There are very few moments as special to a professional athlete as having one’s jersey number retired and raised to the rafters for generations of hockey fans to view.
For former Springfield Falcons captain Rob Murray, having his number 23 raised to the MassMutual Cernter roof on Saturday night was more than just paying homage to a player who dedicated himself to Springfield, it was also a first in Springfield hockey history. In the 60-plus years hockey has been a part of the Springfield community, up until Murray’s #23, Springfield has never hosted a jersey retirement ceremony.
As Falcons fans all know, Eddie Shore’s #2 hangs next to Murray’s #23, but the Falcons officially retired Shore’s jersey number during their inception in 1994. It was at that same time that Murray arrived in Springfield to help lead a franchise during their inaugural campaign and build a new indentity for hockey in Springfield.
During Murray’s tenure with the Falcons, he quickly became known as “Mr. Falcon,” a nickname which Murray truly accepts with pride.
“It was an exciting time in Springfield when I first arrived,” said Murray, who joined current Philadelphia Phantoms head coach John Stevens as the very first captains in Falcons history. “There was obviously a great hockey tradition in Springfield and the Falcons were searching to try some new things and build their own foundation. The Falcons displayed a commitment to the community with many outreach programs and as players we realized the importance of going out and being a part of the community on a regular basis.”
As captain of the Falcons, Murray quickly understood that part of his responsibility of wearing the “C” on his jersey meant he would lead by example. For a Falcons franchise looking to form their own indentity with hockey fans throughout the Pioneer Valley, Murray would quickly become the face of the franchise with not only his hard-nosed style of play on the ice, but his passion for Springfield hockey off the ice.
“Rob has always been known as Mr. Falcon and we were very excited to host such a special night for an individual who really deserves this moment,” said Falcons president and general manager Bruce Landon. “Rob exemplified what being a member of the Falcons organization is all about; hard work, dedication and a commitment to being a true professional both on and off the ice.”
That is why when Murray officially retired in 2003, it didn’t take Landon long to express his desire to retire the number 23 in Murray’s honor. Finally in the summer of 2006, Murray received the call from Landon and the Falcons expressing their desire to host “Rob Murray Night” and officially have #23 be a part of Springfield Hockey history forever.
“It’s a tremendous honor to have your jersey number retired considering all of the great players who have played in Springfield,” said Murray, who is one of only six players in AHL history to play in 1,000 or more games. “It’s a little overwhelming to look up there and see your number hanging, I was always very honored to be a member of the Falcons organization because I trukly enjoyed the fans and playing for Bruce (Landon).”
Falcons fans will never forget Murray, who remains the franchise’s all-time leader in games played (501), assists (157) and penalty minutes (1,531). Murray’s most productive offensive season with the Falcons occurred during the 1994-95 campaign when he registered 16 goals and 38 assists for 54 points and 373 penalty minutes in 78 games.
During the 1996-97 campaign, Murray helped lead Springfield to within one win of earning a spot in the Calder Cup Finals recording two goals and three assists for five points and 66 penalty minutes in 17 post-season games that year.
“That playoff run in 1997 was very memorable because of how close we were of reaching the finals,” said Murray, who played 15 professional seasons. “I always wanted to win a championship and raise a banner for the fans in Springfield, we were so close.”
Murray was able to raise a banner on the night of February 10, 2007, and place an exclamation point on his Falcons career.
“I always placed a lot of pride in playing in Springfield,” said Murray. “The memories I have as a Falcon will always be there in my memory.”