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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Interview With VanMurph

To celebrate Sunshine State Hockey reaching ten followers (now eleven) I decided to do something special for my readers. I got in touch with my good friend Murphy, also known as VanMurph around Panthers hockey, and asked if he would be willing to do an interview to help celebrate reaching ten followers. Murph was happy to participate, and today I am happy to bring you the results of our interview. Every time SSH reaches +10 more followers (10, 20, 30, etc.) I will do my best to grab an interview or bring you something special involving someone (or something) involved in the Panthers organization. So if you want to see more features like this, go out and get your friends to follow Sunshine State Hockey.

Ok enough promoting the site, lets get down to business.

Sunshine State Hockey: "In your line of work I am sure you get to fly all over the world. Which destination is your favorite to fly to?"

VanMurph: "I enjoy flying to many places, but my very favorite is Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s such a beautiful city. I have many fond memories from Vancouver (and some not-so fond ones, like the Panthers 5-3 loss there last December)."

You know, there are some things that just stick in your mind… Once back in the very early 1990’s I was in Vancouver in the middle of August, and it was really hot that day. A bunch of us from the crew were walking around downtown and decided to stop for something to drink. We walked into a pub and had a seat. The pub was dark and quite well air-conditioned. I decided to have myself a big ole’ glass of Labatt’s Blue
(It was the first time I’d ever decided to have a Canadian beer). When the server put that frosted mug of Canada’s best in front of me, I felt like an honorary Canuck! It was the single-best glass of beer I’ve ever had in my life…"

VanMurph Dropping The Puck.

SSH: "Do you follow any other sports as much as you do hockey?"

VM: "The simple answer is: Not even close. I grew up playing baseball, and I went to college on a baseball scholarship. I was a dyed-in-the-wool Atlanta Braves fan from the time I was old enough to talk. I’ve been told that my first word after “Mama” was “Braves”. But since I moved to South Florida from Chicago in 1999, I’ve tried to become a Marlins fan. Not being one to jump on a bandwagon, it’s been kind of tough to make the transition. Over time though, I’ve begun to loyally follow the Marlins. I think the biggest reason I have an affinity for them is because even in their own city, they’re underdogs. They can be in first place and riding high, but the only time they have good crowds is when they’re playing teams from the northeast (and all of the transplants head out to the ballpark to watch “their” team play against the Marlins).

I’m also a pretty big fan of the NFL, and I grew up an Atlanta Falcons fan. But much the same as with the Braves, not being able to attend their games as often as I did when I was a kid, I’ve grown apart from them. In Chicago I became an avid Bears fan, but again, my heart was in Atlanta. However, when I moved to Broward County, Dave Wannstedt was coaching the Dolphins, and since they were in the AFC, I adopted them as my “second” team behind Atlanta. Now, though, I follow the Dolphins exclusively.

But as passionate as I’ve ever been about baseball or football, they absolutely pale in comparison to the enthusiasm and fanaticism I have for hockey, and for the Panthers in particular. This is the greatest sport on the planet! When I try to give an explanation to the question of why I love it so much, I always come up short of an adequate explanation. It’s like trying to describe a sunset to someone who’s never seen one. The words just don’t do it justice; you just have to witness it for yourself."

SSH: Let's say Vanessa (VanMurph's wife) changed her favorite team from the Panthers to a rival team, what would you do?

VM: "Well, let me tell you, this is about as hypothetical a question as I’ve ever attempted to answer, because Vanessa is a HUGE fan of the Panthers! She enjoys hockey nights almost as much as I do. But let’s say she decided to follow another team… I think we’d have fun with it. We’d probably be like a couple who had attended rival universities before we met. There would be some good-natured ribbing, and some wacky bets taking place when our teams played each other. I’d be pulling for the Panthers extra-hard, because if they lost to Vanessa’s favorite team, I would probably end up being forced to do the yard work in a tutu or a Halloween costume…"

VanMurph with wife Vanessa.

SSH: "Have you been impressed with the off-season moves that the Panthers have made so far?"

VM: "Well, I don’t know if “impressed” is exactly the right word I’d use at the moment. I’ll tell you this. So far I haven’t really been disappointed. I sincerely hope there’s more to come, but up to now, I think Randy Sexton has done an admirable job in the role of interim General Manager. He was able to get “something” for Bouwmeester when it appeared that we would be getting absolutely nothing in return for him. Getting Leopold under contract wasn’t exactly a slam-dunk, but Sexton was able to do it (I think Keith Ballard gets the first assist on that one though). Sexton also went into the draft and took the best player available in the first round, then he proceeded to pick nothing but forwards in the remaining rounds (something which this organization desperately needs).

We’ve also been able to get David Booth and Radek Dvorak under contract. Booth’s signing in particular was exactly what the doctor ordered for this franchise.

On the downside, we’ve yet to secure a scoring forward (although there’s still plenty of time for that), and we allowed a couple of key pieces of last year’s team (and big-time fan favorites) to leave the organization (Anderson and Skrastins). Over all though, considering all the variables, I’d give the off-season moves SO FAR somewhere between a C+ to a B-."

SSH: "For those of us that know you, we know you have a rather large jersey collection; of those jerseys, which is your favorite, and why?"

VM: "My very favorite jersey is probably the new-style Panthers home jersey. I think it’s subconsciously my favorite because that’s the one I see my favorite team playing in the most. My second favorite is probably the gold Panthers jersey by Starter. I love that one because a group of my close friends (Carl, Jerry, and Vinny) all decided to get them and have them personalized in the same custom-made color scheme I used on mine. It’s also the jersey that Mad Cow wears in the arena. I was really touched when the Panthers’ Game-Presentation folks decided to use that jersey in homage to the founding members of the Cowbell Club.

I started collecting jerseys from around the NHL for one reason, and one reason only: When I visit another arena, and the Panthers are NOT playing there that night, I wanted to be able to show respect to the home team’s fans by wearing that team’s jersey. A pet peeve of mine is seeing people in the arena wearing the jersey of a team that isn’t playing that night. I started collecting jerseys, and now I have at least one from every team in the NHL (yes… even the Habs), and several from minor league teams around the country. My favorite non-Panthers NHL jersey is my old-school black and green Phoenix Coyotes jersey. And last but not least, my favorite minor league jersey is from the Amarillo Gorillas. My Mom and Dad actually bought it for me when they went to their very first professional hockey game last season. They wanted to see what I was so excited about, so they bought tickets and went to a game. They sent me the jersey as a thank-you for introducing them to hockey!"

SSH: "What do you have to say to all the negative fans out there who are turning their backs on the Panthers this off-season? (From what I read there seems to be quite a few)."

VM: "Actually, I understand the negativity. It’s annoying, and it’s really, REALLY getting old, but I do understand why people are disappointed. They’re passionate fans of this team, and they’ve not had anything to be proud of since Bill Clinton was in the Oval Office. Wanting to win is just human nature, so a decade of not winning has begun to take its toll on the fan base.

I just can’t live like that though. I cannot imagine not trying to find a positive in all of this. When I was a little kid, I was out with my dad at the baseball field. I remember stepping in a pile of poo and just stopping and standing there looking down at my misfortune… My dad trotted by and didn’t miss a beat; he just said, “Well, at least you were wearing shoes”. That’s the way I’ve always tried to look at things. There are plenty of positive things about the Panthers out there, and at the top of that list is Coach Peter DeBoer. I sincerely believe that he ll get the most out of this team. Just look at last year’s Western Canada trip; we went into Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, and Carolina and played those teams very well on the road with a lineup of AHL guys.

I really think this season has the potential to be great. Despite all the negativity to the contrary, I think guys like Frolik, Horton (save it, I’ve heard it all before), Weiss, Booth, Campbell, Dvorak, Ballard, McCabe, Allen, and others will have good seasons, and we’ll be just fine.

I guess if there’s just one thing I’d say to all of the negative folks, it’s just wait and see. Let’s give the guys another chance to prove themselves before we throw this season under the bus."

SSH: "Out of the current players on the roster, whom do you see as the face of this franchise currently, why?"

VM: "Without question: David Booth. He’s the epitome of what this team is about. The guy works harder than anyone else on the ice. He’s the first one out there, and the last one back in the dressing room. He’s committed to the Panthers, and now that he’s under contract for at least the next 6 seasons, the Panthers are committed to him. He’s a good-lookin’ kid too, so that doesn’t hurt.

I also think Keith Ballard (another guy under contract for 6 seasons) would be an excellent candidate to be a face of the franchise. =2 0He’s a young guy, a hard worker, and a play maker. If you made a highlight reel of his terrific plays from last season, you’d need at least 20 minutes to watch it. Put Ballard AND Booth in an advertising campaign and you’d have a real crowd pleaser."

SSH: "In your travels you have gone to a lot of arenas. Besides the BankAtlantic Center, which is your favorite and why?"

VM: "Before last season I would’ve said the Bell Center in Montreal. I love their passion and knowledge of the game. But after the way their fans behaved during the playoffs (booing the American National Anthem), I lost a lot of respect for them.

Vancouver is a great place to watch a hockey game. Actually, all of the Canadian cities are. But in Vancouver, I actually got goose bumps watching the crowd react to the game. When Craig Anderson let in a couple of soft goals, it was amazing to watch 20,000 people start chanting in unison, “ANNNNN-DERRRRR-SONNNNN, ANNNNN-DERRRRR-SONNNNN.” I felt horrible for Craig, but at the same time, I couldn’t believe how awesome the crowd participation was up there!

There are also a ton of great places to watch hockey games in the US. Some of my favorites are: Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Raleigh, and Chicago."

VanMurph cheering on the Cats.

SSH: "Everyone knows Tanguay is at the top of every Panthers fan’s list. What do you think he could bring to the team that has fans so interested in him?"

VM: "Honestly, I think the reason everyone jumped on the Tanguay thing is simply because it was put out in the media that we were pursuing him. Had it not been for that rumor, I don’t think we’d be seeing all of this fervor. It was funny to watch it happen. Tanguay wasn’t even on the radar of most Panthers fans on one day, and the next day I heard people threatening not to renew their tickets if we didn’t sign him. I don’t think Tanguay is the savior of this organization, and quite frankly, I don’t know if he’s worth the 5 million dollars per season he’s reportedly trying to get. Only time will tell. I definitely think he’s a dynamic player who, if healthy, has the potential to be a high-octane addition to any team. For proof of that, you need look no further than last season to see what he’s capable of. His 41 points in 50 games in ’08-’09 shows why there is a bidding war for his services.

Although I’m not willing to overpay him, I would happily welcome Tanguay with open arms to the Panthers. But if he doesn’t choose to accept the offer the Panthers are reported to have on the table, I’ll just dismiss that option and start looking forward to who else is available, either in free agency or the via a trade, to help make our team better."

SSH: "This question is similar to question 3. What do you say to people who dislike the cowbell?"

VM: "Well, I know there are people on both sides of the issue, and I’ve sort of become the lightning rod for all of the complaints. I feel their pain, and I understand their issue with the cowbells. In general, they can be annoying when not used with a bit of consideration for the people seated around you. For instance, I’ve seen people who’ll sit and clang away even when there’s nothing happening on the ice that would warrant the ringing of the bell. That can really get under people’s skin, and can wreak havoc on your neighbor’s ability to enjoy the game. I tend to look at ringing my cowbell as another means to make noise when I’m already on my feet cheering. In other words, if it’s not a time that I’d normally be clapping, it’s not a time to ring the cowbell.

I first brought the cowbell into the BankAtlantic Center because I was hoarse and simply couldn’t cheer any louder. I wanted to be able to show audible support for my team, even though my vocal cords had failed me. Never in a hundred years would I have envisioned that simple gesture catching on so quickly and with such a vengeance. It still makes me feel proud when I walk through the concourse and hear the clinking of cowbells as people pass by. I’m delighted to have been a part of something that allows the team I love to hear their fans’ support.

In all honesty, for every complaint I’ve heard about the cowbells, I’ve seen dozens of people in the arena with a bell around their neck. You can’t please everybody, and hopefully the people who don’t like the ringing of the cowbells will find a happy medium, because unfortunately for them, I don’t think the cowbells are going away in the near future."

SSH: "If there is one thing you could change about the Panthers, what would it be, and why?"

VM: "If I could wave a magic wand and make changes, I’d make us perennial contenders for the Stanley Cup. But from a practical standpoint, if given an opportunity to realistically change one thing about the Panthers, I would immediately re-hire Denis Potvin, and I would increase his visibility within the organization.

I don’t know any of the private details of his firing earlier in the year. I only know the reasons that were given publicly, and in my opinion, those reasons didn’t warrant the release of a man who’s been here since day one, and who is one of the few hockey legends ever to have been associated with the Panthers. Denis Potvin offered an air credibility to the organization, and his termination is something I would immediately reverse."

SSH: "If there is one thing you could change about the NHL, (rule, penalty, etc.), what would it be and why?"

VM: "As much as I love the excitement of the shootout, I’d do away with it. Instead of having a skills competition to decide an NHL game after a five-minute 4-on-4 period, I’d go to 3-on-3 five-minute periods until somebody put the puck in the net. I think it’d be an awfully exciting way to have a game decided. Throw in a penalty or two, and the place would really be rockin’! Can you imagine a 3-on-1 in the 4th overtime period? If we were on offense, it’d be really exhilarating! If we were on defense, imagine the hero status that would be bestowed upon Ballard and T-Vo if they held the line and fought off a 3-on-1 for two minutes…"

SSH: "Last question, favorite Ice Dancer?"

VM: "Well, this is a tough one… Since I’m friends with many of the Ice Dancers, I don’t want to have any of them thinking I don’t love them equally… So, I’ll just say that there is a 20-way tie for my favorite!"

SSH: "Thank you Murphy for taking the time to do this interview. If any of my readers would like to read more from VanMurph all you have to do is go over to the Florida Panthers official website and check out his blog, VanMurph's View."

There you have it folks. I hope everyone enjoyed the interview and I hope this gives incentive for people to spread the word about Sunshine State Hockey. The more followers the better product I can bring to you all.

I would just like to thank Murphy one last time for doing the interview. He took time out of his busy week while working his butt off at the flight academy in Texas to answer the questions. That shows you the dedication of a true hockey fan.

As always please feel free to E-mail any comments or questions to