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Andy Murray savors WMU's GLI championship

By Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Andy Murray savors WMU's GLI championship
Andy Murray has played and coached hockey all over the world, so being behind the bench for Western Michigan at the 2013 Great Lakes Invitational was not his first outdoor experience.

DETROIT -- Andy Murray has played and coached hockey all over the world, so being behind the bench for Western Michigan at the 2013 Great Lakes Invitational was not his first outdoor experience.

It has been a while though.

Murray participated in games outdoors as a player in Europe. But the games Friday and Saturday at Comerica Park were his first outdoor games as a coach in more than two decades.

"My last one was in 1990," Murray said. "I was coaching my son Brady's 6-year-old team in Minneapolis when I was an assistant with the North Stars. It was January and it must have been about 40 below and we were playing outdoors.

"We had five guys on the ice in two-minute shifts and then we'd take those five kids off and put them in a warming house and bring five other kids out of the warming house. The problem was as the game went on we were always taking five guys off the ice but it was getting harder to get five kids to come out."

Murray didn't have that problem Saturday on a balmy night at the home of the Detroit Tigers. His Broncos needed overtime before beating Michigan Tech 1-0 in the championship game on a goal by junior forward Justin Kovacs 2:01 into the extra period.

Defenseman Kenney Morrison fired wide from the right point and Kovacs was able to push the rebound across the goal line. The puck might not have reached the back of the net, but there wasn't likely to be a pretty snipe to decide this goaltending duel.

"We talked about it during the intermissions about getting point shots off the back wall," Kovacs said. "The boards were bouncy out there. Kenny took one off the back wall and I just kind of went to the net and chipped it in and it trickled in."

The Great Lakes Invitational is usually held at Joe Louis Arena. But the 2013 edition is part of the SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival, a five-day celebration of the sport leading up to the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium on Jan. 1.

This is Murray's third season in charge of the Western Michigan program, and this tournament title is a significant achievement for the school from Kalamazoo. The Broncos hadn't won the GLI since 1986.

They reached the final last season, but lost 4-0 to this same Michigan Tech team. Huskies goaltender Phoenix Copley pitched back-to-back shutouts a year ago, and he nearly had another against the Broncos. Instead, he was upstaged by 2013 tournament MVP Lukas Hafner, who stopped all 31 shots he faced.

"We're excited and concerned," Murray said. "Because the last time Western Michigan won the tournament in 1986 they didn't get invited back for [26] years. We're hoping that changes. It is a tremendous tournament to play and to play at this venue in Comerica Park is a lifetime of memories for our players. There is no doubt about that."

Western Michigan won the Central Collegiate Hockey Association tournament in Murray's first season, earning the fifth NCAA tournament bid in school history. The team was ranked for much of last season and finished third in the final CCHA standings, but did not earn an NCAA bid.

The team's record is now 9-8-7 this season, but defeating national power Michigan on Friday night and winning this tournament the next night could be a significant boost for the program.

"It's a big thing here in Michigan," Murray said. "It's a big tournament. It is four good teams involved in it. It's the first time Western has won it since 1986, so we're pretty pleased with it. ... To be here at Comerica Park was such a great experience. I've had so many neat experiences in hockey, and this was certainly another one."

Murray helped defenseman Danny DeKeyser develop into one of the top players in college hockey, and he's thrived after signing with the Detroit Red Wings. Both of those things could also help Murray as he continues to try and make the Broncos a consistent winner.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of college hockey, and Murray's NHL and international experience are a big plus. Evidence of being able to develop NHL talent at Western Michigan can also help his pitch to prospective recruits.

It's not that he wants to win games 1-0, but much like his clubs did during his tenures with the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues, his Western Michigan teams have been strong defensively.

"I'd prefer to win 6-0. That would be easier on the old guy's ticker," Murray said. "We compete. We're not devoid of scoring chances and we don't sit back. We pressure the puck all over the ice. We've had trouble scoring, but isn't for a lack of opportunities because our effort has always been good.

"It's been exciting. I've been so fortunate my whole life to have so many great experiences in hockey. I've coached for my country, which is the highest honor you can have. I've coached at the NHL level. I had a chance to coach at the junior level, internationally in Europe for eight years. I've been a career coach. It is very hard to believe someone would keep paying me to do this. I've never had to have a real job."