jose in 2011, was asked where he will keep his medal.
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “It’s got to come off from around my neck first.”
Kuraly’s family moved to Dublin in 1996, when he was 3 years old. Murphy came along in 2003, when his father was hired as an assistant coach of the Blue Jackets.
“Gord and I share a lot of the same philosophies when it came to coaching, and we both worked with the kids,” said Rick Kuraly, who grew up in Toronto and played at Miami University. “The kids have been pretty close, and they’ve encouraged each other and pushed each other. But they’ve also lived their own lives and pursued their dreams in the way that works best for them.”
Murphy and Kuraly could have left Columbus at a much younger age to pursue NHL dreams, perhaps at a prep school or a feeder program in Detroit, Cleveland or Pittsburgh. Instead, they stayed with the local travel programs organized by the Blue Jackets, including the AAA Ohio Blue Jackets.
“We’ve always felt that the grass isn’t necessarily greener everywhere else,” Murphy said. “We wanted to be a family first, and let the hockey happen as it was going to happen.”
Kuraly and Murphy played many games together on the practice rink at Nationwide Arena. They spent many weekend days watching the Blue Jackets practice, and many nights watching Jackets home games. Another buddy, Curt Fairholm, was the “third musketeer,” Kuraly said.
“We’d wait after the games for my dad to be ready,” Murphy said. “As a kid, it was awesome to be in the dressing room and have (former Jackets) Rick Nash or Rusty Klesla say hello to you.
“It gave us an idea of how big these guys are. It was a constant reminder of how hard we had to work.”
Murphy left in 2009-10 when he was chosen for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Kuraly departed a year later to play for Indiana of the United States Hockey League.
This past summer, both were committed to Miami University, but Murphy, who had suffered a series of injuries, opted to go play major-junior hockey in Sarnia, Ontario, so he could see more game action.
The reunion, in Russia, was worth the wait.
“In the back of my mind, I guess I always felt like we’d play together again,” Kuraly said. “So this is a dream come true … on a lot of different levels.
“He’s been a great friend. This was a great experience. And it’s going to be a great memory.”