By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
If you call yourself a hockey fan, and you’re from Manitoba, you should recognize the name Andy Murray.
One time coach with the Winnipeg Jets (1.0), former head coach of the Brandon University Bobcats and native of Souris who’s been around hockey circles forever (or it just seems forever).
These days you’ll find Murray hanging out at the Bell MTS Iceplex where the Old Dutch MJHL Showcase is being staged. These days Murray is head coach of Western Michigan men’s hockey program. A position he’s held since 2011.
Transitioning the Old Dutch Manitoba Junior Hockey League Showcase from early October to mid-December was a calculated move to make the three-day event at the Bell MTS Iceplex even more appealing to scouts from across North America.
Murray is also an MJHL alumni, having coached the former Brandon Travellers. (Remember them?) He’s quick to heap much praise on his former league and its players.
“I was just talking to a WHL scout, and I told him the MJHL has improved so much – perhaps more than any junior A league in Canada,” he said. “Younger players are being integrated and being given bigger roles on teams. The coaching level has improved, and the teams are all run like professional teams with regular practice times.”
“I think the caliber of player has improved year after year, and we have three Manitoba players on our team (including former Winnipeg Blues defenceman Paul Stoykewych), and more coming that we’ve committed to,” he added. “Manitoba is a prime recruiting area for us. I’m from Souris, and my assistant coach is from Brandon so we have a lot of connections to Manitoba.”
And when you add up the sheer number of scouts, and the quality of the programs they represent, the 2017 edition of the Showcase has to be considered the most successful one to date.
Murray can be spotted chatting with league representatives and fellow scouts which searching for the next player to recruit to the Western Michigan.
The Manitoba native had high praise for this year’s Old Dutch MJHL Showcase, and says moving the event to December makes perfect sense from a scouting perspective.
“(Having the Showcase at this time of the year) is just a great decision by the Board of Governors,” said Murray. “All of the colleges are done for their Christmas break, and everyone can be here, which you can see by the attendance of all these schools.”
“The other thing about the timing is that in summer camps or early October (when the Showcase was originally hosted), you don’t see the players as you do in mid-season,” he added. “This is a better way to evaluate players – they are already in mid-season form.”
Murray, who was a head coach in Los Angeles and St. Louis along with working as an assistant in Winnipeg, Philadelphia and Minnesota during his NHL career, feels the MJHL also did an excellent job in organizing the event.
“The schedule really works for the scouts, and the hospitality is as good as I’ve seen at any junior A showcase,” he said.
Murray noted players should know that coaches and scouts are watching them every weekend, even if they are not in the stands. The ability to watch games over the internet has made it much easier to see more players more often.
“We watch (games) all the time, and I know next year there is going to be the requirement that every team goes to HD, and we recruit a lot of players this way,” he said.
Now in his seventh year at Western Michigan, Murray jokes his long coaching career has been his way of avoiding getting “a real job”. But he is serious when he says that hockey can provide all sorts of opportunities for players, and that junior A hockey can assist players on their way to an education, the professional ranks, or both.
“We’ve had some success and we’re developing players,” said Murray. “And a lot of our players are going on to play pro hockey, which is what we’re about.”
“I think major junior is a great option for some players, but as I say to some players, ‘How would you like to be 21 or 22 years of age, have a college degree and an NHL contract?’ I think that’s pretty good.”