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The road less traveled: ASU's Ty Murchison excelling despite non-traditional hockey path

Craig Morgan Avatar
September 18, 2021

Ty Murchison’s ice hockey origin story is marketing gold. The Sun Devils defenseman is like a walking advertisement for non-traditional markets.

For starters, Murchison didn’t play ice hockey until he was 11. He played roller hockey. He grew up in Corona, California, southeast of L.A.. His dad, Ken, who did play pro ice hockey (including a stint for Liam Kirk’s Sheffield Steelers), owned a roller rink.

“We had no intention of Ty ever going to ice,” Ken Murchison said. “We just wanted him to play and have fun.”

When L.A. Jr. Kings coach James Gasseau spotted Ty at a roller tournament, he went to work on the Murchisons, trying to change their mind. Ty didn’t really know how to ice skate, but he had size, speed, skill, smarts and shooting ability that Gasseau knew would translate. After multiple phone calls, Gasseau eventually won his war of attrition. Ty showed up at a Jr. Kings practice several weeks into the 2014-15 season, where teammate Aidan Hreschuk tried to teach him how to do something he never had to do on rollerblades: stop.

The tutelage took time, so Murchison announced his arrival on the ice hockey scene with a bang at the prestigious Bauer Invitational in Chicago.

“Two weeks into my ice career we’re playing in this elite tournament and I still couldn’t stop,” Murchison said with a sheepish but amused grin. “I absolutely laid this kid out, but not because I was trying to. That was the only way I could stop.”

Ty Murchison in his first season with the Jr. Kings. (Photo courtesy of Ken Murchison)

Hreschuk still doesn’t buy that version of the story. 

“I think we were playing the number one team in Canada with really fast players coming down on him,” said Hreschuk, now a freshman defenseman for Boston College. “It was in the neutral zone around the blue line. There was a turnover and this forward picked up the puck and just turned around, started doing some crossovers and picked up speed with his head down. Ty couldn’t transition backwards, but I still think he meant to hit him, truly to this day. He had no other choice and he just blew this kid up when there were pretty much no hits being thrown at that age group.” 

As Murchison made his way to the penalty box, he caught Hreschuk’s eye.

“I felt so bad, but Aidan is looking at me like, ‘Atta boy!” Murchison said, laughing. 

From that point, Murchison’s progress was exponential. He became a go-to guy in clutch situations for the Jr. Kings. Four years into his on-ice foray, he caught the attention of USA Hockey at a tournament at Notre Dame. Murchison impressed the staff through a series of pressure-packed camps filled with the best kids in the nation, and he signed a two-year agreement to play for the United States National Training Development Program.

In July, the Philadelphia Flyers selected him with the 158th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. And in January, despite offers from more established Division I programs, Murchison committed to Arizona State, where he will play this fall.

Ty Murchison played two exhibition games for the NTDP against Arizona State at Oceanside Ice Arena last season.
(Photo courtesy of USA Hockey)

“He was a huge get,” Sun Devils coach Greg Powers said. “He’s big, he can skate, he can defend, and he has a way better skill set than he has been able to show playing on such a talented team. He has been given a role and succeeded in it, but he has way more to bring.”

Powers’ opinion is echoed by USA NTDP assistant coach Mike Leone, who coaches the defensemen.

“He does have good puck skills and I think a lot of that came from roller,” Leone said. “He probably didn’t get as much power-play time here as he would have somewhere else because we have the 25 best players in the country in their age group, and everyone on their respective teams was probably a power-play guy, but he can develop and become a power-play guy. He has a good shot. He moves pucks well, he has really good stick skills. That’s why he got drafted in the NHL.”

Skills aside, the base of Murchison’s game is his skating. It’s an irony that isn’t lost on him after that incident in Chicago, but it is something he worked on with private instructors in the Los Angeles area, and again with Jr. Kings coach Glen Murray, who carved out a 1,009-game NHL career.

“What I tried to work on with him was just the little things that he’d need to succeed at the higher levels like picking the right time to jump up into the play, when you should hit somebody, controlling his gaps, and understanding that sometimes, the first pass is the best pass,” Murray said.

“He has such a good head on his shoulders that he can read quickly if the first option is not there, and he knows where the second and third options are — and sometimes the third option is his legs, because he can skate it out of trouble and I think that’s going to be his greatest attribute when he does turn pro. I think his legs are going to get him out of a lot of trouble. I’m not saying he’s going to get in a lot of trouble, but it will help him when he does.”

Murchison arrived in Arizona at the end of June to prepare for the Sun Devils’ final season at Oceanside Ice Arena, which begins on Oct. 2 against UMass Lowell. He is living with sophomore defenseman Tim Lovell and two other members of a talented freshman class — Jackson Niedermayer and Josh Doan — that has Powers pointing toward bigger things when ASU moves into its new arena next season.

“We like to eat at Daily Jam for breakfast, we like Chick-fil-A and we have spent an absurd amount of money at Chipotle,” Murchison said of his roommates’ habits. “We like to rollerblade at night. We rollerblade all around campus but we always go up to the top of the parking garage right next to where the new rink is being built to check out the progress. Then we’ll make our way down through Palm Walk, Tempe Town Lake and just kind of rip around there; have some fun.”

Photo courtesy of Ken Murchison

For the first time in seven years, Murchison won’t have his running mate, Hreschuk, at his side, but the two still keep in touch via text messages and Snapchat.

“I definitely tried to get him to come to B.C.,” Hreschuk said. “He could have pretty much gone to any program in the country but I guess he just fell in love with ASU and that’s probably a really good fit for him. That program is going to take off in the next two years, and it’s game over when the arena gets built. Top guys like him are going to be the first ones to go there and they’re going to set off a chain reaction where it’s just going to be the new norm and it will be a powerhouse.”

“It would have been cool to have a BC-ASU game this year so I could play him, but I’m gonna see him in the summer and we’ll be playing roller hockey. We’ll always keep in touch.”

Keeping in touch won’t be a problem for Murchison’s parents, Ken and Allyson. When Ty made the NTDP team, Ken sold his business and the couple moved to Michigan to watch Ty play. Now that Ty is in Arizona?

“We’ve moved to Arizona,” Ken said, laughing. “We’ve been here for about three weeks. It’s funny. We were ready for a change from California and we wanted to raise Ty through high school. We loved Michigan for two years, but there was nothing really keeping us there and my wife really enjoys the West Coast. We want to watch college hockey and the college experience for Ty so we are in Arizona, just in time for hockey season.”

The Murchisons still haven’t fully grasped their son’s meteoric rise over the past seven years. They have been there every step of the way, but it still feels surreal to be talking about pro hockey just seven years after rebuffing multiple phone calls from Gasseau.

“It was never planned and I guess that’s probably what has made it so special,” Ken said. “I loved the time that the whole family spent at the rink that I was running and owned, so just to see it kind of blossom from there and take on a whole new life, it has been fun, we’ve met a lot of great people along the way and we have really enjoyed it. 

“That’s why we’re here. We want to watch as much as possible. It has certainly been an unexpected path, but it has also been really satisfying.”

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