Murray Enjoying the Ride
WMU Leader Not Just Another Rookie Coach
by Eric Stromgren/CHN Writer
Coaching college hockey in America was an opportunity Andy Murray did not want to pass up.
Murray's first year as Western Michigan's head coach ends at the NCAA Tournament, the fifth appearance in the program history, and he reflected on the season so far as a positive experience.
"I took the job because I've always admired the coaches who coach at the college level just as I admired NHL coaches - it's a tremendous group," Murray said. "I've enjoyed every aspect of on-campus life, supporting the football team and all the other athletic teams on campus. It's been good and I think working with these young athletes is keeping me young."
The CCHA Tournament Champion Broncos enter the West Regional as the No. 4 seed and will face No. 1 seed North Dakota in St. Paul, Minn. The winner will face the No. 2 Minnesota-No. 3 Boston University winner Sunday for the right to advance to the Frozen Four.
"Being in a group with Boston University, the University of Minnesota and the University of North Dakota is just , wow," Murray said. "That's pretty heavy stuff. Isn't it just a statement for Western Michigan that we are there with those guys?"
Western Michigan (21-13-6, 14-10-4-2 CCHA) started the year hot by going unbeaten through the first nine games, ended the regular season tied for second place in the CCHA standings with Michigan and head to St. Paul on a five-game winning streak after winning the Mason Cup. Murray said there is no question WMU is the underdog heading into the regional, though he did question the Broncos' placement in the Pairwise.
"I don't know how we're a 14," Murray said. "We just beat Michigan and we just beat Miami, who are 2 and 5, and we're 14 going into the weekend? It seems a little strange to me. But we're excited about the group we've got. It's arguably the toughest region out there with those three teams. We probably don't get as much credit as they do obviously, but we've beaten some good teams and we can play hockey too."
Murray was hired to replace Jeff Blashill, who left Western Michigan last summer to become a NHL assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings and he brought a resume thick with worldwide coaching experience.
Murray started his career at age 25 in 1976 with the Brandon Travelers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. He later was the head coach at Brandon University before coaching in Switzerland.
Murray returned to the United States in 1988 to coach in the American Hockey League and had stints as a NHL assistant coach at Philadelphia, Minnesota (North Stars) and Winnipeg. He coached Team Canada to gold medals at the IIHF World Championships in 1997, 2003 and 2007.
Murray won 333 total NHL games as the head coach for the Los Angeles Kings from 1999-06 and the St. Louis Blues from 2006-10.
Murray inherited a Western Michigan program this season that appeared in the 2011 NCAA Tournament under Blashill. He said retaining assistant coaches Pat Ferschweiler, Rob Facca and Spiros Anastas was important in becoming head coach.
"To me there was a great staff in place," Murray said. "Because Jeff did such a good job, there wasn't the need to reinvent the wheel here. When I came in, I felt like Jeff and I believed in a lot of the same things as coaches."
WMU alternate captain Dane Walters said there was an early adjustment period for the players. Walters said Murray puts in a significant amount of time into the program, coaches with positive attitude and considers him a player's coach.
"Switching from Blashill to Murray took us a little while, but we worked hard as a team," Walters said. "He's got to be the hardest-working coach in the league. He's the first guy to the rink and the last one to leave. He's always a step or two ahead of everybody else. He likes to have a lot of meetings to make sure that we're prepared and know what we are going to be looking at as a team the next weekend."
The Broncos earned signature wins this season against Notre Dame, Michigan, Miami and Ferris State in Murray's eyes by playing a balanced game and using the entire roster.
"We really do emphasize the team aspect here and I know that's the kind of terminology the coaches use," Murray said. "But we really do if one takes a look at the time charts and how we use our personnel. That's our only chance. We're not going to out-skill anybody. We've got to make sure we have to stay fresh on the ice."
Murray has experience with NCAA hockey even though he is a rookie among the college coaching ranks. He followed the WCHA closely when his children played in the league: Brady at North Dakota, Sarah at Minnesota-Duluth and Jordy at Wisconsin.
Murray still owns a home in Faribault, Minn., where he coached Shattuck-St. Mary's the season before becoming the Kings head coach. Western Michigan will practice at the school's rink on Thursday.
"I've been at a lot of regional tournaments and the WCHA tournaments in St. Paul," Murray said. "I've been there and know what to expect. Certainly our players probably don't. We know that we're going to be facing a lot of green there on Saturday. But by the same token, as I reminded our guys, there will probably be at least 7,000 there cheering for us too because there are a lot of Gopher fans."