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Hard-nosed Murray takes reins in Providence

by Lindsay Kramer /

New Providence Bruins head coach Rob Murray
takes over for the departed Scott Gordon after serving five years as his assistant.
Rob Murray, who never gave away a thing on the ice during his 16-year pro playing career, has to start his head coaching tenure with a concession.

He can't expect all of his Providence Bruins to be an exact reflection of him. That's a good thing, considering that would require a penalty box longer than the team's bench.

Murray, 41, was renowned as one of the chippiest, most disliked opponents in American Hockey League history, and ranks second in league annals with 2,940 PIM.

"Through my whole career, that's the way I was. I was in your face," he said. "As a coach, you have to understand different characteristics of guys. You can't mold your team around what you were as a player."

That's only true to a certain extent. With Murray breathing as hot a fire as ever, the Bruins figure to remain one of the scrappiest teams in the league.

Murray moved to the leader of that group last week, when he was named the successor to Scott Gordon. Murray, who captained four different AHL teams as a player, was a Providence assistant under Gordon for five seasons.

When Gordon was named head coach of the New York Islanders, Murray seemed like the logical next in line. But, in something of a carryover from his playing days, he took nothing for granted.

"You try to remain calm. I felt my interviewing process, everything went well," he said. "I was trying to keep positive. As the time went by, you get a little antsy. It was worth the wait. The fact I was the type of player I was, things didn't come easy to me. My work ethic through the years prepared me for going into coaching."

Murray's ascension continues a successful trend for the players on the 1994 Calder Cup finals Moncton team. He becomes the third member of that team to hold a current AHL head coaching post, joining Hartford's Ken Gernander and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's Dan Bylsma.
New challenge for Groulx -- Benoit Groulx was expecting to spend another season in charge of the Gatineau Olympiques in 2008-09. Considering all the success he had there, plus a major wintertime perk that was coming up, that was a pretty appealing plan.

Then Florida general manager Jacques Martin called at the end of July, and Groulx realized he had a train to catch.

Martin made him an offer to coach Rochester, and Groulx leapt at it last week. It was a sound decision, but not necessarily an easy one. Groulx was prepping for his role as the head coach of Canada's entry in the 2009 World Junior Championships.

"After summer camp in Ottawa (for that team), it was almost done I was staying in juniors for another year," he said. "(After talking to Martin), as a coach at a certain point, you have to step on the train. I felt it was time to move on. It's unfortunate for the junior team. I felt it was going along well."

Groulx, 40, has guided the Olympiques to three league titles (2003, 2004 and 2008) in the last six years. Last season, Groulx's team posted a 43-19-6 record and defeated the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies to earn the QMJHL title and advance to the Memorial Cup.

There may be times this year when Groulx wishes he was back with a big-time winner -- he is taking over an Amerks squad that was the AHL's worst last season. But he said even if his former World Junior squad wins gold, he won't second-guess himself on the missed glory.

"I know they'll have a good team," he said. "But at the same time, I feel I took the right job. I can't wait to be in Rochester and start coaching this team."

A movie moment -- The new link between the Syracuse Crunch and the Johnstown Chiefs is actually one that's been 30 years in the making.

Columbus announced last week that Johnstown will be its ECHL affiliate, to go along with its AHL farm team in Syracuse. Both Johnstown and Syracuse were integral to the 1977 movie "Slap Shot."

The movie's Charlestown Chiefs were based on the real Johnstown Jets. The Jets played against the Syracuse Blazers in the Eastern Hockey League and later in the North American Hockey League.

Charlestown played the fictional Syracuse Bulldogs in the championship game of "Slap Shot." The Johnstown Chiefs were named after the Charlestown Chiefs.

The War Memorial arenas in both Syracuse and Johnstown were used to film bits of the movie. Both the Crunch and Chiefs play still play in those buildings.

Three fans who dress up as the movie's "Hanson Brothers" are fixtures at every Syracuse game. Two former Crunch players, Derrick Walser and Jody Shelley, have also skated for Chiefs and Blue Jackets.

On the Olympic stage -- Hamilton coach Don Lever's get-away-from-it-all activity this summer was more stressful than anything he'll run across in his job.

That's how it goes when your daughter is a world-class athlete competing on her sport's highest stage.

Lever's daughter, Caitlin, was a centerfielder on Canada's Olympic softball team in Beijing. Canada finished fourth in the competition; Don was there for 12 days to watch the action.

"I was more nervous watching her over there than when I played. I've never been that nervous," said Don, who among other things has coached the Bulldogs to the Calder Cup. "When you (control) your own destiny and you are involved, it's different. The pressure is unbelievable in the Olympic forum. That's what I took out of it."

Lever caught several other sports, including track, wrestling and volleyball, and also visited the Great Wall of China. He raved about the hospitality of the Chinese. He took an empty goalie bag over there and returned with it filled with souvenirs.

One thing he didn't bring back was any recipes for typical Chinese fare. Nearly two weeks solid of a variety of fish dishes served in a multitude of creative ways was enough to last a lifetime.

"It got long, about the ninth day. The food is really tough," Lever said. "You have to have an iron gut to eat over there. You just didn't trust anything."

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