Edmonton, AB - If low points can serve to motivate, Ryan Murray had every reason to respond.
On Tuesday, Jan. 3 at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Team Canada went head-to-head with Russia at the 2012 World Junior Championship -- with the winner advancing to the Gold Medal match.
Through 40 minutes, Canada was down 5-1. Another early in the third made it six. A wild, action-packed (near) comeback spurred the red and white to within a goal later on, but it still resulted in a 6-5 loss.
An embarrassing one. And an even tougher pill to swallow.
At one point, Murray was -3 and wore the goat horns as a couple Russian tallies redirected off him and in en route to the insurmountable score.
"It was tough to handle, tough to overcome. I wish it didn't have to go that way, but it was a good learning experience. I don't want to have to learn anything more (like that), though," he laughed as he addressed local reporters Friday at Rexall Place. "You've got to learn and move on from that and deal with the media [pressure]. It was unfortunate that it happened, but I think I learned a lot from it."
Murray responded well, collecting an assist and two shots on goal in Canada's 4-0 win over Finland to capture the Bronze Medal.
"The coaches really helped me a lot," he explained, noting Head Coach Don Hay's hands-on approach in guiding his squad through tough times. "They helped me through a lot of it and said I needed to bounce back. My agent really helped, too. He said, 'It's not the only bad break you're going to get in your career.'"
On home soil especially, it wasn't the result Canada had pictured coming in. But, like his struggle in the club's earlier loss to Russia, Murray learned a lot. Just like the bounce back from one game to the next, he responded all season and climbed NHL Central Scouting's North American list, landing in the second spot behind Nail Yakupov.
In an abbreviated 46-game regular season with the WHL's Everett Silvertips, Murray scored nine goals and 31 points. That, in addition to his otherwise solid performance at the WJC, Canada came calling once more.
He didn't dress in them all, but the 18-year-old defenceman got a chance to rub elbows with some of the NHL's elite at the 2012 World Hockey Championship in Helsinki, Finland. It's an opportunity not presented to many, but one that's helped establish a pro mentality.
"The guys are so much stronger, so much faster [at that level]," he said, suggesting he's ready for the NHL. "Everyone is extremely smart and everyone can make plays. It's a pretty big jump (from the WHL). In the CHL, you're sometimes playing against 16-year-olds that have just started working out. They're skilled, but they're still pretty weak in terms of their development. At the NHL level, everyone's pretty much maxed out as far as their strength is concerned.
"It puts everything in perspective, where you stand, and shows how hard you have to work to make it."
Considering his up-tempo, pro experience, Murray has an advantage over other top prospects. While his NHL destination is still to be determined, he's driven to work as hard as possible to make his pro debut in October.
"I've got a lot of work to do this summer if I'm going to make it next year," he said. "Everyone [in the NHL] is skilled, everyone can make plays and everyone's so solid. The gap between the best players and average players is so small. It's a lot of hard work, but I'm prepared for it.
"It would be disappointing [to be sent back to Everett], but if that's what they thought would be best for my development, then I'd go with that and try to develop the best I could."
With only 14 days until General Manager Steve Tambellini and Head Amateur Scout Stu MacGregor step up to the podium at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, the thought being chosen No. 1 isn't lost on Murray.
And he's ready for that possibility, too. A season-long audition and the adversity peppered at the World Juniors properly prepared him for it.
"There would a lot of pressure playing here," he said. "There are always eyes on you, but I think that's great.