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UPDATED: Digit Murphy parts ways with Kunlun Red Star and Team China

The former head coach will take a position on KRS board.

The Kunlun Red Star bench.
Al Saniuk

After one CWHL season and one international tournament, Digit Murphy is no longer the head coach of both the Kunlun Red Star and Team China.

Joe Pack tweeted that Murphy was no longer the coach on the evening of April 30, which Murphy confirmed in an email to The Ice Garden. Pack followed up with her the next day and tweeted that it “sound(ed) like she had been relieved of her coaching jobs” and was offered a board position.

Murphy told The Ice Garden that she had not been relieved of her duties, but that her departure was mutual and that she was offered a position with the board.

“My experience was a great adventure,” Murphy said. “I think that China continues to evolve as a hockey environment. I think that KRS learns every day and I think our sport ambassadors did an amazing job educating the Chinese. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and I’m happy to have led the first year of this global initiative.”

A source close to KRS also told The Ice Garden that the team and staff found out on Saturday as they returned to China for offseason activities.

When asked for comment, the CWHL wrote that they were following up with their representative with KRS and would provide more details when they had them.

Murphy’s departure comes after an up-and-down few weeks for KRS and Team China. In their first season in the league, Red Star made it to the Clarkson Cup. They beat the Calgary Inferno in a three-game marathon series to advance only to fall to a hot Markham Thunder in overtime in the Clarkson Cup.

However, Kunlun relied heavily on their non-Chinese players throughout the season. The top Chinese national player was Zhixin Lui with six points and three goals. Meanwhile, Kelli Stack lead the team in points (49) and goals (26).

Murphy coached Team China in the IIHF Worlds Championship Division I Group B tournament at the beginning of April. China struggled, winning only two of their five games. They scored only seven goals, a major difference from last year’s tournament in which they scored 13.

Their fifth-place performance also moved them down in the world rankings. This was surely not the performance Team China wanted to see after the first season in the CWHL, especially as Team China has a large focus on medaling at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Murphy has had nothing but positive things to say about China’s development program, and has been a big proponent of their player ambassador initiative. Her departure after just a year with the program is an interesting development. As of now, there is no replacement for her.

Also leaving the KRS bench is Saara Niemi, an assistant coach from Finland. Niemi will be the coach/general manager of HIFK’s new women’s team in Helsinki. They’ll be in the Mestis, the second-tier league, next year.

KRS has a history of a quick-moving coaching carousel in their program on the men’s side as well.

Mike Keenan lasted less than a year as the men’s head coach (that team plays in the Kontinental Hockey League). On Dec. 4, he was “relieved of his duties” but remained with the program on their board. Assistant coach Bobby Carpenter, father of Alex Carpenter, took over an interim coach.

On Jan. 29, the day after the men’s team finish finished their season, the team announced Carpenter and assistant coach Igor Kravchuk would not be re-signed by the team. They also stayed on as board members.