A Center Who Deserves Attention

March 17, 1986
March 17, 1986

Table of Contents
March 17, 1986

Big East
Joaquin Andujar
The Fridge
Pat Porter
Debi Thomas
College Basketball
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

A Center Who Deserves Attention

Chicago Blackhawk Troy Murray has suddenly emerged as one of the NHL's biggest two-way stars

Troy Murray needs a new name, an unusual new name, something elegant like "Mario Lemieux" or harsh like "Clint Malarchuk." Or maybe he needs a pair of Jim McMahon-like shades. Never mind Murray's sudden emergence as a scoring machine—he had 43 goals and 45 assists as of last week as his Norris Division-leading Chicago Blackhawks became the second team in the NHL to clinch a playoff berth. Outside of Chicago—in fact, outside of Chicago Stadium—the two-way center is still Mr. Obscurity.

This is an article from the March 17, 1986 issue Original Layout

"I may be the most anonymous 50-goal scorer in Blackhawk history," says Murray, who, with 12 games left in the season, obviously expects to reach that milestone. As if to prove his point, one day last week every Hawks luminary was asked to appear at a civic club luncheon downtown...except one. "I'm not a household name," Murray says with a shrug.

But Murray may be about to shed his anonymity. Overshadowed by the flashiness of Denis Savard, the Blackhawks' "other" center has undergone a transformation that has Chicagoans all but writing lyrics for the Stanley Cup Shuffle. In this, his fourth full season, the 23-year-old Murray is finally fulfilling the promise that G.M.-coach Bob Pulford saw early in his pro career when he hailed Murray as "our Bryan Trottier."

The 6'1", 195-pound Murray kills penalties, works the power play and has an astounding +37 plus-minus rating despite being assigned to cover the opponents' best centers. "Right now, Troy Murray gets my vote for the league's MVP," says St. Louis coach Jacques Demers, whose Blues lost to the Blackhawks in Chicago Stadium 4-2 on Sunday night.

The Hawks have recovered from a horrendous 9-15-4 start to go 25-11-4 in their last 40 games and take a four-point lead over the Blues. The line of Murray, Ed Olczyk and Curt Fraser has provided a hard-charging counterpoint to the first line of Savard, Al Secord and Steve Larmer, giving the Blackhawks a one-two punch second only to Edmonton's. Both Chicago centers rank among the NHL's Top 10 scorers and their wingers are also thriving. Secord had a goal against St. Louis Sunday, his 37th of the season, and Larmer scored two, including the 150th of his career. Murray got an assist on the other goal, by Olczyk.

The Blackhawks had expected Murray to become a solid two-way guy, someone who would score 20 to 25 goals a year and on defense attach himself to Wayne Gretzky's sternum. But 50 goals? "When I first saw him as a teenager, I had absolutely no indication he would become this type of an offensive player," says Jack Davison, the Blackhawks' assistant general manager. Murray was then a 17-year-old playing Tier II hockey in Saint Albert, outside Edmonton. "We thought he could score, but like this?" Davison says. "What a bonus."

Murray was the 57th player taken in the 1980 draft, a gold mine for the Blackhawks that also yielded Savard, Larmer, Steve Ludzik and Jerome Dupont. Instead of signing with the Hawks, he attended the University of North Dakota, where he was the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's rookie of the year in 1981 and led the Fighting Sioux to an NCAA championship in 1982. Even more impressive, Murray was named captain of the 1982 Canadian junior team that beat the Soviet Union en route to the country's first world championship ever.

"After watching him play in that tournament, we knew we had ourselves a prize," says Davison. "Not only was he the best player on the ice, but he also was made the captain. That tells you something."

Ironically, the strength of character that so impressed the Blackhawks appeared to vanish during Murray's first two years in Chicago. After leaving UND following his sophomore year and joining the Hawks during the 1982 playoffs, Murray scored only eight goals and eight assists in 54 games in 1982-83. The next season, he had 15 goals and 15 assists in 61 games—still disappointing numbers.

The main problem, admits Murray, was his taste for Chicago nightlife. "I didn't take care of myself," he says. "I thought I was rebelling, but I was crazy." Finally, after Murray showed up at practice looking unusually ragged one day, Tony Esposito, the Blackhawks' goalie who was in the final year of his brilliant career, cornered him. "I've seen a lot of guys try to beat the streets," Esposito said. "None of them has ever done it."

Murray came to realize it's not a criminal offense to spend a quiet night at home. "When you're young and single in the big city, you feel you're missing something if you're not out every night," says defenseman Doug Wilson, who had similar experiences earlier in his career. "It's something you grow out of."

Murray's emergence as an NHL star began last season, when he had 26 goals and 40 assists during the regular season and five goals and 14 assists in the playoffs before the Hawks were eliminated in the semifinals by Edmonton. In Game 3 of that series, Murray displayed his defensive prowess by shutting out Gretzky, the first time the Great One had gone pointless in 38 games.

Murray says of his performance this season, "It's been like a dream. It seems like everything is going in the net." Yet he tries to keep things in perspective. He understands the transitory nature of sports, and every off-season since turning pro he has returned to North Dakota and taken business classes. "It's going to take quite a few summers to get the diploma, but I'm going to do it," he says. "Things are going great for me now, but I've seen how quickly it can all end."

Murray learned that firsthand while sharing a town house last season in Elmhurst, a Chicago suburb, with teammates Dave Feamster and Ken Yaremchuk. Feamster had been diagnosed as having severe back problems in 1984, and was trying a comeback. "I remember all three of us would sit around eating breakfast, and then Kenny and I would get up to go to practice and Dave would just sit there. It was so sad to see," Murray says. "It was like his whole world had come tumbling down."

Feamster retired and is now in Pueblo, Colo. as a management trainee for Little Caesar's Pizza. But his experience left an indelible impression on Murray. "As soon as you're not with the team anymore, it's like you don't exist," says Murray. "I won't forget that."

Meanwhile, the NHL is only now learning who Troy Murray is. He's not Bob Murray, Hawks teammate and defenseman. Nor is he road roommate Murray—goalie Murray Bannerman, that is. "Let's not make a lot of noise about this," Troy said after he scored two goals against the Blues two weeks ago in Chicago. "Somebody might notice."

Somebody just might at that.

PHOTODAVID E. KLUTHOMurray has fulfilled his promise ever since he stopped living his life in the fast lane.PHOTOGEORGE TIEDEMANNKeith Brown's goal against St. Louis helped keep the Hawks ahead of their Norris Division rivals.