Leaving a legacy at ISU

Mark Pawlak

Five skaters and a goaltender enter the ice for the ISU hockey team as the Cyclones are about to face off with Wisconsin-Whitewater. A professor-like man with glasses gently resting on his face stands behind the ISU bench, wearing a sport coat over a red sweater vest with a writing tablet at his side.

Above head coach Alan Murdoch are 18 banners marking some of his team’s past accomplishments. This contest is no different from the past 1,104 games he has coached.

Murdoch first stepped onto the ISU campus as a graduate student in 1969. Thirty-three years later, over a span of five decades, he has not budged.

Cyclone hockey has grown considerably since 1969, when they did not even have matching jerseys. Today they’re one of the best teams in the country.

Iowa State and Wisconsin-Whitewater are both members of the American Collegiate Hockey Association, which Murdoch had a hand in creating. He was also the organization’s first president.

“I guess because of my experience and ability to generate ideas and enthusiasm, I was elected as the first president,” Murdoch said. “… In essence, it was 12 to 15 schools from across the country, which has now grown, 10 years later, to over 200 schools. I like to think that I was the catalyst for other schools around the country to learn from our foresight, learn from our organization, learn from the things that the successful non-varsity schools do and have a very good alternative to Division-I varsity hockey.”

Wisconsin-Whitewater’s upset attempt is gaining steam as they score to take a 3-1 lead in the second period. Murdoch just looks down and makes a mark of it in his tablet as the Wisconsin-Whitewater players on the bench smack their sticks against the boards.

Both teams are aiming to capture the ACHA championship trophy, named after Murdoch.

“The ACHA a few years ago named the national championship trophy after me, the Murdoch Cup. I think maybe they thought I would retire if they did that, but I’m still going,” Murdoch said.

Murdoch has had many memorable moments and players over his reign at Iowa State, including national championships in 1992 and 1999 and the honor of coaching Team USA at the World University Games in 2001; further evidence is his career coaching record of 738-360-28.

“I did not expect to be here 32 years and still not have accomplished Division-I status, but a lot of people tell me what we are doing is a very positive thing,” he said. “We’re getting people a good degree at Iowa State and the opportunity to play the best hockey of their life.”

At the end of the second period, Wisconsin-Whitewater holds a 4-3 lead. Murdoch doesn’t seem too worried, though. He hangs around for a few moments and talks things over with his assistant coaches. As he carefully walks across the ice to get to the entrance to the Cyclones’ locker room, the crowd begins a “Murdoch, Murdoch, Murdoch” chant. The figure that will always be associated with ISU hockey sticks his ring finger up in acknowledgement, points toward the crowd and gives them a thumb’s up.

At the exit off of the ice, stand five children pressed against the glass wanting to slap hands with a legend. Murdoch touches the hands of all five.

Despite his legendary status, Murdoch doesn’t know how much longer he wants to coach.

“Some days I feel as though I might go another year and that would be enough and some days I feel like I would like to do this the rest of my life or as long as I live,” he said.

His current players don’t want to see him go.

“He’s helped build the whole program from the ground up. He helps fund-raise. He helps do a lot of stuff. He’s a really integral part of this team,” sophomore defenseman Phil Hummel said.

With 8:01 left in the third, Cyclone senior Jeremy Meyer has shot the frozen, vulcanized rubber puck toward the goal. The three-inch in diameter and one-inch thick black puck sails into the 6′ by 4′ net. It is Meyer’s fifth goal of the game and Iowa State now leads 9-4.

Just as he has done the entire game, Murdoch notes the score in his tablet.

To his players, Murdoch is more than a coach.

“He really challenges us to get better and pushes hard for everyone to improve. He’s more than just a hockey coach. He helps a lot with school,” Hummel said. “He’s more than a coach, he’s more of a mentor. He helps with a lot of school stuff. He’s always on us to set in the first row of our class or to talk to our professors and stuff like that. He’s more than just a coach.”

The game ends with Iowa State winning 10-5. Murdoch is the last to leave the ice. Once again the chant of his name starts; he again acknowledges them and touches hands with the children at the exit off the ice.

As Murdoch leaves their view, the group of children leave – their handprints all over the glass separating them from the ice.

For Murdoch, it’s just another game of the sport that he loves, yet it’s more. It’s his 725-career victory. Murdoch has left his handprints all over Iowa State hockey.