As Brown and Gold noted here, Western Michigan recently announced the hiring of Andy Murray, who will take over the reins of the Broncos' hockey program from Jeff Blashill (now an assistant for the Red Wings). But just who is Andy Murray? And does he have a shot against Novak Djokovic at Flushing Meadows? Find out more after the jump.
Murray hails from Souris, Mantioba. Souris is located in far southwestern Manitoba and has a population (at least according to Wikipedia) of 1,683. The closest point of reference for we map-illiterate Americans is Rugby, North Dakota, which is about 100 miles south and is the geographic center of North America. Murray's family owned the car dealership in Souris, and he started working there as a teenager, balancing a part-time job with school and hockey. After a playing career that stalled in Canada's senior amateur ranks, he went to work at the dealership full time, and expected he'd take over from his father one day. But the hockey gods intervened.
Murray's uncle Clair owned the Brandon Travelers, a low-level junior team in nearby Brandon, Manitoba. After a particularly nasty bench-clearing brawl in 1976, Clair fired the Travelers' coach. With only a day to prepare for the next game, he needed a coach on short notice -- and he knew just the man for the job. He hired his 25-year-old nephew because Andy "just showed that he loved the game." Murray kept his day job at the car dealership and coached the Travelers in the mornings and evenings. He parlayed the Travelers' job into the head coaching position at Brandon University, where he led the team to the CIS playoffs, the equivalent of our own NCAA tournament, in 1981.
From Brandon University, Murray took his life half a world away. For seven years he was a head coach in Switzerland's top professional league. He returned to North America in 1988, where he was an assistant with the AHL's Hershey Bears before landing a position on the Philadelphia Flyers' staff. From Philadelphia he moved to Minnesota, serving on the North Stars' staff for three years. After returning to Europe for a year to coach in Germany's top league, Murray returned to Manitoba, taking an associate head coach position with the Winnipeg Jets under John Paddock, who had been his boss at Hershey.
Murray left the NHL because he was called to higher service: from 1996 to 1998, he served as head coach of the Canadian national team, leading Team Canada to a gold medal at the 1997 IIHF World Championships. (He also coached Canada to wins at the Worlds in 2003 and 2007, the only coach to lead Canada to three world titles.)
From there, Murray's career took a decidedly odd turn. Rather than returning to the NHL, he was persuaded to take the head coaching job at Shattuck-St. Mary's High School in rural Faribault, Minnesota. Shattuck, under the leadership of former NHL player J.P. Parise, had recently taken its hockey program independent, playing outside the Minnesota State High School League structure, which allowed it to actively recruit players and play an unlimited number of games. Parise produced solid results in several years as head coach, but when he recruited Murray to the job, Shattuck soared. In the 1998-99 season, the Sabres went 70-9-2.
And the NHL noticed. Murray had planned to stay in Faribault and raise a family there, but the Los Angeles Kings offered to make him head coach, and he couldn't refuse. Murray went on to lead the Kings from 1999 to 2006, becoming the winningest coach in franchise history. After being fired by the Kings, he was hired by the St. Louis Blues to replace Mike Kitchen. He lasted four seasons in St. Louis, and was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award in 2009.
Let there be no doubt: Murray is a sensational hire for the Broncos. He doesn't just have NHL experience; he spent 11 seasons as a head coach. That's surely going to be attractive to potential Bronco recruits, and it may well be enough to convince players planning to go the major junior route in Canada to come to Kalamazoo instead. And, thanks to his time at Shattuck -- which takes its academics seriously, contrary to some prep schools that serve as little more than athletics departments -- he has experience helping players balance the demands of the classroom and the ice.
In fact, Murray's time at Shattuck may well be his biggest asset: the school attracts the best talent on the continent (alumni include Sidney Crosby, Jack Johnson, Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise, Kyle Okposo, and Ryan Malone, plus the children of numerous NHL stars), and Murray has stayed connected to the school, sending his two sons and his daughter there to play hockey. Shattuck alumni are also famously loyal, with many of its NHL stars returning to Faribault in the summer to work out with current students. If Murray can turn Western Michigan into a destination for Shattuck players, the Broncos will become a serious player in the world of college hockey. And hiring Murray surely doesn't hurt the their chances of getting an invite from the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference, an invite the school has been lobbying for since the NCHC was formed earlier this summer.
So that's Andy Murray, the newest head coach in MAC hockey.
(And I'm going with Djokovic.)