In this edition of "Blood, Sweat and Cheers," former Blackhawk Curt Fraser writes about friend and fellow "Clydesdale" Troy Murray.
The years I played for the Blackhawks were the highlight of my career, and a lot of that is because of Troy Murray. It took me awhile to realize as much, though, but only a little while.
I was on the ice during the warm-up for the Vancouver Canucks just after New Year’s in 1983 when I got the word that I had been traded to Chicago. In a word, I was crushed. Absolutely crushed. I had played as a junior in Victoria, then got drafted by the Canucks, and had started with them. So I was all Vancouver Canucks all the time, through and through. (I hope Blackhawk fans forgive me. I know what the rivalry is like.)
After spending most of that night out with my now-former teammates, feeling sad to leave them, I took a flight at the crack of dawn to Chicago, where General Manager Bob Pulford picked me up at the airport. I was feeling terrible, still in shock, but that lasted about three days. I took a walk around the old Stadium, soaked in some of that history, and in no time at all I was over it. Going to an Original Six franchise meant a lot to me, especially one with such great fans in that unbelievable building.
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But the best was still to come. I started out skating on a line with Tim Higgins and Steve Ludzik, which was good. Then I got hooked up with Troy. He was in his first full season with the Blackhawks, and we didn’t become linemates right away. When we did though, it was the best thing that ever happened to me in hockey.
Then it got even better. Eddie Olczyk, a Chicago kid, joined the team after playing for the United States at the 1984 Winter Olympics. The three of us became a unit, and we stayed that way for quite a while. I’m not sure when the term “chemistry” became popular, but we had it. I had played with Thomas Gradin and Stan Smyl on a regular basis in Vancouver, and now I had two steady linemates in Chicago.
One day I heard that we had been tagged with the name of “Clydesdales” by Pat Foley, the Blackhawks’ outstanding broadcaster. I’m not sure I knew what to make of it at the time. Now that I live in St. Louis, I get it, of course. Budweiser. But the more I learned about it, Pat hit it right on the head. We were workhorses: not flashy, but we tried to do our job, and most of the time our job was playing against the other team’s best line. When we came up against the Edmonton Oilers, naturally that meant Wayne Gretzky and whomever he was on the ice with.
I’ve heard that Wayne said Troy was one of the two or three toughest centers he had to face, and I can believe it because I saw it firsthand. Wayne, of course, was the best player in the world, and that Edmonton team had a half-dozen future Hall of Famers on the roster. I mean, they were just scary. But we relished the challenge, and thanks to Troy, we held our own.
Troy’s job was to shadow Gretzky, and he ran over him a few times or gave him a whack with the stick on a faceoff. But Wayne was incredibly slippery and smart, so you had to be on guard for him passing the puck to one of his other guys just when you went to check him. Those “other guys” were terrific, so we had our hands full. I know, too, that Troy heard some trash talk before and during games from some of Edmonton’s big guys. You know, watch yourself with No. 99, or your life will be threatened. But that didn’t affect Troy.
By skating against top lines, including Edmonton’s, we did get our share of chances to score. That’s when Troy showed how good he was at all aspects of the game, including making Eddie and me better players. There wasn’t anything Troy couldn’t do. He was the complete pro, and he showed it when he won the Frank Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in 1986, when he had 99 points! He had 45 goals and he was on the checking line!
I missed a bunch of games that season because of a shoulder injury and still wound up with 29 goals, thanks a lot to Troy. And Eddie had 29. For the Clydesdales! A lot of that was due to the unselfishness of Troy, and he was plenty tough. One night I took a stick in the eye from Billy Smith, the New York Islanders’ goalie, and fractured my orbital bone. I started wearing a shield, and soon after I got run into hard by a member of the Boston Bruins. I can’t recall who, but I do know the next body I saw was Troy, putting that guy into the boards like you wouldn’t believe. Typical.
Troy was a team player who always seemed to step up when things were going bad for us. We had a fabulous group of guys in Chicago, very talented, but we just kept running into the Oilers. I’d like to think we were the second-best team in the NHL then, but Edmonton was loaded. When I was traded to Minnesota in 1988, I missed Troy as a friend and as a linemate. When I came to Chicago, he was the kid and I was the veteran, but he didn’t need much mentoring. Troy was a born leader and way, way underrated.
I’m coaching now for the Dallas Stars. (Forgive me, again.) A great organization, like Chicago. But as a coach, I look for qualities in players and realize more than ever what Troy was all about. How great would it be to coach him? Little did I know, as a player with the Blackhawks, that I would be linemates with two future famous broadcasters, Eddie and Troy. Troy always was a better talker than me, but there’s no question in my mind that he could do what I’m doing. With his knowledge and ability to deal with people, he could be a coach.
Could I be a broadcaster? Don’t think so. I’m happy with what I’m doing. I don’t think we’ll be trading places.