By Lane Mason

Women’s ice hockey has never been big, especially in the South, but while improvements have been made, there still aren’t many opportunities to advance post-college. The options are slim to none. Besides the Olympics, there are only two professional women’s ice hockey leagues: The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) and The Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), consisting of four and six teams, respectively. That’s a maximum of less than 250 professional women’s ice hockey players. Total. At least for the U.S., Canada, and China.

23-year-old Cary, NC native, Colleen Murphy was lucky enough to be picked as one of these professional women’s ice hockey players when she was officially drafted to the Buffalo Beauts of the NWHL on July 21.

Coming from North Carolina, Murphy started her hockey career first with boy’s roller hockey at age 8 and then transitioned to boy’s ice when the Hurricanes became more prevalent in 2002. However, eventually, Murphy had to move to girls in order to proceed with the game.

She first started with the Montgomery Blue Devils, traveling from Cary, NC to Montgomery, Maryland every week for games and practices.

“When I first played with my first girl’s team, my first girl’s game with Montgomery, I was not good at all because I couldn’t differentiate the game because it was so different and I should’ve been handling the puck more, skating with the puck more in girls, but that was just not what I was used to,” Murphy said. “It took a while.”

Murphy continued to play boys while she played girls ice hockey, typically preferring playing boys, but she knew it couldn’t last. Her freshman year of high school, Murphy was recruited to play for the North American Hockey Academy (NAHA) in Stowe, VT- a school whose objectives are to provide an alternative route for elite female hockey players to receive an excellent education while participating in a high performance hockey program.

Murphy played all four years at NAHA before being recruited to Northeastern University in Boston, MA where she won the Hockey East Championships her freshman year, and back to back Beanpot tournaments in 2012 and 2013.

But after graduating college in 2015, Murphy decided she was done with such a highly competitive style of play. She joined two adult men’s leagues as well as the women’s Carolina ACES, who have now become the Lady Hurricanes.

“I could’ve played after college in the league (NWHL), but I was done,” Murphy said. “I wanted to go home, start my career. I needed a break. I was completely ready to be like ‘I’m done, I’m gonna play for fun.’”

Though, playing “for fun” only lasted so long for Colleen Murphy as she starts practicing with the Buffalo Beauts at the beginning of October.

Robbie and Witley Nichols along with friend and ACES teammate as well as goalie for the Buffalo Beauts, Kelsey Neumann got Murphy to the point she’s at now- headed for the big leagues and playing as a defenseman for the reigning champions, the Buffalo Beauts.

When asked about it, Murphy said, “It was actually kind of random… I had a conversation with Robbie and Witley about the NWHL and if I had a chance to play in it. For awhile, Kelsey’s kind of been like ‘come play with us, come play with us,’ and I’ve been like ‘I don’t want to play,’ like I’m completely ready to just have fun down here (NC), play hockey down here, and do whatever. ‘Cause I don’t wanna play that competitively or move from NC.”

But one day, Murphy revisited the “so she thought” far-fetched idea of the Buffalo Beauts to Neumann via text.

“Somehow it came up again and I was like ‘just out of curiosity,’ I was like ‘uh, it’d kind of be cool to play again.’ Because the hockey down here with the girl’s Hurricanes is fun, but I miss the competition and the level. It’s competitive to an extent and it’s fun, but I missed the other side of the game,” Murphy said.

From there, it was simple. Murphy was put in touch with Buffalo Beauts’ coaches Craig Muni and Ric Seiling, and they quickly took her up on her offer to play- Murphy assuming her Northeastern experience said enough along with former teammates who are close contacts with the coaches.

Women’s hockey in North Carolina, and in the South, and in general, still isn’t huge, but people like Colleen Murphy are the ones who are making the difference.

Murphy said one of the biggest things for her going into her professional ice hockey career is to show the girls down here that even though you can only go so far, it’s worth it if you have the drive to play.

“My goal is just to challenge myself and see if I can come out of retirement and do this and make an impact and have fun playing the highest level of hockey, because I missed it so much,” Murphy said. “But also, for me, it’s a big thing to go out and get as much publicity for the NWHL and the Buffalo team as much as I can.”

Murphy said she wants to show the girls in North Carolina, “Like, ‘hey, I wasn’t really playing this high of level for the past two years, but if you train really hard and you want to do something, you can still go and do it.’”

Murphy’s first game with the Buffalo Beauts is scheduled for October 28 against the Connecticut Whale.