Adversity comes in all shapes and sizes. Fortunately, so does resiliency.
Sometimes it shows up in the words of an impassioned speech. Other times it appears in the form of a heroic deed. And more often than not, it shines brightest in an hour of need.
Trailing, 3-1, heading into the third period of the gold-medal game of the 2011 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team was staring adversity straight in the face.
Head coach Ron Rolston kept things simple in the dressing room during the second intermission, emphasizing a few points that he hoped would help his team back on track heading into the final frame. While his words resonated with his young charges, it was the object he pointed to before leaving the locker room that served as the greatest reminder.
“We had a team mission statement tacked up in the locker room,” said U.S. defenseman Connor Murphy. “It said that we wanted to be known as a team that never gave up. And [Rolston] pointed to those words on the wall and said that if we wanted to live by that, we had to come back.”
Murphy was no stranger to comebacks. The Dublin, Ohio, native struggled through a wide range of injuries that limited him to just 16 games over the past two seasons. Just being healthy enough to play in the World Under-18 Championship was a major victory for the big defenseman.
It was now his time to shine, which he did with a goal early in the final stanza that jumpstarted the American attack.
“With that goal, we got confidence, and the momentum was with us,” Murphy said.
With momentum swinging throughout the third period, it wasn’t until Reid Boucher scored with just 1:29 left in regulation to complete the comeback.
With regulation ending in a tie, Team USA found itself in another rise-to-the-occasion moment.
Once again, it was Murphy who answered the call. After taking a pass from U.S. captain Robbie Russo, Murphy’s first attempt was blocked, but he refused to give up on the play.
“I knew I needed to just hit it really hard to get it up into the corner. Once it happened, hearing the ping of the bar really set me off,” Murphy said of his gold-medal winning goal.
It proved to be the shot heard round the international hockey community and gave the U.S. its unprecedented third straight gold medal and sixth overall at the World Men’s Under-18 Championship.
“Whenever I was at my lowest times I knew that if I stuck with it I’d end up getting my break. I am really happy that it paid off,” Murphy said of his injury struggles.
In the eyes of his coach, his resolve was emblematic of this U.S. national team as a whole.
“This team had a lot of character and personality to it,” Rolston said. “[It] was a team that, no matter what challenge you put in front of them, they weren’t going to be beaten.”