In With the New
Murray Takes Over at Western Michigan
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
Earlier this summer, when Western Michigan responded to the departure of coach Jeff Blashill by hiring former NHL coach Andy Murray, the 60 year old veteran declared, "I challenge anyone half my age to outwork me on what we plan to bring. I have a lot of energy, and I'm excited about it.
"Working with these young men will help keep me young."
The opportunity to take over the reigns at Western Michigan represents Murray's first foray into college hockey, after previously serving as an NHL head coach for the Los Angeles Kings (1999-2006) and St. Louis Blues (2006-10), in addition to head coaching positions for Team Canada and three professional teams in Switzerland.
One of only 39 head coaches in NHL history with over 300 wins (333), Murray is also the Kings' all-time franchise leader in wins with 215.
While Murray was in his final year coaching a struggling Blues team, things weren't going much better in Kalamazoo for Western Michigan. The Broncos won only eight games in that 2009-10 campaign, before a dramatic turnaround a year ago, winning 19 games and earning the first NCAA tournament appearance for the program since 1996.
Following the season, first-year coach Blashill left Western Michigan for an assistant coaching position with the Detroit Red Wings.
"Certainly there was a standard set here last year," acknowledged Murray, who retained the Broncos' entire assistant coaching staff. "Coach Blashill did a tremendous job and really got the program heading into a positive direction."
And what will Murray — the only Canadian coach in history to win three World Championships — bring to Western Michigan from his experience coaching professionally in the NHL and abroad?
Said Murray, "The most important thing is you have to coach within your own personality and be the person you are. I think it would be false to say that you make adjustments for different levels. I always felt that you get from people what you expect of them. I think you need to be demanding but not demeaning. I think you need to clearly let people know what you're holding them accountable for.
"I tried to be a coach that communicated with the players at all levels. I have a sign in our assistant coaches' office right now that says 'Talk to Every Player Every Day.' I want our assistant coaches and myself to get to know our people real well and to make sure they feel appreciated on a daily basis."
Among the roster of players Murray inherits are NHL draft picks Chase Balisy (Nashville Predators), Garrett Haar (Washington Capitals), and Luke Witkowski (Tampa Bay Lightning), in addition to junior goaltender Nick Pisellini, who has drawn pre-season praise from Murray already.
The Broncos will also welcome 10 incoming freshmen to the mix, and Murray expects to rely heavily on senior forward and captain Ian Slater.
"Our captain Ian Slater is as good a captain as I have ever seen, in terms of what he expects of the players and the level of commitment he wants from them," said Murray. "Ian Slater is like another coach on our staff."
Murray will coach Western Michigan as the Broncos undergo their much-publicized transition from the CCHA to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), one of a series of moves set to transform the landscape of college hockey as of 2013-14.
For now though, Murray's opportunity to coach in college hockey represents the fulfillment of a long-standing dream.
"This was something I did have on the so-called bucket list, to try in my life," said Murray, whose two sons played college hockey for Wisconsin and North Dakota.
"You only live once, and I'm excited for this opportunity to be able to compete against some of the best coaches in the game."