The playoff race has every one of the Columbus Blue Jackets dialed in. But Andrew Murray, when he gets a free second, is keeping an eye on his Alma Mater. Murray's college team, the Bemidji State Beavers, recently earned their first ever berth in the Frozen Four (NHL.com preview), scheduled to get underway April 9 in the nation's capital.
"I got a text from one of my buddies that they had won (in the Midwest Regional)," says Murray. "I was able to watch the game against Notre Dame (a 5-1 win on March 28) on ESPNU after we played St. Louis at home.
"They're an overachieving team and a great Cinderella story."
Murray can relate. The 27-year-old from Selkirk, Manitoba points out that Bemidji State's coach Tom Serratore is a proponent of hard work and playing a simple game to get the job done, which is precisely what Murray has done in his Blue Jackets' tenure. His stats may not jump off of the page – eight goals and a pair of assists in 65 games this season – but his tireless work on every shift he takes is easy to notice.
It was unlikely that Murray would be an NHL regular. He was the 242nd overall pick in the 2001 Entry Draft by Columbus after a stellar final year in junior with the Selkirk Steelers (46-56-102 in 62 games). Murray then went off to Bemidji State for four years, followed by a couple seasons in the minors with the Syracuse Crunch.
"It hasn't been an easy path for me to get here," he admits. "It's been a lot of hard work but it's been gratifying, not only to be in the NHL but to be contributing and to be a part of this team, especially this year with everything that's going on around here."
Head coach Ken Hitchcock believes that Murray's story is one of perseverance.
"A lot of time, guys just get comfortable being minor league guys," says Hitchcock. "Murray was surprised because he didn't even bring a bag to stay more than the weekend.
"He came for a weekend and stayed for two years. Pretty good."
Hitchcock sees his gritty forward as a trustworthy player who can "bounce" - meaning that he can contribute on special teams be it on the penalty kill or having him park in front of the net on the odd power play.
He has been a useful member of the roster for Columbus, a perfect depth guy. Murray's relentless effort when he hits the ice should be ideal come playoff time. Though the Jackets haven't clinched a spot, they're close. Even though Murray has never played in an NHL playoff game, he's seen them. He was a youngster in the crowd when the Winnipeg Jets played their last ever game in Manitoba before moving to Phoenix. Winnipeg's fans were known for the white out come playoff time and Murray hasn't forgotten the incredible vibe in the building.
"I remember going there with my Dad and the crowd was deafening," he says. "Even before the anthems, they were on their feet and they really didn't stop."
The game, he says, intensifies so much in the postseason. He wants to experience it both for himself and for the people of Columbus. The Jackets want to reward the franchise's fans for their loyalty by giving them that gift.
"Just to feel the energy that the city is creating this year, really, it's been unbelievable," Murray says.
"Hopefully, we can get in there and do some damage."
"As a player, there's no time like playoff time," he adds. "You work your tail off in the summer and training camp and through a long 82-game season. Once you get to the playoffs, it re-energizes everyone. You get to another level on the ice.
"The buzz it creates, it's a great time of year."