Checkers' odd couple not at odds

Pogge, Murphy are very different goaltenders who share one net

Staff writerMay 4, 2011 

It would be easy for there to be friction between Charlotte Checkers goalies Mike Murphy and Justin Pogge.

Pogge started the first two Calder Cup playoff games. Murphy then returned from a concussion, has started the past seven games, looked sharp and will be in net tonight for Game 4 of the East Division finals against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

But Murphy and Pogge, opposites in size and playing styles, have become fast friends this season, urging and pushing each other on.

"We're just buddies," Pogge said, smiling. "We're like Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong."

For those who aren't video gamers or up on their Nintendo characters, Pogge is the Donkey Kong of the two. He's the big guy, with a size of 6 feet 3 and 205 pounds that the Carolina Panthers look for in strong safeties.

Murphy? Definitely Diddy Kong, the small one. He's 5-11 and maybe 170 pounds and looks like, well, a video gamer.

"I don't think I've ever been on a team where the goalies are so different," center Nick Dodge said. "Murphy is a little guy and really quick. Pogge obviously is a lot bigger and takes up a lot more of the net. But we're perfectly comfortable and confident with either in the net."

So is Checkers coach Jeff Daniels, who said, "Both have been good for us this season."

"Poggs is a guy with a little more experience, who has been around the league a little more," Daniels said. "For Murph, I think last year was an eye-opener for him, a learning year, and this year he came in more prepared and had a chance to play more and his play speaks for itself."

Murphy, 22, was a sixth-round pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and is in his second professional season. The Kingston, Ontario, native likes to compare himself to Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who's also 5-11 and not your prototypical goalie.

"Tim Thomas has to rely on his quickness and his footwork, which is what I have to do," Murphy said. " I have to be more acrobatic and rely on my feet.

"And it's not just his style. It's his attitude. He had to work and work to get in the NHL and finally got there because he didn't quit. That's the guy I want to be. You've got to battle, battle, battle."

Pogge, 25, was a third-round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2004. He played seven games for the Leafs in 2008-09, but was traded that season to the Anaheim Ducks and has spent almost all of his pro career in the American Hockey League.

The Hurricanes obtained Pogge in March 2010 in the trade that sent defenseman Aaron Ward to the Ducks. There was speculation Pogge might be called up to the Canes at some point this season but he never got that chance.

"He has taken me under his wing this year, which is great," Murphy said. "I go to him after games to see what he thinks and what I should have done, and he's really made me a better goaltender."

Pogge, in turn, said he has been impressed with Murphy's competitiveness.

"Murph is some sort of hybrid," Pogge said. "He's a great blocking goalie. He plays bigger than he actually is. He's going to do everything he can to stop the puck and he's extremely athletic and flexible. Those are all great attributes to have as a goalie."

Daniels did not know how effective Murphy would be after returning from the concussion suffered March 20 against the Penguins. Murphy put in seven practices before Daniels put him back in net.

"I think what excited me the most was when he was cleared to play, I asked him, 'Murph, we want you in, are you ready to go?'" Daniels said. "He said, 'I'm in, I'm ready.'

"After missing almost a month, it's not like coming back the third week of December. You're getting thrown in the third game of the playoffs. But he's the type of kid when he said he wanted it, he was very confident about it and it showed in his play."

Murphy has a 5-2 record in the playoffs, with a 1.98 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. That's strong.

"He's really calm in there," Pogge said. "He's a calming influence on our team."

Daniels likes Pogge's personality. While Murphy can have a stern game face on game days, that's not Pogge.

"He's a little more outgoing and talkative," Daniels said. "But at game time, he's ready to go."

That's all a coach can ask from his goaltenders, regardless of who gets the call.

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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