Murray Burning for Chance with Flames
By Tricia McMillan, AHL Correspondent
Hockey is played in countries all over the world today, and over a dozen nations have produced at least one player presently in the NHL.
So ordinarily it wouldn't be so surprising that a player was discovered in Japan... except that this player also happened to be a two time All-Star in the Western Hockey League.
Strange but true, Calgary's Marty Murray was one of the WHL's top players with the Brandon Wheat Kings but went unscouted and unnoticed until he went to Japan with Canada's under 18 team in 1992 and an NHL head coach happened to be in attendance.
"I was selected to play for Canada in the Pacific Cup in Japan, and Dave King was over there," explains the loquacious Murray. King was at the time the head coach for Calgary and spending his summer assisting the tournament's organizers. While Murray caught King's eye, Calgary never approached Murray prior to the draft and surprised him by drafting him in the fourth round in 1993.
Central Scouting had failed to even rank Murray, despite his scoring prowess with Brandon as he totalled 94 points the season prior to the draft.
"It was very disappointing... it was frustrating," Murray says. "This type of thing motivates me and it turns out everything's worked out well. Hopefully after my hockey career's done I can look back and kinda chuckle about it."
Other teams aren't chuckling about their failure to notice Murray; not only did he continue to score at a torrid pace for Brandon, leading the entire WHL in assists during the 94-95 season, but he was named Best Forward at the 1995 World Junior Championships as he won gold with Team Canada. Murray's performance in the tournament (15 points in seven games) finally got him some attention.
"You know you're playing against the best hockey players in the world and just the opportunity to get a chance to represent your country is a great experience," thinks Murray. "It definitely elevates your game."
Murray, now 21, got more attention in the AHL, where he was first named to the 95-96 Canadian All-Star team and then earned Rookie of the Game honors in the somewhat undignified guise of the 'Ritz Air Crisps' award. No matter what the name of the award and despite some butterflies, Murray enjoyed the trip to Hershey.
"It was a little bit nerve-wracking, my first year pro to be playing in the AHL All-Star Game, but it was a great experience," he says. "There's going to be a lot of scouts there and everything, you know you have to go there and make a great impression, but it's just a lot of fun and definitely I was glad to be a part of it."
A gifted passer and exceptional playmaker, Murray started the 95-96 season in Calgary, playing in 15 games and posting numbers somewhat more typical of a Lady Byng winner (0 PiMs) than an Art Ross winner (3 G, 3 A, 6 Pts) and promptly found himself dispatched to Saint John to get his professional legs under him.
"It's just that guys are older and stronger and the game's that much more faster and everybody's committed to playing defense [in the pros]. The points you used to get in junior don't come as easy here," says Murray. "[The AHL]'s a good developmental league as far as getting better, it'll definitely help me. I think it's really beneficial to anybody playing in the AHL just to get a taste of what pro hockey's like."
In Saint John Murray's offensive numbers were more to expectations (GP 58, 25 G, 31 A, 56 pts) and he did get a few penalty minutes - 20. Theoren Fleury he ain't, despite being of somewhat similar size and an admirer of his team captain. At 5'9", 170 lbs, Murray doesn't cut an imposing figure on the ice, and his lack of size was responsible for some of the lack of scouting attention. But he bristles at the idea he's not big enough for the NHL.
"I think there's always people that are going to say I'm too small to play but that's a bit of an incentive for me. I think I have the heart and character that it takes to play in the NHL," he says. "I got to play in a few games last year and I held my own pretty good, I feel that I can be an NHL player."
Murray hails from Deloraine, Manitoba, population definitely small.
"I come from a town of 30 people believe or not," he says, "So I had to travel... I played hockey in a little town called Pierson, Manitoba."
And while many Canadians start playing at a young age, not many start younger than Murray did.
"I started playing hockey when I wasn't even two years old yet!" he notes. "I'd seen all my older cousins and friends pick it up and from day one I was interested."
In keeping with his somewhat unusual track to the top, Manitoban Murray grew up a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, and even though he was a high-scoring forward, his hero was a defensive forward: Bob Gainey.
"You always like the guy who was the captain. I really like the way he worked and seemed to dedicate himself to the game," he explains.
Despite being a top-flight scorer, Murray feels there's much more to the game than just scoring.
"You can't play as an individual, you've got to use your teammates around you," he thinks.
He cites becoming a two-way player and being dependable for his teammates as his goals for his time in Saint John. But...
"I don't want to be here [in Saint John]," Murray says rather bluntly.
He got off to a good start, as Murray presently leads the young Flames in scoring (10 G, 24 A, 34 Pts). (Murray was recalled to Calgary shortly after this interview but played only two games before being returned to Saint John.) Murray has plenty of incentive to return to the NHL, as the first trip made everything worthwhile.
"Scoring my first NHL goal, it's just an unbelievable feeling," he says, "It's hard to describe, but you see the puck go over the line and all the years you put into the game and all the work you did, it seems it paid off. Playing against the Gretzkys and the Fedorovs... you try not to be in awe but it's pretty exciting to be out on the ice with those guys."
But regardless of when he returns to the NHL for good, Murray doesn't feel hockey is only about making it to the top.
"Just have fun and work at it and enjoy yourself and make lots of new friends," he suggests to hockey hopefuls, "'cause it doesn't last forever and you've definitely got to enjoy it while you can."
LCS: guide to hockey © copyright 1996 all rights reserved