Women’s hockey to play game against Chinese professional team

Former Head Coach Digit Murphy, Maddie Woo ’17 to return to Meehan Auditorium with Red Star

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, October 12, 2017

Maddie Woo ’17, a former forward for the Brown women’s ice hockey team, returns to Meehan Auditorium with her new team, the Kunlun Red Star.

While the women’s hockey team will skate on a familiar arena Friday night, a new set of blades will also take the ice.

For the first time ever, the Bears will face off against a professional team in an exhibition game. Bruno will host the Kunlun Red Star, one of two teams based in China that are new members of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, at Meehan Auditorium.

The Red Star is over 7,000 miles from its home in Shenzhen, China, but its head coach will be well-accustomed to the view from the bench at Meehan. Margaret Degidio “Digit” Murphy returns to Brown, where she spent 18 seasons as the head coach of the women’s hockey team from 1994-2011. Murphy later served as head coach and general manager of the Boston Blades of the CWHL before taking her position with the Kunlun program this year.

In the 2006-2007 season, Murphy became the winningest coach in NCAA Division I women’s hockey history and would collect six ECAC and five Ivy League titles during her tenure. She has long been an advocate for the advancement of women’s sports, co-founding the United Women’s Lacrosse League, the first professional women’s lacrosse league in the U.S., in 2015.

For Murphy, the decision to coach women’s hockey internationally was not a career choice but a calling. With this position, she seeks to expand opportunities in hockey for young women globally and combat inequality in the sport.

“I feel like my whole body of work in my life has led up to this global initiative,” Murphy said.

Presently, there are fewer opportunities for women to play hockey professionally than there are for males. “A lot of times when you look at sports, the resource distribution is skewed heavily still towards men,” Murphy said.

“You’ve got to be very fearless in finding your voice and always advocating for doing the right thing, and the right thing is to have women play sports,” Murphy said. “My sons and my daughters should be equal when it comes to that.”

For another member of the Red Star, the ice at Meehan will be familiar. 2016-17 women’s hockey Captain Maddie Woo ’17 spent her collegiate career with the Bears before being drafted by the Red Star in the seventh round of the CWHL draft this summer.

Despite her illustrious record, Woo’s goodbye to Meehan was abrupt, coming when an injury sustained in the fifth game of the 2016-17 season brought her time in a Bears uniform to an end. Tonight, she will return to the ice she once called home for the first time since.

“I would never have imagined being able to come back to Brown so soon, let alone playing a game,” Woo said. “It’s unreal to think, but it’s even more exciting to come back with a team and a greater mission.”

Woo’s decision to play professionally in China takes on a deeper significance for her as well, as she reflected on her own personal desire to be a part of the effort to expand youth hockey for women on a global level.

“Having us all come together for the sheer purpose of growing hockey globally, having a love for the sport, wanting to compete and wanting to get better is just truly exciting,” Woo said.

The Kunlun Red Star and its Chinese peer, the Vanke Rays, were established in June 2017 as part of an effort to develop the Chinese women’s national ice hockey team ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games.

Both the Red Star and Rays have a roster comprised of three goalies and twenty skaters, half of which are native to China, a quarter Chinese North Americans and a quarter North Americans. The North American women  provide guidance both on and off the ice, teaching the game to teammates and giving advice on nutrition, Woo said. The Kunlun Red Star features two Olympians — Finnish goaltender Noora Räty and American forward Kelli Stack — and several athletes that have competed at the world championship level.

“We’re taking these teams and trying to grow hockey from the grassroots level in China so that they have an understanding of the game,” Woo said.

While player development is a major emphasis, the Red Star’s mission is also one of discovery. China’s one-child policy, introduced in 1979, led to the adoption of many young Chinese girls by North American families in the late ’90s. Kunlun seeks to find those who have come of age playing hockey in the U.S. and Canada.

“If we can find one, two, three, four, five of them that play hockey, they could play for China,” Murphy said. “There’s a lot more that goes into this than just developing hockey players, it’s actually finding them.”

Despite facing challenges like the language barrier, the team is galvanized by a drive to learn from one another and a passion for advancing the sport in new communities.

0The Red Star and the Rays are currently travelling around the U.S. to compete against collegiate teams, with Vanke facing off against Cornell women’s hockey team in Ithaca Friday as well. During the teams’ American visits, they seek to gain publicity and attract fans in the nascent stages of their development.

“Being able to give (the Kunlun Red Star) the exposure here in the U.S. on a college campus and being able to attract more students to come out and watch and see the game grow internationally is just a wonderful experience,” said Brown Head Coach Bob Kenneally ’90. “There’s a lot of growth on the men’s side in different countries, and to continue to grow the game in women’s hockey is just really exciting.”

For the team, fans, players in other countries and young girls who dream of suiting up and skating out beneath the lights, the only way is up.

“Women have to find their voice. We’re over half the population, we need to be strong, we need to be proud and we need to advocate,” Murphy said. “To now be on a global stage to do this is a dream come true for me, and I’m just going to continue to step up on behalf of women.”

Face-off against the Kunlun Red Star is Friday at 6 p.m. at Meehan Auditorium. The first 50 students to arrive at the game will receive free t-shirts that feature a pink Brown logo in support of breast cancer awareness month.

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