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Even-keeled Murray finds home in St. Louis

by Adam Kimelman

The St. Louis Blues hired Andy Murray on Dec. 8, 2006 and one year later, the Blues are one of the season’s surprise teams.
Whenever a coach is fired, it becomes a time of question, of introspection for the newly unemployed. What did I do wrong? What can I do better? Do I have to change the way I approach things?
Andy Murray asked himself those questions in the wake of being let go by the Los Angeles Kings in March 2006. But, he came to the conclusion that he was just fine the way he was.

The St. Louis Blues certainly thought so, and hired Murray on Dec. 8, 2006. Fast-forward exactly one year, and Murray’s St. Louis Blues are one of the season’s surprise teams. St. Louis sits second in the suddenly-competitive Central Division, and sixth in the Western Conference.
While Sunday night’s 9-5 shellacking in Denver against the Avalanche dulled Murray’s one-year anniversary celebration, one loss can’t take the luster off a highly successful previous 365 days.
“From Christmas of last year, I think we're known as a team that's a fairly hard-working team and tough to play against defensively,” Murray said.
The Blues’ place in the standings has changed, as have a number of players on the roster, but Murray says he’s changed little about his approach behind the bench.

“I think for me, in my coaching career, the one thing I believe is that you do certain things: You conduct yourself the right way, you carry yourself the right way, you base your coaching on communication and being demanding of your players and not demeaning,” Murray said. “I cannot see that I’ve changed a lot because you have to coach with the personality that you have.

“And, in the overall concept, I think I'm coaching the same way I've coached with the national-team programs, with Shattuck-St. Mary's (prep school) and in university or junior hockey, and the way I coached in L.A.”

Murray does admit to making one concession, though.
“There in L.A., I probably overworked. I would get in early in the morning and review things with the coaches,” said Murray. “… I think here in St. Louis … our coaches, I still want them in early in the morning, but I want them out there meeting and greeting players as they come in in the morning and standing around the coffee machine and chatting with them.

“I think I've always said that before players care how much you know, they want to know how much you care. So try to give a little bit more individual attention, and that was my intent in L.A. The circumstances just happened to be a little bit different.”
Those circumstances involved a well-prepared, well-coached team that couldn’t overcome a maelstrom of injuries. Murray’s three best forwards with the Kings – Jason Allison, Zigmund Palffy and Adam Deadmarsh – spent more time on the injured list than the ice.

Despite the personnel losses, Murray’s Kings made the playoffs in his first three seasons, but never advanced beyond the second round. They missed the postseason in 2002-03 and 2003-04, and with the 2005-06 playoffs a lost cause, Murray was fired with 12 games left in that campaign.

Now under Murray, the Blues sit second in the suddenly-competitive Central Division.
Try as he might, Murray said, “We were working so hard just to try and keep our head above water.”
He bobbed under for good on March 21, 2006. He started last season as a consultant to Montreal General Manager Bob Gainey before the Blues came calling.
The team Murray inherited was just 7-17-4, and future prospects did not look good. Murray said the first thing he did when he took over last year was let the players know that it was their play that sent coach Mike Kitchen to the unemployment line.

“I think it was our veteran players that realized that they let a good man down, and Mike Kitchen worked extremely hard here,” said Murray.
Murray added his own brand of hard work, the same as he did in Los Angeles.
“I've never coached any different wherever I've been,” Murray said. “I think that's the one thing is that players know how I'm going to be, and I'm fairly consistent in the way I look at things, and I'm going to approach things in a consistent way.
“After I came on board, basically we tried to sell a belief system that if we played hard every night and competed, that we would have an opportunity to be successful.”
The players have bought in like a Black Friday sale at Macy’s. Keith Tkachuk, an All-Star winger, moved to center. Responsibilities were changed and players were challenged to raise their game.
One of those players was Brad Boyes. Murray laid down the law with the promising young forward, and now is reaping the benefits.
“I was working with Montreal as a consultant the first half of last season,” said Murray. “I saw Brad Boyes play a lot with the Bruins, and I didn't think he was playing very well. He wasn't moving his feet, and the Bruins gave him a chance and he just, in my opinion, didn't take advantage of it.

“He had to realize when he first got here, as I indicated to him, that this was an opportunity. We were looking for somebody to be a top-six forward. We were short in that particular area. We were short on skill and goal-scoring ability, and we would definitely give him an opportunity.”

After shuttling from Toronto to San Jose to Boston, Boyes now looks like a keeper in St. Louis, thanks to Murray. He had 17 goals in 81 games – split between Boston and the Blues -- last season, and now, playing on a line with Tkachuk and free-agent signee Paul Kariya, Boyes is on pace for a 50-goal season and has 17 goals in his first 27 games of 2007-2008.
“He took (the advice) to heart,” said Murray. “He was a little bit inconsistent with us, even last year at the end of the season. This year, obviously playing on the line with Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk, he's been able to score some key goals.”
Murray can rightfully take credit in lieu of an anniversary gift, but he says it’s the players that are as much the reason for the present success as they were for last season’s losing.

“The players were responsible for the record at that time, and obviously they are the ones responsible for the improved record,” he said. “You know, losing is misery. It doesn't matter how many you've won; whenever you lose a game, it's misery.

“And you can either feel good about yourself and win and work extremely hard or not put the effort in and have that losing feeling. I think the players were just fed up with the way that they were feeling here.”

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