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Murray Finishes Unprecedented Rookie Season

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

While it was difficult for an emotional Matt Murray to reflect on his season after Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was eliminated in Game 5 of their second-round series against Manchester in the Calder Cup playoffs on Tuesday, the rookie goaltender acknowledged that it had been an incredible year.

“It’s been a big year for me,” said Murray, who was taken by Pittsburgh in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft. “Obviously learned a lot of lessons and playing with some of these guys, you learn from them. Definitely matured a lot as a person this year and as a goalie, so take a lot of positives out of the year, for sure.”

Here’s what he was able to do in his first season as a pro...

- Finished the regular season with the American Hockey League's leading goals-against average
(1.58), save percentage (.941), and shutout total (12).
- Won the Baz Bastien Award as the AHL’s outstanding goaltender.
- Won the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding rookie.
- Teamed up with Jeff Zatkoff to win the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award, presented to the goaltender(s) with at least 25 games played on the team that allow the fewest goals in the regular season. For the third straight year, WBS led the AHL in goals against – surrendering a league-low 163 for a 2.11 average.
- Selected to the 2014-15 AHL First All-Star Team.
- Named to the 2014-15 AHL All-Rookie Team.
- Established the AHL rookie shutout record.
- Set the AHL record for longest shutout streak when he kept opponents off the scoreboard for 304:11 minutes between Feb. 8 and March 8, a stretch that included four straight shutout wins.

While it’s a truly remarkable list of on-ice accomplishments, what has impressed WBS head coach John Hynes the most about Murray is the kind of person he is.

“He’s obviously a very talented player, but there’s one thing when you have talent and there’s another thing when you have the character and the work ethic to be able to use that talent in a productive way. He did that,” Hynes said.

“If you look at the amount of success and accolades he had this year, never once did we notice that as a team. His work ethic was excellent. He was always continuing to get better and he’s the ultimate team guy. So it was great to see and it’s a real credit to him.”

After Murray helped WBS clinch the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, he recorded three straight wins in the first round against Syracuse as the Penguins swept the Crunch in their best-of-five series.

It didn’t go as smoothly in the second round against Manchester, as the Monarchs – who had two of the AHL’s top-three scorers on their roster and finished with the best regular-season record in the league – chased Murray from the net in Games 4 and 5.

With the year that Murray had, it can be easy to forget he’s just 20 years old and this this was his first playoffs at the professional level after spending the previous four seasons in juniors. So while it was a disappointing finish, Murray learned a lot of tough lessons from his experience that he can use to grow and develop as a player moving forward.

“That’s the importance of being in the playoffs at the American League level,” Hynes said. “You’re giving these guys opportunities to see. They see how hard it is to win the Calder Cup, never mind the Stanley Cup.”

And that’s exactly what Murray took from this experience.

“It’s not easy,” Murray said. “It’s never going to be easy. Knew that coming in and kind of just learned that even more as I played. I wasn’t really happy with how I played in the last couple games, but tried to leave it all out there and just wasn’t enough.”

Overall, Murray said his biggest takeaway from this season as a whole is the professionalism that’s needed to succeed at this level.

“Now it’s a job and you have to be ready to play every night,” he said. “Just the consistency that you need is the biggest thing that I learned, I think.

“It’s kind of hard to think about it right now, but I had a ton of fun this year with everything and definitely grew a lot. A lot to look back on, a lot of positives, a couple negatives, but all in all, it’s a good season that I’ll try to learn from going forward here.”
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