Wednesday

Don Murdoch

To use the analogy of those "this is your brain on drugs" commercials where they use an egg to demonstrate their purpose - Wayne Gretzky is hockey's highest scoring "egg," therefore Don Murdoch is hockey's "egg" on drugs.

Don Murdoch was a budding sensation destined for superstardom. A first round pick, 6th overall, by the New York Rangers in 1976, Murdoch came off of back-to-back 80+ goal seasons with the Medicine Hat Tigers before entering the NHL. He was touted as hockey's next great scorer, and a sure hit on Broadway.

Murdoch didn't disappoint either. In his first 3 NHL games he scored 8 goals, including 5 in one game! He was well on his way to smashing the NHL record for rookie goals, with 14 goals in his first 14 games, 17 in his first 20 games, 25 in his first 32 games, and 30 in his first 43 games. The Rangers thought they had the second coming of Guy Lafleur.

However an ankle injury felled him for several games at mid season, costing him the record and rookie of the year honors. But it took away a lot more than that.

During his time away from the rink Don took full advantage of his celebrity in the bright lights of New York. He was nicknamed Murder by the Ranger faithful, and everyone wanted to buy him a drink. He frequented many bars and clubs, and took up many offers of free drinks, and even worse, other illegal substances. Soon enough Don Murdoch, hockey's brightest young star, was a kid with a alcohol and drug problem.

"I was in the lime light and my life was moving so fast I didn't even know where I was going. I fell in with the wrong crowd and that was a big mistake."

In August 1977, border authorities found 4.8 grams of cocaine on Murdoch at an airport in Toronto. With the trial delayed for over a year, the drug rap haunted Murdoch, slowing him to 27 goals and 55 points in 66 games.

When the trial finally proceeded in July of 1978, Murdoch was given a suspended sentence and a $400 fine. That was a slap on the wrist compared to what the NHL did to discipline Don. NHL President John Ziegler wanted to make an example of Murdoch so that other players would stay clear of drugs. He was suspended for an entire year.

Ziegler lifted the suspension after 40 games after Murdoch proved his problems were behind him. Murdoch was delighted and grateful, and eager to show the fans that old "Murder" Murdoch was back. Despite scoring a hat trick in his second game back, he never was able to recapture his form that made him the talk of the NHL in his first year. He spent one more season with the Rangers before being traded Gretzky's Oilers.

The Oilers traded a pretty good prospect named Cam Connor and a third round pick (who turned out to be Peter Sundstrom) to get Murdoch, in hopes that he could possibly be Gretzky's sidekick in Edmonton. BJ MacDonald, Gretzky's right winger in year one, wasn't seeing eye to eye with boss Glen Sather and was on his way out, so Slats figured Murdoch could be the perfect fit. However a rookie named Jari Kurri showed incredible chemistry with Gretzky right from day one of the season and Murdoch never found a place in Edmonton.

He was traded to Minnesota who consequently flipped him to Detroit. He played in only 49 more games before spending several seasons wondering what could have been in the minor leagues.

Murdoch has always regretted the way his career turned out. Still in the game at various levels as a scout and coach, he is always pulling aside young players to warn them of the dangers ahead.

"People have no idea what I went through as a 20-year-old kid," Murdoch told Chuck O'Donnell in a interview with Hockey Digest.. "I was strong mentally and that helped and I had great support from my family. And it worked its way through. I took a negative and changed it into a positive. When I was scouting and recruiting, I ran into kids I was going to talk to that I knew they had off-ice problems. I used to go tell them, `Listen, you better get it together or this is where you're going to be.' They would say, `What the hell does this guy know?' I would tell them my story. Once I told them my story, that I should have played 15 years in the NHL but my career was cut short because I didn't focus, I can see the look in their eyes like, `holy cow, this guy is the real deal right here.'"

"I tell them I got to the `Big City' with a pocket full of money and had a lot of people who I thought were my friends but weren't my friends. They were saying `Come on, have a drink, have a drink. Let's go out.' That's not the way to go."

12 comments:

Anonymous,  7:41 PM  

Whiskey and Ice don't mix.

Marinara 3:04 PM  

Hi Don,
This is Maria from Tampa. I am living in Brasil now.Kisses to you and Helga.

Pat D,  10:10 AM  

Don gave me a puck at my first hockey game. A pre-season game in Philly in October 1979. Made a lifelone hockey fan of me. Thanks Don!

Anonymous,  9:32 PM  

Don Saved my life when I was 4 in Cranbrook. I was attacked by a dog (cougar hound). I owe him my life.

Dennis Lee

Anonymous,  10:36 PM  

Hey Don u truly r a hero in the eyes of many not just in cranbrook but all over. I was just at game 3 of the Ices win over Sask, during an intermission Iwas involved in a great conversation with some good ole boys and you were the topic of the conversation and how it really dissapoints many that they dont have your sweater up on the wall of fame in the rec plex shame on them Donny you deserve that we all felt and we are going to do r best 2 c that one day will happen maybe scott and rob can help out with it! ps thankyou for the memories and the pics my little boys love you and want to be you when we play road hockey ps but i hope the Ice kick the tigers ass in the eastern final.Take care Don, Bobby.

Anonymous,  9:08 PM  

Don Murdoch was my favorite hockey player when I was young. He had such a great shot and had so much talent, a lot of fun to watch. I was rooting for him when things got rough and I was sad to see him leave the Rangers. I wonder what he is doing these days and hope he's doing well.

Frank L,  9:06 PM  

I met Don Murdoch some weeks ago, he is truly an awesome individual with a great personality!

Anonymous,  6:38 PM  

Don Murdock gave me a stick after an Adirondack Red Wing game. I still have it to this day. My son plays with it in fact. Thanks Don!

Anonymous,  12:41 PM  

I'm a former BCMHL player myself . My uncle Taught Don Murdock in Cranbrook Mount Baker High . Gym class teacher ,well known in Cranbrook also . I ( David ) was always proud of Don -- making the Big league , from Cranbrook BC . Playing with Rangers Ron Duagay /Top NHL player of that Era. Thanking Don for making the NHL ; not easy to make the cut .

Keith Fredrickson 7:41 PM  

Hey Don. I remember your moms meat pie at Christmas. You and Bobby showing me how to shoot. Never knew what happened with you and your career until just now. We all make mistakes, it what we do after them. You might not have gone as far as you wanted. But if not for you an your brother I wouldn't remember Christmas meat pie! Nelligan Clan says Hello.
Keith

Deb,  9:34 PM  

Hey Don, never had a chance to meet you but you knew my half brother "Gally". Never got to meet him either sadly but
I have the sense you were a great friend...thanks. Deb

Anonymous,  8:33 AM  

Don, I'm so glad to hear you are doing well now. I remember when you played for the Rangers and loved that team that went to the Stanley Cup finals in '79. You were a big part of that team with your talent. I miss those days when you were in New York. I wish you all the best. You were an awesome player and a great person. One of my all time favorite New York Ranger players! God Bless!

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