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Kings' Murray quietly heading into 1,000th game

by Curtis Zupke
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- There's usually a moment at the end of Terry Murray's off-day media sessions where the tape recorders are turned off and the notebooks are put away.

Murray, in his fourth season as coach of the Los Angeles Kings, is rather informal and open to small talk, and often he will offer a glimpse of a lifetime spent in hockey.

"I remember playing a minor-league game in Salt Lake," Murray said. "They (the opposing team) only had 14 players, and every time they got the puck they iced it. They put five guys below the hash marks and iced it every time.

Murray paused and then said, "You know what? They beat us 2-1."


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Murray can recall scores and line combinations and details from decades of experience as a player and coach.

But he predictably would rather not reflect too much on his 1,000th game as a coach Saturday against the Minnesota Wild.

"I was gone for five years, so it probably should have happened a while ago," Murray said. "It's just part of the business when you've been around for a while. … It's a bit of a milestone in the League when you're a player, and I suppose it is from the coaching side of it. But the most important thing is the game and the players play the game, and that's where the focus needs to be."

Modesty aside, it's quite difficult to maintain his kind of longevity in today's NHL, where change is constant among coaches.

There have been more than 140 coaching changes in the NHL since Barry Trotz began with Nashville in 1998. Trotz, who will also coach his 1,000th game Saturday, will join Buffalo's Lindy Ruff as the only active coaches to reach the milestone with the same team.

However, few other active coaches have had careers that have stretched over a longer period than Murray, who began his head coaching career with the Washington Capitals in 1989 and was there for five seasons. He also has had tenures with Philadelphia (1995-97) and Florida (1998-2001) before he was hired by the Kings in 2008.

"This is the day and age when coaches aren't treated well by management on the whole," said Nashville general manager David Poile, who hired Murray in Washington.

"It's a fabulous accomplishment, and I think longevity in professional sports for any coach, to me, means they must be good, they must be successful. They've got to be good coaches to last this long."

Murray’s first game as a head coach was Oct. 6, 1989, when he guided Washington to a 5-3 defeat of Philadelphia behind two goals from Geoff Courtnall and three points by Dale Hunter.

He takes a record of 493-377 with 89 ties and 40 overtime losses in 15 seasons into Saturday's game. His teams have finished worse than third in their division only twice and when he's been with a team for a full season, the team has missed the postseason just twice.

If there is a marked characteristic over that period, it's Murray's ability to adapt, from the freewheeling offensive era of the 1980s, through the so-called Dead Puck Era in the mid-to-late 1990s to the post-lockout NHL.

Murray's teams have won 40 games seven times, including a franchise-record 46 in back-to-back seasons with the Kings.

"One thing that Terry has done is that he's always had a lot of structure," said Trotz, who coached Washington's minor-league affiliate, the Baltimore Skipjacks, during Murray's tenure.

"He's always grown with the game. His teams are always well-prepared and he's a good teacher. I worked with Terry in Washington. His record speaks for itself. He's always had teams that were playoff teams, teams that could challenge for a division or a (Stanley) Cup. He's just a good hockey guy."

Murray's inclination to coach began as a player when he came to Philadelphia in 1975.

"Coming from the Oakland Seals, where we didn't have a lot of structure -- and now you're coming to a team that had just won two Stanley Cups -- and you come to that first training camp, and everything is very specific," Murray said.

"The play is so much easier and it's almost like a light bulb goes on, 'This is easy, this is fun.' Now you really start to study it and look at things, and as you go through that organization, the game gets broke down into smaller parts. It's a piece of a puzzle that all starts to come together, and it's a pretty good looking puzzle at the end of the day."

Murray said he was influenced by Flyers coach Fred Shero's attention to detail.

"He often talked to me about Fred Shero and how your positioning three or four inches, either left or right, was a big difference," Poile said. "Not just over here -- right here. He sees the trends of the game and I think he's certainly smart enough to play the players based on the talent that they have versus what he personally wants to do."

An even-keeled approach is another reason why Murray has sustained a long career. He occasionally will bristle in a post-game media session, but rarely does he get emotional in the public eye, and his calmness provides a sense of normalcy.

That is needed with a young team like the Kings, whose collapse last spring centered on a blown 4-0 lead against San Jose in Game 3 of their quarterfinal-round series.

Los Angeles has lofty expectations, but is saddled with failure since its appearance in the 1993 Stanley Cup Final. In that paradox sits Murray.

"I wouldn't say he's non-emotional," Trotz said. "He's very even-keeled, which I think is good for a young team."

The Kings are planning to recognize Murray's achievement Saturday, but he's really more concerned about what happens after 1,000 games.

The closest Murray has come to the Stanley Cup is a Final appearance in 1997, when Philadelphia was swept by Detroit.

Before he gets close again there surely will be many more stories, along with many more coaching changes.

Yes, you can small-talk with Murray. Just don't mention longevity in today's NHL.

"I feel very fortunate that I'm coaching at this time," Murray said, "but I don't think about it."
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