NANTICOKE, Ontario — Ron Murphy spent Friday like most days, in his motorized wheelchair, smack in the middle of his kitchen, keenly peering at the stock quotes on TV as they streamed across the bottom of the Business News Network telecast.
“That’s what I watch,’’ said the 80-year-old former Bruins winger, after a visitor asked whether he follows much NHL action these days. “I play the market — keeps me alive. Maple Leafs? Who are they?’’
An 18-year NHL veteran, Murphy’s last day on Causeway Street, May 10, 1970, also was his last day in the NHL. His left shoulder blown out early in the season, he was relegated to the stands that glorious Mother’s Day, seated next to his then-wife, when Bobby Orr scored the famous overtime goal that gave the Bruins their first Stanley Cup in 29 years.
Within days, he had turned in his No. 28 Black-and-Gold sweater and was back home for good in Ontario, where he would go on to be a junior coach (briefly), a farmer, a hotelier, a bar owner, and eventually a retired divorcé.
“My pal [Bobby] Hull, he’s been married, what, oh, three or four times, I guess,’’ said Murphy, sipping a bottle of chilled wild berry Ensure, his sole source of nutrition these days. “I was married only once. But I like to say I was married twice — the first time and the last time.’’
For all he’s been through — including the accidental death of his only son some 15 years ago and later his own paralyzing fall down stairs — Murphy maintains an abundant, wry wit.
In a sports world today too often dominated by talk of outrageous money and outrageous acts, there remains a farm-boy simplicity and honesty about Murphy.
Orphaned at age 2, he was raised on his aunt Stella’s farm in Ancaster, just outside Hamilton, where, he figures, milking cows and plowing fields built up the hand and forearm strength for his pro-caliber wrist shot. His were not skills that were honed with some elite Squirt traveling team or in private coaching lessons.
“Never put on skates until I was 11 years old,’’ said Murphy, thinking back to his 1943 tryout with the Kenesky Kids. “In fact, I didn’t even have a pair of skates. I went to that tryout with my sister Melva’s white skates and, geez, everyone laughed at me.
“And they should have laughed, because I must have looked ridiculous. White skates . . . no one wore white skates. But I made the team. I don’t know how, but . . .’’
By his late teens, Murphy was playing top-flight junior hockey in Guelph, became captain on a team that won the Memorial Cup, and eventually turned pro with the New York Rangers as a 20-year-old in 1952-53.
“Made $7,500 my first year, do you believe it?’’ said Murphy, contrasting that figure to the $2 million average annual pay of today’s NHLers. “But that’s OK. Later I played in Detroit with Gordie Howe, and he started at $6,500!’’
While Murphy talked, the symbol for Bank of America’s stock ticked by on BNN, noting a 15-cent positive move for that hour of the day. Still a long ways to go before he saw a profit, said the speculating left winger, offering his unedited opinion of the American banking industry.
For his 18 years in the league, including a total of 889 games and 479 points, Murphy’s annual NHL pension is a meager $9,600.
“Yeah, I’m not afraid to tell you that,’’ said Murphy, who spent five seasons in Boston. “But I am ashamed.’’
For an institution that can’t do much right these days, the NHL and its players’ union since 2005 have funded a Senior Players Benefits Plan to bring financial aid to the likes of Murphy and many seniors who helped build the game. Today, each player over age 65 receives $1,380 a year for every season played. In Murphy’s case, that’s some $25,000 annually on top of his pension. His $35,000 each year in post-career benefits exceeds his top yearly career earnings of $30,000 with the 1969-70 Bruins.
The added good news for NHLers 65 and older last week was that the NHL Players Association agreed to co-fund the senior benefit program in 2013, despite the fact that the players are currently locked out in a collective bargaining dispute. The NHL weeks ago committed to funding its share of the plan. For someone like Murphy, who needs in-home health aid seven days a week, 365 days a year, the money is vital.
“Oh, you better believe it,’’ he said. “Being in the wheelchair and all, I need help all the time . . . food, medicine. I don’t go out much, but if I do, a van has to come with a lift to get me. It’s expensive. It adds up.’’
As he approached age 70, Murphy lost his ability to walk one warm summer night, his wonky left knee giving out as he closed the back door of his single-level home. He tumbled down the cellar stairs to the basement floor, where he lay unconscious for 11 hours. His legs paralyzed by the fall, he underwent surgery in which doctors placed a neck-stabilizing plate high along his spine. That plate has shifted forward in recent months, said Murphy, restricting greatly his ability to swallow, leaving him able to ingest only liquids.
“The doctors tell me there’s nothing they can do for me,’’ he said. “Not a doctor in North America will touch me because of where it is, so high on the spinal column, close to the brain. I could end up worse off than I already am. I guess you’d say I’m not in the best of health, but hey, I get around.’’
His son by the same name died a few years earlier, recalled Murphy, while working on his car at home, neglecting to leave the garage door open while the motor was running. Cause of death, according to the elder Murphy, was carbon monoxide poisoning.
“Police said he must have realized what was happening at the end, because they found claw marks that showed he was fighting to get out,’’ said Murphy. “But I guess the exhaust made him too weak, and that was it. He was old enough to know better, of course . . . a real shame.’’
While Murphy talked, a health aide visited to make sure his refrigerator was stocked, his prescriptions were up to date, that he had all the things required to be comfortable. Covered in a Boston Bruins blanket his grandson gave him years ago, he traded friendly barbs with the aide, reminisced about his NHL days, watched the stock updates, and recalled once more the kindness of his aunt Stella.
“My sister and brother went to live with my grandparents,’’ he said, thinking back to his mother’s death in 1934. “But I was only 2 years old, so they were going to put me in a home. That’s when Stella said, ‘He’s not going to any home!’ And that was it.
“Simpler back then, wasn’t it? Best thing that ever happened to me.’’
Seventy-eight years later, it was just another Friday in Ron Murphy’s long, interesting life.
“Nice of you to stop by,’’ he said as the visitor from Boston prepared to leave. “Say hello to everyone in Boston for me.’’