Cameron Rowat of Souris races up ice for the Minot Minotauros in North American Hockey League action. (STEVE SILSETH/MINOT MINOTAUROS)
Former Brandon Wheat Kings great Marty Murray makes a point with a referee in NAHL action. (STEVE SILSETH/MINOT MINOTAUROS)
Poll a group of Brandon Wheat Kings fans as to who their favorite player was during the 1990s and one name would undoubtedly rise to the top of the list: Marty Murray.
The Lyleton product dazzled during his four-year Western Hockey League playing career with Brandon, scoring 132 goals and adding 260 assists in 264 games.
Anyone who watched the 5-foot-9 centre pick apart teams on a nightly basis with his unparalleled hockey sense wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Murray now finds himself behind the bench south of the border as coach and general manager of the Minot Minotauros in the North American Hockey League.
"It’s fun to still be involved in the game and great to help these young guys along in their career," Murray said during a phone interview from the bus as the team travelled down the road to Aberdeen, N.D., where the Minotauros were looking to lock up a playoff spot Friday night.
After finishing the 2003-04 season with the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, Murray and his wife, who grew up in North Dakota, purchased a home in Minot during the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Seven years later and two years removed from playing his last professional game with the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals, Murray accepted a position as an assistant coach of the Minotauros in their expansion season.
After the team struggled to a 7-49-4 record last season, Murray was promoted to coach and GM.
"We spent some time over the summer cleaning house here and basically starting from scratch," Murray said.
A 1-8-1 start this season had Murray questioning whether he made the right decisions in the off-season, but then something happened, he said, as the team rallied and started doing the little things necessary to be successful.
"We started coming together as a team and some of our younger guys progressed and we made a few trades and with a win we can clinch a playoff spot, which was our goal at the start of the year," Murray said.
Murray compared the league to junior hockey in Canada, with the exception that there is no limit on how many 20-year-old players each team can dress.
He also went straight to his alma mater — the Southwest Cougars — to recruit as each team was allowed two imports at the start of the season, a number that has since been expanded to four.
Souris’s Cameron Rowat and Melita’s Lucas Oliver, both former Cougars, have been integral pieces, playing on the same line during the turnaround for the Minotauros (25-22-4).
Rowat sits fourth in team scoring with 11 goals and 13 assists in 51 games, while Oliver is only one point back, collecting nine goals and 14 assists in 49 games.
"They’ve both done a good job for us and we’re happy with their progress," Murray said. "Cam is a slippery, headsy player, and Lucas is a guy that goes to net and gets in on the forecheck."
Murray said he expects to continue to recruit players from Westman, an area that he is familiar with and one the team can scout due to its proximity. His biggest stumbling block might be educating players and families about the doors the NAHA can open for them.
"For kids looking to go the college route, there is a lot of opportunity playing in this league," Murray said.
Murray, who played 261 games in the NHL and had stops in the AHL as well as overseas where he won three Spengler Cups for Canada, is also a big factor in the recruiting process.
"I know what these players go through on a daily basis, both ups and downs, and I try to share my experiences with them and hopefully it helps them out moving forward in a positive way," he said.
Playing under the likes of Bobby Lowes, Pierre Page, John Stevens and Marc Crawford, Murray said each coach along the way has imparted something on his style behind the bench.
"You draw a little from everyone you played for," Murray said. "I think the kids in junior nowadays are a little bit different than when I played and you have to be hard on them, but at the same time you have to be sensitive."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 9, 2013