Q&A with Andrew Murray

By DJ Powers

Andrew Murray, a 2001 NHL Draft selection (242nd overall, eighth round) of the Columbus Blue Jackets, is nearing completion of an illustrious four-year career at Bemidji State University, having set several Division I Era school records, including career points (115) and career assists (69). His 115 career points rank him 30th all time in the storied history of the BSU program. Murray helped lead the Beavers to their first ever CHA conference title and bid to the NCAA D-I Frozen Four Tournament. Before his season and collegiate career came to an end due to injury, Murray was leading the team with 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists).

At the recent CHA Awards ceremony, Murray was named the CHA’s Player and Student-Athlete of the Year. He became the first player in CHA history to capture both honors in the same season. He was also one of only two players that were unanimous selections to the CHA All-Conference First Team. In addition, he was named to the CHA All-Academic Team for the third consecutive year.

Andrew Murray recently spoke with Hockey’s Future about his career at Bemidji State, his relationship with the Columbus Blue Jackets and gave some insights into what could lie ahead for him in the pros.

HF: First, congratulations on winning the CHA’s Player and Student-Athlete of the Year Awards. Those must’ve been great honors for you.

AM: Yeah, it is quite an honor to receive those awards that’s for sure.

HF: During the season finale versus Air Force, you suffered a broken collarbone. How are you feeling now?b>

AM: I’m feeling a lot better. It happened March 5th, on Saturday night against Air Force in the second period. It was more or less a freak accident. I was just going to the net and got hit and kind of got caught the wrong way leaning towards the net. I saw the doctors at the Air Force Academy and got some medical advice from them. We came back to Minnesota the next day and saw a doctor shortly after that. The doctor said that I was going to have to have surgery on it just because it was too badly injured. I had surgery on it last Wednesday. I got a plate put in there. I’m feeling a lot better now than I was before because it’s back in place. It’s starting to heal now and I’m on the road to recovery. The bad news is the season is lost for myself since suffering this injury.

HF: Your team has just won their first CHA title. That must’ve been really hard for you to watch your team not only win it but to not be able to be there to help the cause.

AM: Yeah, that’s for sure. We lost in the (CHA) final last year to Niagara. It put a sour taste in our mouths and it was the goal this year to get back into that final game and win it. We’ve been runner-ups for two years in a row. It was kind of frustrating for myself that I wasn’t able to play in the game. Just watching from the stands and seeing the boys perform made me real proud of them. I’m honored to be their captain and to be the leader of the team. They really played like champions all weekend and I couldn’t be more proud of them.

HF: Weren’t you one of the guys that was on the ice after the game?

AM: Yeah, I was on there. I lined up on the blueline and got presented the championship trophy. It was really nice to get handed the trophy from the commissioner of the CHA. I shared in the on-ice celebrations with the guys and it was special. They’re just a great group of hard-working guys. I’m glad that we could cap it off with a conference championship.

HF: Let’s talk about the team. The team won the (CHA) title this year and as you mentioned earlier, the team lost a really disappointing game to Niagara last year. Was that the only, if not the biggest motivating factor in wanting to win it this year?

AM: I think so. We won the regular season and repeated this year as well doing that. We had a pretty good record. I think we went 16-4 in the conference this year, so that was something that we wanted to accomplish as well as getting the number one seed going into the (CHA) tournament. Getting the loss in that game last year, we know how it felt being on the other end of the stick. Actually our usual pre-game video consists of either scouting the other team or watching ourselves in the previous game. Before the finals this year, we actually watched clips of that particular game that we played against Niagara. It wasn’t meant to pump us up or depress us at all but it was just reality. It showed the guys kind of what to expect and could happen, being on TV and with the spotlight on us for that game. I think that it was a good move by the coaching staff and I think it turned out well in the end for us.

HF: What do you feel is the biggest difference between last year’s team and this year’s team?

AM: The experience of having played in the finals last year, as well as the determination and the motivation coming into the conference tournament. We were playing really good hockey. We played a lot better in the conference semi-finals this year than we did last year. Being on a roll at the right time and having good chemistry on the team has also helped.

HF: What areas do you feel the team has improved in the most this year?

AM: I think our team speed has improved quite a bit, as far as up front goes. We have some guys that can skate pretty well. Playing the physical brand of hockey is kind of our style. We get into the opposing team’s faces and we get on the forecheck. We’re a puck pressure team. Bert Gilling, our defense coach, has just done a wonderful job with our defensemen. At the beginning of the year they were struggling a little bit but now I don’t know if there’s a better defensive corps in our conference that’s for sure. They’ve just been playing great, simple hockey. They’re moving the puck well and I give kudos to them. Matt Climie has also been really good. He didn’t allow a goal in the whole conference tournament. He’s a steady goalie and he’s really confident right now. You need that kind of goalie to win the championship.

HF: You’ve played a lot with Brendan Cook. The two of you play and compliment each other so well. What is it about playing with him that makes it work?

AM: I think one of the things about playing with Cook is that he’s a goal scorer. He finds open ice and can get himself open. He also has the best shot on the team. I try to create some space out there for him. I try to get the puck to him wherever he is, whether it’s the slot area or the neutral zone, so he can do his thing. He’s a great hockey player and he’s really stepped it up since his freshman year. It’s really nice to have a guy like that on your line, knowing that if you get him the puck it’s going in the net.

HF: You leave Bemidji State this spring and you leave having had a great career there, along with getting into the Division I Era record books. What do you want to be most remembered for when you leave?

AM: I think a lot of things. I remember telling the coaches at the team meeting we had at the end of last year that I want our class to be remembered as the first class to get Bemidji State to the NCAA D-I tournament. For me personally, I want to be remembered as a guy who went to class and worked hard at both his studies and being a hockey player. I’m proud of the fact that I’m graduating this May. It’ll be nice to get that piece of paper that’s for sure (laughs). As a hockey player, I’d like to be remembered as a guy who came to the rink every day, worked hard and hopefully leave a little bit of an influence on both the new players coming into the system as well as the current players. I can’t say enough of how proud I am of those guys. When I was watching the (CHA championship) game up in the stands, I’ve never been so nervous. Usually when I’m playing I’m fine, but up in those stands I was just shaking and it was awful (laughs). I’m glad that they won.

HF: What do you feel was your greatest accomplishment as a student-athlete at Bemidji State?

AM: I would say improving the program. The year before I came in, the team only had four wins all year. After I came in, we built on that every year to success. My first year I believe we had 12 or 14 wins and this year we have 22 already. I feel that helping to pioneer the program from Division II to Division I was also one of my greatest accomplishments. We struggled early on but I feel that the senior class and myself helped to create the culture that Bemidji State hockey is all about.

HF: What is going to be the most difficult part about leaving Bemidji State?

AM: I think there will be a lot of things. This summer will be the first time in four years that I don’t know where I’m going to be going. That’ll be a bit of an adjustment. It’ll be the first time in however many years that I won’t be enrolled in school. That’ll be tough. It’ll be difficult leaving all of the guys there. I’ve spent six, seven days a week with them. I’ve made a lot of friends along the way, not just on the hockey team but outside of it as well. I’ll try and keep in touch with them but I won’t see them as much. I’ll also miss the coaching staff and the relationship that I’ve built with them. It’ll be hard but I know that I have to move on.

HF: Growing up in Canada and playing Junior “A” hockey there, did you ever consider going the major junior route?

AM: I did early on, but to be honest with you I wasn’t that great of a player back when I was younger. In Major Junior, guys get in there when they’re 15 years old. At that time, I hadn’t really developed physically nor worked out in the weight room at all. I did get some interest from a couple of teams in the WHL, but didn’t really pursue it too much. I played in the Manitoba Junior League for three years. After my second year in the (Manitoba) league, I got some interest from the QMJHL as well. I decided that I wanted to go the college route and get a scholarship. I’m pretty happy with my decision.

HF: What persuaded you to go to Bemidji State?

AM: When I went on my recruiting visit there, I didn’t know too much about the school. My neighbor back in Selkirk, Manitoba where I grew up actually played football at Bemidji State back in the 1970s. I heard a lot of good things from him. Another friend of the family, R. H. “Bob” Peters (legendary former Bemidji State head coach and current CHA Commissioner) played hockey there. I knew a little bit about the school and the hockey program, but I had never been there prior to my visit. When I went on my recruiting visit, I fell in the love with the place. They have a great coaching staff in (head coach) Tom Serratore, Bert Gilling and Ted Belisle. I can’t say enough about those guys. They really pushed me along. They not only made me a better hockey player but a better person too and for that I owe them a lot of thanks. Education-wise, the school is great. It’s been a challenge but it’s also fun. The hockey program keeps getting better and better and I’m just excited to see where it’s going to go from here.

HF: What has it been like for you personally playing for Tom Serratore?

AM: Oh, it’s been great. He has won CHA Coach of the Year for the last two years. I had a chuckle with him when he said that great players make great coaches (laughs). I told him that it works the other way around too. He’s been a hard worker. I don’t know of too many guys that work as hard as him. After we won in Grand Rapids (Minnesota) on Sunday, he was leaving on Monday for the Canadian Maritimes to go recruiting again, so he’s just an endless worker. He can be a credited for much of the success that the team has had.

HF: Coach Serratore has a lot of enthusiasm and passion for the game. Has that rubbed off on you and your teammates?

AM: Oh, for sure. Yeah. He gets pretty fired up behind the bench. I know that a lot of coaches do, but I think he might even take it to the next level (laughs). He played for Bemidji State, he won a national (D-II) championship and he bleeds the green and white. He’s got immense pride in the program. He’s been a great coach.

HF: You were drafted very late in the 2001 Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets. When you found out that you had been drafted, what was your first reaction?

AM: I wasn’t paying much attention to the draft and then I got the call. I was pretty excited. Every kid’s dream growing up is to play in the NHL. To get selected by one of the teams is quite an honor. My family was pretty proud too. It’s another step in my career. The Blue Jackets have followed my college career, pushed me along and invited me to the summer development camps. It’s been amazing.

HF: You just mentioned the summer development camps. What has the experience been like for you going to them?

AM: It’s been great. I’ve been there for three summers. Every summer you pick up a new thing by watching the other guys and watching some of the guys that have played in Columbus before. I get a chance to see their on-ice and off-ice habits and just how hard these guys work to become elite athletes. It’s just incredible. I get a taste of what the Columbus Blue Jackets organization is like as well, by being around the other players and the staff. It’s been a real eye opener for me. It’s kind of like the carrot dangling in front of you, where you want to get it. You want to be there and you want to work that much harder to achieve that.

HF: Have you had any recent contact with the Columbus Blue Jackets?

AM: Yeah, I have. They’ve been great in my four years at Bemidji State. Paul Castron, their Director of Player Development, and I have been in close contact and we’ve developed a great relationship. When I got injured, their athletic therapist has been in contact with my university team and me as well. They have been checking up on me to see how things are going with my injury and to congratulate us on the season and getting into the NCAA Tournament.

HF: You graduate this spring. With the current NHL labor situation, how do you feel about what lies ahead for you and do feel some concern about it?

AM: It’s kind of out of my control really, so I’ll let those people figure that out. As far as myself is concerned, I’m not going to change too much. I’m just going to work hard to rehab my shoulder now and try to get better as a hockey player. I want start working out as soon as the doctor clears me. Hopefully things take care of themselves from the other end.

HF: If the NHL labor situation isn’t settled by then, are you hoping to be playing in either the AHL or ECHL in the fall?

AM: Yeah. I hope to land with whatever team that the Columbus organization wants me to be with. I’m just seeing where things go. Hopefully things will be worked out with the NHL. I know from a fan point of view, it’s been hard on me not watching hockey games. I’m just hoping that everything works out. I’ll definitely be working hard to try and get to that next level.

HF: What do you feel are your current strengths and weaknesses?

AM: One of my strengths is that I’ve gotten better as a player every year. When I first came into Bemidji State, I was 195 lbs. Coming out of college, I’ll be about 215 lbs. Hard working and dedicated would be some of my other strengths As far as on the ice, I would like to think that I’m a leader out there, leading by example and get things done that way. As far as areas of improvements, obviously I need to improve on everything. Some of the things that I have been working on this year are my skating and agility out there. I have been working not so much on north/south as east/west, agility-wise. I’m also working on my stride, trying to get it a little bit more efficient out there. I’ve been working with one of our assistant coaches in that capacity. I’m also working on my shot, trying to get a quicker release. I think it’s an area that I have improved on this year.

HF: Who has had the greatest influence on you as a player?

AM: There have been so many people. You can look at my minor and junior “A” hockey coaches as examples. Tom Serratore and Bert Gilling from Bemidji State have been great. In order to get me to that next level, I think they’ve been just fantastic. They really cater to me and help me out anyway they can. They’re both hard workers and I’d like to think that I am too. It’s been a great fit and I can’t really thank them enough. My parents have been really supportive. They come down a lot to watch games. They’ve been supporting me as a player since I was 6 years old, when I started playing. They’ve done a lot of driving. When I got injured they drove down to Bemidji and then came to Grand Rapids to watch the (CHA) tournament as well.

HF: What NHL player(s) have influenced you the most?

AM: One of the players that I’ve looked up to is Mario Lemieux. I’ve been inspired by the adversity that he’s gone through, fighting cancer and being the best player in the world. I’ve really looked up to him. When we were at Robert Morris about a month ago, we got a chance to see Mario Lemieux practice. He was on the ice before us. He is kind of a role model for myself. He’s a guy that I think every kid in Canada looks up to. He wears the Team Canada jersey and is immensely proud of being Canadian. He was the captain of the team that won the Olympics. I look up to all those things about him as well as his other achievements.

HF: Final questions. Of all the college road rinks that you’ve played in, which was the worst and which was the toughest?

AM: Oh geez, I’ve played in a lot of bad ones. We played in (an old) one at Wayne State in Detroit. It was pretty bad. We didn’t get the dressing room for the whole weekend. After the game, the rink attendant was getting in there after us and told us to move our gear into some little storage room. Our equipment didn’t dry out and it was a headache. I guess they got enough complaints that they knew that they had to move out of it. The toughest I’d say would be Mariucci Arena at the University of Minnesota, especially for our team. We play maybe four games a year tops on an Olympic-sized ice. That rink is just an ocean. I think it’s even bigger than Olympic ice. Obviously when you have a hostile crowd of 10 or 11,000 people that makes it tough too.

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