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Digit Murphy is no longer behind the bench but the Six are still very much her team

Murphy reveals Toronto’s offseason plans, which includes hiring a new GM

Michelle Jay

The Toronto Six have a new head coach and will soon have a new general manager but the Six are very much still Digit Murphy’s team. Murphy, Toronto’s team president, just hired Mark Joslin to be the team’s second-ever head coach after she led the Six to a 4-1-1 record in Lake Placid before they were eliminated in the Isobel Cup Semifinal against the Boston Pride on March 26, 2021.

The Ice Garden reached out to Toronto to seek clarification on the change behind Toronto’s bench, but as Holly Morrison recently wrote for TIG, this was always the plan. Murphy only stepped into the role as head coach because of circumstances created by the pandemic. She also revealed that the Six have hired a new general manager after Mandy Cronin, their first general manager, was let go in February. An announcement for that hire is coming soon. According to Murphy, the new GM will be handling business operations and recruiting sponsors.

“It was actually the plan for season one but then COVID hit, and it just made physical sense for me to do it,” Murphy told The Ice Garden. “All along, I was going to be the president and hire a GM and a coach — a new GM will be forthcoming by the way — so, yes, that’s always been the plan.”

Recently, Murphy has been the subject of much controversy and debate in the women’s hockey community after previously being associated with the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group — a group that has deservedly received criticism for views that are transphobic and damaging to the fight for transgender rights. Toronto’s president cut ties with the group after fans and activists spoke out and told Sportsnet’s Marisa Ingemi that Toronto her eyes had been opened after reflecting on the matter, doing some training with the Six, and working with Athlete Ally.

With that in mind, The Ice Garden asked Murphy if players and staff members who identify outside the cisgender binary, like trans and nonbinary individuals, would be welcome on the Six.

“I’m definitely open to having anyone on my staff or my team,” Murphy said. “Anyone. Anyone. It doesn’t matter — gay, straight, trans, non-binary, you’re welcome on my staff. Now, are you a great player? That is how I’m going to choose the talent on my team. Are you a great person for the job? But of course, I’m open to that.

“We’ve always had that position in Toronto,” Murphy added. “We have our three pillars of success and we’ve always been welcoming to the trans community.”

Those three pillars are inclusion, empowerment, and education. Murphy believes that Joslin is the right coach at the right time for Toronto because he believes in that mission statement.

“We think that Mark has a skill set that can lead our team because he’s a really approachable guy, he communicates well,” Murphy said. “He’s known really well around the rinks, and he’s respected by people in the [OJHL] … No one had a bad word to say about the guy — I’m not saying that’s the bar, but it speaks to his character and the respect for his game. Looking at all his teams and all the successes he’s had, he was Coach of the Year in the OJ, he was just the right person for the job.”

Toronto’s president also believes she has and will continue to have a good working relationship with Joslin, which goes a long way in this sport. Every NWHL franchise, even those that are privately owned, is operated by a passionate but small group of people who frequently go above and beyond to make things run as smoothly as possible. In many ways, chemistry off the ice is just as important on the ice.

Another key ingredient that Joslin brings to the table is his experience as an entrepreneur. He founded his own hockey school in 2003 and has worked as a skills development coach for over a decade. That experience will serve him well in the NWHL where, as a head coach, you’re expected to wear a lot of hats and go the extra mile.

“I already know that Mark will carry the water for the team and carry their hockey bags, just like I would,” Murphy told The Ice Garden. “That’s the level of involvement and the lack of ego he has in the game. He’s just a genuinely awesome human. He’s all-in — he’s already watching video ... He’s going to give our players an opportunity to be coached like they deserve to be coached. I don’t think Mark is going to micromanage them, he’s going to let them evolve and lead as players because of his genuine personality.”

Murphy believes the Six will bring about half of its roster from the inaugural season back for the 2021-22 campaign. Toronto does not plan to hold a free agent camp(s) — which is at least in part because of complications surrounding COVID restrictions — but, according to Murphy, they have a very good idea of who they’re after on the ice. They also have the advantage of recruiting largely from Ontario, which has no shortage of talent.

With that said, it sounds like the search is still on for assistant coaches to replace the experienced staff that helped Toronto find so much success in Lake Placid. Lisa Haley was named the NWHL’s senior VP of Hockey Operations on April 2, Gary Soper had to leave the team before Lake Placid, and it appears that Spiros Anastas, formerly the head coach of the ECHL’s Brampton Beast, will also not be back.

The Six may have found the right person for their head coach but they will need to find the right staff to place around Joslin to find success in 2021-22.

“All I can say for now is we just hired Mark last week,” Murphy told The Ice Garden. “Right now, we have the drafts coming up and we have people that we’re looking at as free agents that we’re going to sign. We’re looking at coaches and players at the same time, but the focus is on the player end of it. I think we have a few good names that are in the mix and you won’t be disappointed.”

Thus far, the Six have re-signed captain Shiann Darkangelo, starting goaltender Elaine Chuli, and veteran defender Emma Greco. Toronto has been one of the three teams active in free agency but has yet to announce any new additions. They have, however, lost at least a few players over the offseason, one of which is Sarah-Ève Coutu-Godbout. She signed with AIK to play in the SDHL on June 4.

Toronto Six forward Sarah-Eve Coutu Godbout in Lake Placid.
Michelle Jay

Murphy isn’t overly concerned about the players the Six have lost and will lose over the offseason. She’s confident in the new talent that Toronto is targeting and in the young stars they plan to re-sign and continue to develop.

“That’s just the nature of the business,” she said. “Until you can pay players and (provide more) reasons to stay — when players leave, especially to Europe, they go for the experience. It’s an opportunity at a young age to go over and travel to Europe and play hockey. You’ve got to look at the reasons why players leave.

“Like Julie Allen, she won’t be back because she’s retired,” Murphy continued. “Sarah-Eve is going to Europe. [Natalie] Marcuzzi is an investment banker and told me, ‘I could do it during COVID, I can’t do it anymore.’ And, at the end of the bubble, Taytum [Clairmont] and [Mackenzie MacNeil] left because they’ve got full-time jobs and they just couldn’t take off. Every year is different … I love that. I think the more people that touch the T6 and our philosophy, the better women’s hockey will be.”

Expectations will be high for Toronto in Season 7 on and off the ice. The Six were regular season champions in Lake Placid and, with Murphy at the helm, they played an exciting and highly marketable brand of hockey. But a lot has changed since Lake Placid, especially for the Six.

Now comes the challenge of doing it again — this time in what we expect to be a full NWHL season. The Six have already gone through a lot of changes and the offseason has only just begun. Murphy is confident her team will come together on and off the ice. She believes she has the right head coach and the right GM. Now it’s time to find and sign the players and support staff that will make this a championship team.

Editor’s note: Portions of this interview were edited for brevity and clarity.