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Blues go from down-and-out to up-and-coming

by John McGourty

St. Louis head coach Andy Murray has the
Blues in the thick of the race in the Central.
Murray has had a steady, successful 30-year run as a coach since taking over the Brandon Travelers of the Manitoba Junior A Hockey League. He's coached all over the world and has won three World Championships behind Canada's bench. In fact, he's the reigning champion, leading Canada to victory last spring in Moscow.

Murray is like one of those holiday candies, the fig with the almond inside, a soft shell around a hard nut. He doesn't look like a tough guy with his 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame, blond hair and gentle expressions. But he is. He used that undersized body to play defense in professional hockey and he still backs down from no one.

"I'm sometimes seen as being really demanding," Murray said. "I don't think of myself that way. I try to appeal to the players' sense of good reason. I let them know they make the difference. When you win, you feel good. When you lose, you feel lousy. The circumstances, injuries or whatever, don't matter."

Murray is recognized as a forward-thinking coach, good with strategies, as well as player management. He's been sought after in Europe as both coach and general manager to introduce North American coaching methods and strategies. But he said he did nothing drastic to turn around the Blues.

"I don't think we installed a wholly new system. We have two coaches here from the previous year, Brad Shaw and Rick Wamsley, who do a great job," Murray said. "They are in position to know what the team had done and how the players had responded. The message was not much different, if any different, from what Mike was trying to get across. It's not our structure that is different. It's just that I have a more receptive group of guys after they struggled."

Knowing Murray enjoyed a measure of success in Los Angeles while the club was setting man-games lost to injury records in back-to-back seasons, he was asked how he addresses that issue with players, management and fans who might want to use it as an alibi.

"There were injuries that might have affected the outcome of some games in Mike's last year, but I wasn't prepared to listen to that," Murray said. "What we had was what we had to work with and we had to maximize their efforts. I didn't want them thinking injuries were an excuse. Managements will always think that if you can't get production out of the group that someone else can and that's how I got the job. In hockey, if you start feeling sorry for yourself, the only one that suffers is you."

Murray is certain that instilling a fighting attitude in the Blues last season helped some players decide to stay in St. Louis and some others to sign on. Paul Kariya was lured away from Central Division rival Nashville.

"We did better in the second half of the season and the new guys who joined us this year, players like Paul Kariya and Brad Boyes, they saw what had gone on here in the second half," Murray said. "Boyes was here for part of it, coming over at the trading deadline. Those players had some respect for how hard our team worked and what we tried to get done. That definitely played a role in Paul coming here. He saw we were playing better against his Nashville team.

"We couldn't beat Nashville until the last time we played them last year, but we had two or three shootout losses and some other tight games. We played them several tense games and he appreciated how hard our group was working."

Boyes, 25, is an oddity, a first-round draft pick now with his fourth team. He's been an All-Star and MVP at almost every level and even made the 2005-06 NHL All-Rookie Team, then got traded the next season. In St. Louis, he appears to have found a home.

"Brad's ability to succeed is totally within himself. We will have to measure him at the end of the season, not after a group of games," Murray said. "When he's hard on the puck and has his feet moving, he's prepared to battle and can be very effective. He has great hands and vision and he shoots very well. He's also a great young guy, but he knows we are reserving judgment until the end of the year and he has to keep that in mind."

"We're only a couple of games over .500 and our division is the winningest one in the NHL," Murray said. "Goalie Manny Legace gives us a chance to win every night and our penalty killing has been outstanding. We've had one of the top lines early in the season and they've generated a lot of offense.

"We've got lots we have to do here yet, but we are encouraged."

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