San Jose Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray is a bit of an oddity among the five Swedish players who will take part in the Stockholm leg of the Compuware NHL Premiere Series.
Just like teammate Niclas Wallin and Columbus Blue Jackets players Sammy Pahlsson, Kristian Huselius and Anton Stralman, the 30-year-old Murray spent his formative years playing youth hockey in Sweden while dreaming of playing professionally someday. But unlike his countrymen, Murray wasn't learning the ropes in the Swedish Elite League as an 18-year-old. Instead, the native of Bromma crossed the Atlantic Ocean and enrolled at Cornell, an Ivy League school better known for graduating defense attorneys than defensemen.
Murray has been plying his trade in the United States ever since.
Murray was joking about being "stuck" in North America, but he wasn't joking about his chances for making the NHL. He was an eighth-round pick at the 1999 Entry Draft by the Sharks, a round that hasn't existed since the draft was cut from nine rounds to seven in 2005. Murray spent four years at Cornell and graduated in 2003 with a degree in hotel administration and a slew of NCAA and ECAC awards. It took another two-plus seasons with the Cleveland Barons of the AHL before Murray made his debut with the Sharks in 2005.
Even with a degree from Cornell in his back pocket, Murray said he never considered giving up hockey to jump into the hotel business or return home to Sweden.
"Hockey was always my No. 1 focus. My teachers will attest to that," Murray said before correcting himself. "My professors, I should say. My No. 1 option and want was to be a hockey player. That's what I focused on even when I was at Cornell. That never changed."
While Swedes like Wallin, Pahlsson and Huselius used the lack of an NHL season in 2004-05 to return home to play in the SEL, Murray was on an AHL contract and never left North America. When Murray takes the ice on Oct. 8, it will mark the first time he has played in his home country since he was a member of Sweden's under-17 team nearly 13 years ago.
"A lot of excitement, obviously," Murray said of this opportunity. "Obviously it's very nice, the fact that I've been very fortunate having a lot of friends and family come over to watch me over the years here. It's still a lot of extended family and we're a pretty big family back there and a lot of them have never seen me play. That's going to be very exciting."
Murray said growing up in Sweden made it tough to watch the NHL, due to the time difference that resulted in most games starting in the middle of the night. But with advances in technology and more and more NHL games being played in Europe, Murray said there's added buzz now than when he was a young boy who couldn't get enough of the NHL.
"The last five years, especially when these games started over there, there's a lot more exposure," Murray said. "They cover the NHL in the newspapers in a completely different way. They show a lot more games, reruns and also live in the middle of the night. I think that has changed a lot. Personally I always loved the hockey in North America and watched a lot of (Don Cherry's) “Rock'em Sock'em” and NHL's greatest hits highlight tapes when I was younger, so I would say probably the national team was the No. 1 thing you were thinking about as a kid, but I definitely was drawn to North America."
The move from Sweden to Ithaca, N.Y., to play college hockey wasn't the traditional one, but it turned out to be the smart one. And why would anyone expect anything less from Murray, who recently was deemed the second smartest player in the NHL by The Hockey News. Murray was No. 16 among all of today's athletes and the only NHL player ahead of him was Anaheim Ducks forward George Parros, who holds a degree from Princeton University.
Murray had a sense of humor about being deemed less intelligent than Parros.
"George Parros was obviously the smartest one," Murray said. "I was joking to George at least they didn't go based on looks otherwise it would've been a different story."
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