About four-and-a-half hours northeast of Spokane, Washington, across the Montana state line and on the other side of both the Coeur D’Alene and the Kanisku National Forests, due East of the Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge and a straight shot up route 93 from Flathead Lake and Wild Horse Island State Park is an isolated vacation village – Whitefish, Montana.
As a boy, growing up in Medicine Hat, Alberta, some five hours Northeast of Whitefish, Murray Craven used to vacation in Whitefish with his family.
In 1990, while a member of the Flyer, after completing the second-most prolific season of what would be a solid 18-year NHL career, Craven decided to buy an offseason home in Whitefish.
A decade later, after finishing his professional career with the San Jose Sharks, Craven decided that Whitefish was such a great place, it needed to be more than just a summer home.
So, he made it a permanent residence.
And now, 23 years later, Craven and his family are still living in that summer home that is secluded from the rest of the hustle and bustle of the big cities Craven often frequented as an NHL player.
And he couldn’t be happier.
“I’ve been pretty involved in youth hockey out here in Whitefish,” Craven said. “I have three kids and they all play, and I’ve been coaching them for the last 10 years or so. Anytime you have three kids all playing hockey and you are really involved as a parent, it’s like a full-time job. It’s kept my winters hopping that’s for sure.”
And while Craven, 48, has served as a coach for his oldest daughter Haley, his middle daughter Sarah and his son Joel, he has found another career outside of hockey in Whitefish as well.
“I’ve been involved in commercial real estate and have some properties that I own here in the Valley for the last six years,” Craven said.
Craven said that life in the country has been quite a Utopia for him after an NHL career that saw him play 1071 games (523 with the Flyers in parts of eight seasons) with six different teams.
“Whitefish is a year-round resort,” he said. “We have a skiing hill here, we have mountains, we have a lake and we have good golf. This was really the only place we ever came as a family for vacation when I was a kid. When I was started playing with Detroit and eventually the Flyers I would always vacation here for a couple weeks every summer.
“Finally I decided to make it my offseason home and bought a place. When I retired in 2000, we came here for the summer and just decided not to leave when the Fall rolled around.”
Craven has been an integral part of the hockey community in Whitefish, and even helped open a new rink for youth teams to play.
He has coached each of his children. Haley, 18, is finishing her senior year in high school now. Joel, 12, is entering Bantam level hokey and dad will be his coach next season. However, Sarah, 15, certainly got dad’s genes. She is part of the U.S. Girls National program, attending camps in Minnesota and is moving to Calgary in the Fall to further her hockey career in a women’s program.
If she’s anything like her dad, she’ll be a talented, two-way forward who had a scorer’s touch and was also a reliable defensive forward.
Craven finished with 759 points in his NHL career, tied for No. 171 all-time in the NHL with another Flyers great – Rick MacLeish.
Craven was originally a first round draft pick (No. 17 overall) of the Detroit Red Wings in the 1982 NHL Entry draft. He played just 46 games with the Red Wings before he was acquired by the Flyers in Bob Clarke’s first trade as a general manager, sending Darryl Sittler to the Wings for Craven and Joe Patterson.
Part of the Flyers youth movement, the 21-year-old Craven made an immediate impact, scoring 26 goals and 35 assists for 61 points as the 1984-85 Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He spent the next two seasons as a third line center, and saw his production dip slightly, but still was productive with 54 and 49 points and was a top defensive forward to boot.
However in 1987-88, Craven posted his best season in his NHL career with 30 goals and 46 assists for 76 points. He followed that with a 75-point season in 1989-90 and a 66-point season in 1990-91 before being traded the next season to the Hartford Whalers for Kevin Dineen.
Craven went to the Stanley Cup Finals three times in his career – twice with the Flyers and once with the Vancouver Canucks in 1994, but he never won.
And although he played for six teams in his career, Craven always thinks of himself as a Flyer.
“I have the most lasting memories by far from playing in Philadelphia and for a number of reasons,” Craven said. “We came in as a new group when Mike Keenan got hired as our coach. We were very young with guys like Rick Tocchet, Peter Zezel Derek Smith and myself. The nucleus in place was pretty young too with Brian Propp and Tim Kerr and Dave Poulin and Mark Howe and Brad McCrimmon. We had a group that kind of grew up together for quite awhile.
“We had great success. We never won the Cup but that’s because we ran into a team twice that was the greatest team ever assembled in the Edmonton Oilers.
“Those years and the trials and tribulations we went through were quite significant. We lost our goaltender when Pelle Lindbergh was killed in a car accident. Kerr lost his wife. A lot of stuff happened to us that galvanized us as a group also.”
Craven said the most memorable game he played in was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1987 that the team lost in Edmonton 3-1. Craven scored the only goal in that game for the Flyers. It gave them a 1-0 lead. It was the only game in which the Flyers scored first.
But for fans, probably his most memorable goal came the following season when he capped a furious third period comeback with an overtime game-winner against the Washington Capitals in Game 4 of the Patrick Division semifinals to put the Flyers up 3-1.
“I remember that goal, but I remember losing that series on an overtime game-winner by Dale Hunter even more,” Craven said. “I had a lot of heartbreak in my career.”
Craven finished his Flyers career with 152 goals and 272 assists for 424 points, which ranks 16th on the Flyers all-time scoring list.
He later had strong seasons in Hartford, Vancouver and Chicago before finishing his career with the Sharks, but never again had the success he had in Philadelphia.
“When I moved on to other teams and other organizations I always tried to replicate what we had in Philadelphia and to be honest, I never did,” Craven said.
Because of where he lives and the fact that it’s not particularly close to any hockey market, Craven said he doesn’t keep in close contact with very many of his former teammates.
“I stay in touch with Rick (Tocchet) the most because we were roommates for a long time in Philadelphia,” Craven said. “So we stay in touch. But, I kind of live in a place where I don’t see a lot of people. I see Scott Mellanby from time-to-time, but we kind of drifted apart since then.”
Craven is still a big NHL fan, and frequently goes to games in San Jose, Phoenix and Calgary. He also keeps a close eye on the Flyers through his NHL package.
“I watch more hockey now then I ever did when I played,” Craven said. “And I watch the Flyers a lot – probably as much if not more than any other team in the league.
“They’re always a relevant team and a team trying to win it all every year. I just hope that they are able to win again here for Ed Snider. He’s a guy that deserves another championship. I don’t want to say that his life is short but I’d love to see Ed Snider win it again in his lifetime.”
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