The UK Ice Hockey Hall of fame announced their class of 2023 on 19th December and one of this year’s four inductees is goalie Stephen Murphy who, through his glittering 23 year career, spent his formative years with the Fife Flyers.
Season 1998/99 and the Flyers goalie tandem throughout the first half of the season was Kirkcaldy born Ricky Grubb and the somewhat enigmatic Frantisek Neckar. Frank was Czechia born having played all of his senior hockey in France and he provided some highlight moments that season but all was not well with how he was fitting in with the rest of the team both on and off the ice. The final notable incident came in the home game against the Paisley Pirates at the end of November when he decided he had had enough and simply walked off the ice leaving Ricky Grubb to come in in relief. Afterwards he cited his reason as a respiratory issue caused by the fumes of the zamboni but this was enough for coach Mark Morrison to wield the axe and run with Grubb as the starting goalie with Colin Hamilton coming in as his understudy. The Flyers continued to struggle for consistency that season and further changes were made including the signings of Steve Brown, John Coyle and Todd Dutiaume. Those additions were tempered however by Mark Morrison breaking his ankle in a game against the Basingstoke Bison on the last Saturday of January.
At this time, 17 year old Stephen Murphy was playing in the Scottish National League for the Glasgow Dynamos and he got the call from Fife when Colin Hamilton walked out on the club as he was disappointed at what he was getting out of the arrangement with the Flyers. The Flyers were actually enjoying one of their more productive periods of the season having won their last four games since the Morrison injury and were due to face the Kingston Hawks at Kirkcaldy on 13th February with Grubb starting and Murphy as his back up. The Flyers made it five in a row with a 6-3 win.
The following weekend the Flyers run came unstuck as they faced the Peterborough Pirates at the Auld Barn. Games against the Pirates were interesting encounters in those days and they were resurgent at that time having made their own netminding change signing Dan Dennis who up to the 52nd minute mark of the game was riding a shutout in a 4-0 Pirates lead. At that point Mark Morrison decided that it was time to give his teenage back up some ice time. On stepped Murphy and faced four shots the rest of the way as the Flyers eventually broke the shutout to lose 4-1. The next night the Flyers made the long trek to play the Slough Jets and with Murphy as backup he watched the Flyers get blanked 4-0 in a game that was much closer than the scoreline suggested. Murphy made his starting debut the following midweek when a bout of tonsillitis laid Grubb low for the Tuesday night home game against the Edinburgh Capitals. Facing 32 shots he gave a confident and plucky display in a 6-3 win and even managed to pick up his first assist. It was noted by many onlookers that he was “one for the future” – you can’t say that Flyers fans are anything but perceptive. Two nights later the kid in net had to carry the load again but the team as a whole were no match for the Telford Tigers as they lost 5-1 in Shropshire.
Stephen made his third consecutive start that Saturday as the Flyers hosted the Edinburgh Capitals in the Scottish Cup final in front of the television cameras. Veteran Bernie McCrone was drafted in to back up the teenager with Ricky Grubb too ill to dress. It was another assured performance by the rookie although the Flyers generally made heavy weather of securing the win with the game being settled by a late empty netter for a 6-4 Flyers win. There were two regular season games remaining and a banged up Flyers squad lost both with Murphy in net. With Ricky Grubb ruled out for the rest of the season the Flyers were keen to acquire an experienced netminder to go into the play offs with but they were also very quick to publicly declare that the teenager “had done a heck of a job since coming in and deserved a chance to go in the playoffs”. Considering where he had been playing just five weeks ago he was now holding his own in a semi-professional league and facing a lot of rubber in the process. Mark Morrison tried for Paisley’s Craig Lindsay but the deal fell through but they returned to the fallout yet again at Telford Tigers who indicated at the end of the regular season that they would be temporarily closing down and so Joe Watkins was available to sign on the eve of the Flyers opening play-off match against the Peterborough Pirates. The Pirates naturally questioned the legality of the move but it was an emergency situation and all within the regulations. In the six game “Group of Death” Watkins was the starter in all of them as the Flyers secured second spot behind the Champion Slough Jets to take a place at the Final weekend in Hull. A young Murphy watched from the bench as the Flyers fairytale end to the season saw them lift British National League silverware with a semifinal win against the Guildford Flames before an epic encounter against the Slough Jets which climaxed in a dramatic sudden death penalty shootout victory. A fitting way for the Flyers to end their 60th Anniversary season.
An interesting footnote at this point to the season was the announcement of the induction to the Hall of Fame of a Flyers legend – Gordon Latto. We will return at the end of this article to the other Hall of Fame entries who have Flyers connections.
The season for Stephen at this stage however wasn’t over as he was in GB U18 action in the World Championships which unfortunately ended in relegation for the British youngsters.
The following season and Mark Morrison was quick to make a move in the summer to sign Stephen with the view that he and Ricky Grubb would compete for the starting position. “Murph” would grab the opportunity with both hands however and would end another remarkable season having started or played in around 80% of the Flyers matches. The first month of the season and the two goalies were commonly used on a game each rotation but as we moved into October Stephen became the recognized starter for the rest of the season although he missed three games around the end of the year as he helped the GB U20’s to a third place in Nagano, Japan, in the World Championship Pool C tournament.
The following season and Mark Morrison was quick to make a move in the summer to sign Stephen with the view that he and Ricky Grubb would compete for the starting position. “Murph” would grab the opportunity with both hands however and would end another remarkable season having started or played in around 80% of the Flyers matches. The first month of the season and the two goalies were commonly used on a game each rotation but as we moved into October Stephen became the recognised starter for the rest of the season although he missed three games around the end of the year as he helped the GB U20’s to a third place in Nagano, Japan, in the World Championship Pool C tournament.
It was a season to savour as a Flyers fan and one in which Mark Morrison assembled arguably one of the greatest ever Fife teams and steered it to an incredible Grand Slam: the National League, Championship play-off crown, NTL Cup and a fifth Scottish Cup. Morrison returned with Morris and Dutiaume and added Ted Russell on defence from Peterborough and Russell Monteith in his first season outside of North America. The chemistry in the team was almost instantaneous and that appeared to be the deciding factor over other challengers such as Stan Marple’s Guildford Flames and Randy Smith’s often out of control Peterborough Pirates. The Benson and Hedges competition was even more convoluted than the previous season. Suffice to say the Flyers lost to Basingstoke in the Plate semi. In the league the Flyers were chased all the way by Guilford and by the narrowest margin of two points from a couple of OT losses the Flyers won the title. They were helped along the way by the record breaking Russell Monteith who shattered the club record for powerplay goals with 38 on the season. Bill Moody re-joined the team early in the New Year and by that time the Flyers had added the Christmas Cup to the trophy cabinet when they beat Basingstoke 6-5 on aggregate. Peterborough remained dangerous opponents but Fife topped their playoff group to go through to meet Solihull in the semi. Fife won both legs to meet the Bison in a best of five series which was over in quick fashion. A 6-3 win in Kirkcaldy in game one was followed by a crucial 2-1 win on the road the following night. The following Friday night Fife rounded off their season in Kirkcaldy with a 2-1 win to clinch the trophy with Steven King playing with a double broken jaw. Morrison won a post war equalling third Coach of the Year and John Haig once again topped the list of British points scorers.
For Stephen Murphy, well he cleaned up in all the categories of the national awards in his rookie year winning Player of the Year, Coach’s Player of the Year, Players Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year whilst also being named to the British National League All Star team and winning the prestigious Mirror of Merit Award. He also posted three shutouts during the season. His first being on a historic night against the Slough Jets on the road on 28th November when the Flyers played, at that time, their only goalless regulation game with the only goal an Andy Samuel winner coming for Fife in overtime. He also blanked the Basingstoke Bison and Hull Thunder at home.
Unsurprisingly the season that had just gone got Stephen some attention and in the summer it was announced that he had secured an opportunity with the Omaha Lancers in Nebraska. He ventured to North America to attend one of the late summer camps and his endeavors paid off as he won a spot with the Cleveland Barons of the North American Hockey League. He played 14 games for the Barons before making a return to the UK at the start of 2001. His return created a buzz around the hockey circuit with claim and counter claim between the Newcastle Jesters, who thought they were in pole position top capture his signature and the Flyers who believed that his registration was still held by them. Regardless on 13th January Murphy was back between the Flyers pipes in a home game against the Edinburgh Capitals and picked up where he left off with a sparkling 29 save shutout in a 5-0 win. He would go on to start the rest of the regular season games as the Flyers narrowly missed out on retaining their league title from the previous season. They suffered further disappointment in the playoffs as they failed to qualify for the Final weekend and Murphy was back up in the final play-off game against the Hull Thunder at Kirkcaldy on 18th March. He played in a challenge game the following weekend against the Dundee Tigers. In the summer he made the move to the new start Dundee Stars for the 2001/02 season meaning his last competitive game for the Flyers was a 3-2 overtime defeat at the Slough Jets on 17th March.
Stephen Murphy appeared in 86 competitive games for the Flyers recording eight shutouts and registering three points.
As mentioned above along with Gordon Latto there are a number of other ex-Flyers players who have been inducted to the UK Ice Hockey Hall of Fame. A brief summary of their Flyers careers are as follows:
Ally Brennan – Ally played forward and defence and played in seven seasons during the 1970’s.
Jimmy Chappell – Jimmy played in the Flyers inaugural season of 1938/39, his only at the club.
Tim Cranston – Tim only played eight games as injury cover for the Flyers in season 1988/89 but still managed 20 goals
Jack Dryburgh – Jack never played for the senior Flyers side despite playing in their junior system but was both Flyers coach/manager and rink manager for many years after his playing days mainly down south were over.
Ian Forbes – Player coach in the Championship winning 1963/64 season “Eeny” played five seasons with the Flyers.
Moray Hanson – Moray played just the one season for the Flyers, 1992/93 following the clubs return from the First Division.
Lawrie Lovell – Law spent 15 seasons with the Flyers and his appointment of coach was a seminal moment in the birth of the highly successful teams of the 1970’s.
Les Lovell – Les spent 12 seasons at Fife registering 654 points from his 258 games, Les also coached the Flyers.
Jim Lynch – Jim was another who played an coached the Flyers over his six years during the 1980’s
Joe McIntosh – Joe saw 14 years of service at Fife and yet again also became a coach whilst also helping greatly with Junior development in Fife.
Steve Moria – The ‘Peter Pan’ of hockey Steve spent two prolific seasons at Fife in the mid 1980’s
Bill Sneddon – Bill was involved with the restart of Flyers hockey in the early 1960’s and also had a short and colourful time as Flyers coach.
Floyd Snider – Floyd was a classy defenceman who starred for the post war Flyers over seven seasons.
Jimmy Spence – Part of the prolific “Perth Line” Jimmy was with the club for five seasons.
The full details of those and all other players can be found here: UK Ice Hockey Hall of Fame