Decker’s Murray making his name, town known

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The small, unincorporated community of Decker may not be home to many people, but it boasts an ultra-talented teen hockey star.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/12/2019 (1085 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The small, unincorporated community of Decker may not be home to many people, but it boasts an ultra-talented teen hockey star.

Owen Murray is in his second season patrolling the blue-line for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Portage Terriers and the 17-year-old recently represented the community at the World Junior A Challenge in Dawson Creek, B.C., earlier this month.

Decker, located 106 kilometres northwest of Brandon, formed around the Decker family homestead in 1881 and a post office opened in 1912. It may only have three streets, and its Wikipedia page says “there’s almost nothing left,” but it has the one staple every prairie town needs: an outdoor rink.

Photo courtesy Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Decker's Owen Murray skates up ice against the U.S. while playing with Team Canada West at the 2019 World Junior A Championship at the ENCANA Event Centre in Dawson Creek, B.C., earlier this month.

“Our family farm is about three, four minutes down the road and all that’s really left is the old rink that’s barely staying up, but it’s up,” Murray said. “They put ice in it almost every year. The church is there and a couple of people live there but there’s not really much left.”

Murray’s family has been there since his great grandpa arrived “well back,” he said.

Growing up and playing hockey, Murray enjoyed a lot of success and played with Rossburn’s Chad Nychuk of the Brandon Wheat Kings and Vista’s Cole Muir of the Winnipeg Ice in the Western Hockey League.

Murray has been an Ice prospect since they listed him in his first season of under-18 hockey.

“It was unreal, my dad coached me right from the start all the way up to peewee,” Murray said. “We won I think it was close to eight or nine straight league championships in the Parkland area and multiple provincial championships and tournament of champions as well.

“It was a lot of fun growing up learning from my dad and with guys as good as them, it definitely helped me get to where I am today.”

Hockey is in Murray’s blood, as his great uncle Dallas Smith played in the NHL with the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers in the 1960s and 1970s, winning two Stanley Cups. Smith played alongside the likes of Hall of Fame defenceman Bobby Orr during his time in Boston. Smith, 78, is from Hamiota and Murray said he hopes to one day emulate his great uncle’s success.

“I know my grandpa talks to him quite a bit and my dad obviously knows him well, he lives down south so I don’t see much of him,” he said.

“He was quite the player. That’s definitely something I look to try and do as well.”

Murray took a different route to Junior A hockey, playing with the Rink Hockey Academy Elite 15s of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League, instead of continuing on with the Chiefs U18 AAA program.

Murray was at a Team Manitoba under-16 camp, where he caught the attention of RHA coaches.

“Being a smaller guy I was at the time and younger and it being my first year of (U18) I just thought it would be a little bit better to play in a league of all guys my age,” he said. “It was definitely the best decision for me. I thought my game grew quite a bit that year and gave me a lot of confidence going into the year after.

In one season in the CSSHL, Murray had four goals and 12 assists in 36 games.

That RHA team included the likes of current Steinbach Pistons forward Carter Loney, who Murray travelled with to Dawson Creek with as the lone MJHL representatives on Team Canada West.

“The competition was unreal,” Murray said. “I found it to be a little of a step above from playing (in Yellowhead), not that there was anything wrong with that. You get a little bit more exposure and playing guys from all over Western Canada made it a little tougher.”

Murray then made the jump to the MJHL in 2018-19 as a 16-year-old, and excelled.

This season, he had the opportunity to wear the Maple Leaf in Dawson Creek.

“I had a really strong camp and the experience there was good and the tournament was really well run as well,” he said. “Getting to go up in northern B.C., somewhere I’ve never gone before. Was a pretty neat experience.”

Despite Canada West finishing without a win at the tournament, Murray had the chance to rub shoulders with some elite hockey players.

Photo courtesy Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Owen Murray. 17, said he enjoyed his time with Canada West despite the team not making the knockout stages.

“Everybody’s always getting better out there,” he said.

“There’s no real limit that you can reach, you can always keep performing better than you do the last time and definitely there’s a lot of talent in the world and nothing’s going to be easy.”

Standing at five-foot-10, Murray certainly isn’t the biggest player on the ice, something that might have prevented him from being taken in the WHL bantam draft. Murray racked up 18 goals and 26 assists for 44 points in his final bantam year with the Yellowhead Chiefs.

“I thought my top age bantam year I had a really strong year and I just thought for my size I was overlooked a little bit,” he said. “Honestly, it doesn’t really matter too much if you do get drafted or not in the end.”

Murray can prove those scouts who overlooked him wrong with his impressive hockey resume.

Last year, he notched nine goals and 32 assists in 55 games with the Terriers. The rookie had five points in 15 playoff games en route to a Turnbull Cup championship for Portage. For his efforts, he took home the MJHL rookie of the year award and was a nominee for the Canadian Junior Hockey League rookie of the year.

The Terriers defeated the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Battlefords North Stars in five games to win the Anavet Cup, sending them to the national Junior A championship.

“Last year was an unbelievable year from the start of the year to the end,” Murray said. “Going into the season, we didn’t really know what to expect knowing we were hosting the (Centennial Cup) following year, so we were kind of expected to be middle of the pack team with close to 10 rookies.

“Everybody just seemed to have a lot of energy. It was an unbelievable group of guys and I think that credits a lot to our success. Everybody got along really well and we all bought in to the team’s success and not personal success.”

The Terriers went 0-4 at the national Junior A tournament, but Murray said they can draw on that experience when they host the 2020 edition in May.

“We can take a lot of things away from that and we know that we have to be a lot faster this year and a lot more creative as those teams are quite top-notch and come from some pretty strong leagues,” he said.

“We’ll have a lot more speed going into it, and I think we’ll be ready for it with having been there a year before and having the experience. I think it will go well this year being on home ice.”

The Centennial Cup is scheduled for May 9-17 at Stride Place in Portage la Prairie and even though their tickets are already booked, it would be nice to go in as MJHL champions, Murray said.

“Our team’s really strong and we’re only going to get better from here and maybe pick up a couple guys along the way to bolster the roster,” he said. “I think with the experience we had last year we know what it takes to win the playoffs here in the MJ. All of that will keep translating as we keep going along and I think we’ll be definitely be right there to win it.”

» rstelter@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @steltsy94

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