|Troy Murray stands with the Frank J. Selke Trophy after winning the award in 1986. (Chicago Blackhawks Archives).
Jonathan Toews, captain of the Blackhawks, is among three finalists for the Frank J. Selke Trophy awarded annually to the “forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.” His competition will be from two of the Blackhawks’ most visceral rivals—Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings and Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks.
Prior to the NHL’s announcement at Wednesday night’s ceremony in Las Vegas, Chicago Blackhawks Team Historian Bob Verdi talked with Troy Murray, who won the Selke Trophy with the Blackhawks in 1986 and is now analyst on the award-winning WGN Radio tandem beside John Wiedeman. Toews was the Blackhawks’ No. 1 draft choice in 2006 via the University of North Dakota, where there is a statue of a certain hockey player beside Ralph Engelstad Arena. “I didn’t realize it until I got to Chicago,” recalled Toews. “That’s Troy Murray!”
What is your opinion of this year’s Selke nominees?
Team historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. Verdi authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001.
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They’re all worthy, that’s for sure. Datsyuk is terrific, and nobody in the league works harder than him. Kesler has been a solid player for a while. His coming-out party, so to speak, was the Olympics last year. Toews, of course, I see all year. There was some talk during our series against Vancouver than Kesler shut him down. Well, Toews shut Kesler down, too. That’s what they do. And when Toews scored the shorthanded goal late in Game 7, that was vintage. It was an incredibly tough series; he didn’t have much left in the tank, yet he wouldn’t be denied.
When you won the Selke in 1986, you scored 45 goals. Did that break the mold?
Probably, to a point. A lot has changed since then, particularly the rules. There were things you could do when I played that you can’t do any more. Also, there were things done to you that can’t be done to you anymore, like interference and the hooking that you saw in our day. I would like to think, though, that I could still win a Selke in today’s game. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the work ethic. A Selke Trophy winner still has to have a certain makeup.Is that attitude appreciated by fellow players and fans?
When Jonathan Toews
is playing with a brace because he has a sore knee and he goes down to block a shot, his teammates notice it. And that can be contagious. It should be contagious. If you’re on the ice with him, or on the bench watching him, it has to register. ‘Look at the sacrifices our captain is making. I have to do the same.’ When I was doing my job defensively, I felt the respect in the locker room, which is all I really needed. Fans appreciate a good two-way player, too, if they study the game. They can see when a guy is competing on every shift, everywhere on the ice.
Can defense go into a slump?
I think so. If you’re a goal scorer and you don’t score for a while, you feel it. You start dissecting whether you’re taking enough shots, good shots. If you’re a defensive specialist and you lose an important faceoff and it comes back to bite you, that can wear on you. You can find yourself running around in your end or squeezing the stick and losing a little confidence.
Where did you develop your work ethic?
At the University of North Dakota, we practiced more than we played, which is the case at most college programs. We had a coach, Gino Gasparini, who taught me that the defensive aspect of the game was important. And, of course, he was right. When you get to the NHL, you aren’t the No. 1 center anymore. My first year with the Blackhawks, I didn’t play a lot, and I wanted to contribute in any way, shape or form. I concentrated on the defensive side. We had a lot of guys who sacrificed and a lot of guys, like Bob Murray and Darryl Sutter, who appreciated when I did whatever I could to keep the puck out of our net.
You mention sacrifice. Did you sacrifice offense for defense?
That’s probably how it evolved. I never scored 45 goals again. Eventually, I tailed off in my point production and ended up focusing on defense first, on being a specialist.
When Jonathan Toews is playing with a brace because he has a sore knee and he goes down to block a shot, his teammates notice it. It should be contagious. If you’re on the ice with him, or on the bench watching him, it has to register. - Troy Murray
Wayne Gretzky says you were among the three best “shadows” he faced, along with Steve Kasper of the Boston Bruins and Brent Sutter of the New York Islanders.
That’s a heck of a compliment coming from him. Whenever we played the Edmonton Oilers, I knew what my assignment was. If we had the puck, fine. But as soon as they got it, my job was to find him and stay with him as best as possible. You knew you weren’t going to shut him down completely, because he was so good. You just didn’t want him to wind up with 5 or 6 points a game. If you could keep him to 2 or 3, that was almost a moral victory. You just didn’t want to get embarrassed.
Did he ever embarrass you?
Well, I remember one game when we did have him sort of shut down. It was in the Stadium during that streak of his. He had a point in his last 10 games of 1983, then at least one in every game the next season. We were down by a goal, early January, and pulled our goalie. I tried to make a pass across to Doug Wilson. It was waist high, and Gretzky comes out of nowhere, knocks it out of the air with his stick and puts it in our empty net. I broke my stick over the crossbar. That continued his streak, which reached 51 straight games, still a record.
How difficult was Gretzky to check?
He was the best and the smartest. Before a faceoff, he would often drift over to one of our other players. Meanwhile, I never let him out of my sight, so that meant it was 2-on-1, giving Edmonton more room. Just what those guys needed with all those Hall of Famers. I always knew where the line was and what would happen if you crossed it with him. Dave Semenko might just stare at me during warm-ups. Or growl. Guys like Marty McSorley were a little more vocal. If you tried to rough up Wayne, you knew you would pay a price. That’s if you could even catch him.