Mike Murphy: Counting the Women’s Hockey Game

Mike Murphy would be
the first to admit he’d have no chance one-on-one with Hayley Wickenheiser. The Hall of Famer is one of the game’s most gargantuan figures and a superstar who torched just about any opponent who tried to slow her down. That’s exactly why Murphy finds humor in being the one to take a goal or two away from Wickenheiser over the years.

As the proprietor of Their Hockey Counts (theirhockeycounts.com), the most comprehensive women’s hockey statistical database on the internet, Murphy is in the business of statistical accuracy. It’s for that reason he came across an error in the data from the early days of the Women’s World Championship: shootout goals were added to a player’s overall goal total. That realization required action, and as it pertained to Wickenheiser, it required Murphy to knock a goal here and there off of her career total. “I have to say, taking goals away from ‘Wick’ felt pretty wrong,” Murphy said. “It didn’t feel right to do. ‘Who the hell am I?’ kind of thing, but it was weird they counted it that way.”

Reaching a point where he can correct the statistics of one the game’s all-time greats has been a journey for Murphy, however, and Their Hockey Counts, a passion project that receives minimal funding by way of roughly two dozen supporters on Patreon, has very humble beginnings.

A New Jersey native, Murphy was intrigued by the women’s game but had little access to top-level play beyond the Olympics and World Championships. That changed with the formation of the NWHL (now PHF) in 2015. A new avenue for Murphy to explore the game opened. He dove in headfirst. Already a contributor to SB Nation, where he writes about the New York Rangers, Murphy expanded his coverage to the women’s game. “I noticed early on that stories about a lot of these players were about them being heroes: ‘She’s a teacher and a first-liner and all-star!’, ” Murphy said. “That’s awesome, but I wanted to say, ‘Look at her even-strength production, look how good she is at what she does, especially compared to her peers.’ Let’s talk hockey. It’s hard to do that when you don’t have the data.”

So, Murphy took it upon himself to create the resource he was seeking, beginning with what was readily available: primary points and points by strength made available by the NWHL and since-defunct CWHL. He assembled what he found into a Google spreadsheet, which became two spreadsheets, which became more spreadsheets than Murphy knew what to do

with once he began gathering World Championship and Olympic statistics, too. The data needed a home, and with the help of friend Alexa Goldman, Their Hockey Counts was established in June 2020. (The site was originally called Her Hockey Counts. Murphy changed the name in April 2021 for inclusivity.)

But compiling a comprehensive log of women’s hockey statistics hasn’t always been as “simple” as Murphy putting in countless hours scouring archived scoresheets. There’s an element of internet super-sleuthing to it. Murphy has dug up extinct websites, purchased old media guides on eBay and even managed to get some information from the website of former Canadian national team member Andria Hunter, who, in 1994, was a pioneer of putting women’s hockey on the web.

It’s worth wondering, though, why the IIHF hasn’t been a greater help to Murphy, especially when finding tournament data for old men’s competitions is nowhere near as difficult. Funny story, that. “Apparently they had some of these records in paper form in the basement and they had a flood,” Murphy said. “A lot of these primary sources were damaged. That’s just terrible. So now it’s just trying to find ways to fill in the blanks.”

The lost documents speak directly to the importance of Murphy’s work. While resources are poured into recordkeeping at many men’s levels, from major junior all the way through the NHL, even the governing body that oversees the best-on-best women’s tournaments can’t provide accurate statistical data for the international women’s game. It’s that disappointing reality that drives Murphy. He believes fans should not only understand the greatness of the Wickenheisers and Angela Jameses and Cammi Granatos but have the facts and figures that give their brilliance context. He wants to create a tool that can expand the appreciation of the women’s game. And he doesn’t want anyone to have to look as hard as he had to in order to find that information.

“More than anything, I just want to do what I can so that maybe the next person to get passionate about this sees a lot of work here they can build off of,” Murphy said. “I don’t know how long I can run with this torch, but I’ll run with it as long as I need to and be really excited when other people start to take it up.”