Even the most passionate and knowledgeable Sharks fans would have to admit that the emergence of defenseman Doug Murray and forward Grant Stevenson as key contributors in the San Jose lineup has been a pleasant surprise. After all, the “so-called” hockey experts didn’t have these players at the top of their Sharks “next future stars” list.
But, as the saying goes, it’s not what you say but what you do. And since their arrival in San Jose, Murray and Stevenson have done plenty.
Although their style of play is vastly different, both have made a huge impact in the Sharks lineup during the past month.
Murray is better known as a wrecking ball on ice, pounding the opponent with bone-jarring hits that seemingly have little or no impact on him. Since being recalled by the Sharks on Dec. 2, the six-foot-three, 240-pound blueliner has taken all comers and provided some gargantuan hits on a few of the NHL’s toughest customers, including Phoenix’s Shane Doan, Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amor, and Toronto’s Eric Lindros and Tie Domi. Rarely does he end up on the short side of a physical confrontation.
“It is fun to hit the ‘big-name’ guys,” Murray says. “When Lindros knocked out (Ulf) Samuelson at the World’s, it was memorable. So when I hit him, it was a big deal to me. I love going out there and hitting the big guns. I want to make him sore and get him to think twice about going to certain places on the ice.”
Stevenson, who checks in at a respectable six-foot, 175 pounds, is better known for work done with his hands and skill, as opposed to thundering body checks. In his first NHL game, after traversing the country in a fashion worthy of a sequel to the movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (on the day before Thanksgiving nonetheless, just as in the movie), Stevenson arrived in Calgary in time to take the ice in front of 17 family members (he’s from nearby Spruce Grove, Alberta), including his grandfather, NHL Hall-of-Famer goaltender Glenn Hall.
Stevenson didn’t disappoint, popping in a goal in his first NHL game and added three points in his next two games. Since that time, he has remained an offensive weapon, posting 13 points through his first 17 NHL games, including his first two-goal game Dec. 18 at Anaheim.
"I've been pleased with (my play),” he said. “It was a great opportunity just to get called up. You have to make the most of it when you get that chance. I think I've been playing pretty well. I've gotten the chance to play with Patty which makes things a lot easier. I'm just having fun and we'll see what happens the rest of the year."
Both players took an unorthodox journey to the NHL.
Murray, an eighth round selection (241st overall) by the Sharks in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, was born in Bromma, Sweden. Most European-born players remain across the Atlantic and hook on with their local teams, hoping for the chance to be noticed by the NHL.
Murray took a different route. When he was 17, he accepted an invitation to play hockey for a private high school in the United States. Soon after, he was being courted by numerous U.S. college hockey programs and eventually settled on Cornell University in Massachusetts.
He completed his collegiate career, playing four full seasons that culminated in 2003, helping lead the program to their first NCAA Frozen Four appearance in 23 years as the team’s co-captain. Individually, Murray nabbed several honors throughout his collegiate years, including being named to the All-Ivy League team each of his four seasons, named as a Hobey Baker Award finalist in 2002, named to Hockey Digest’s NCAA All-American Second Team in 2003, as well as being selected as the ECAC’s Best Defensive Defenseman and First-Team ECAC Defenseman that same year.
Following two seasons in the American Hockey League with the Cleveland Barons, the Sharks hockey staff felt that Murray could be ready to play in San Jose in 2005 but he suffered an eye injury during the Pacific Division Rookie Tournament that likely cost him a chance to earn an Opening Night roster spot.
After getting back into game shape in Cleveland, Murray made his Sharks debut on Dec. 2 at Buffalo – the same night another new Shark – Joe Thornton
– entered the lineup.
He says the transition to the NHL has been a smooth one for him.
“The physical play is what I expected,” said Murray. “It’s always been my strength at every level. I’ve always been one of the top guys at every league and I expected that to carry over here.”
Stevenson played his collegiate hockey at Minnesota State-Mankato, where he opened the hockey’s world’s eyes with a remarkable sophomore season.
After a respectable freshman campaign where he notched 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 38 games, Stevenson exploded in his sophomore season, racking up 63 points (27 goals, 36 assists) in 38 games. He was the fifth in the nation (first among all sophomores) among all NCAA Division I players in scoring and helped lead his team to their first-ever NCAA Frozen Four berth. In addition, he was named to the JOFA Division I All-America Team and the All-WCHA First Team.
However, things haven’t always been smooth for Stevenson since turning pro. He posted respectable numbers with back-to-back 39-point seasons with the Barons but his Cleveland coaches knew he could do better and briefly assigned him to the East Coast Hockey League last season. The wake up call apparently worked.
"It would have been easy many times to say it's not going to happen for me and everyone's against me,” said Stevenson. “I think perseverance and staying with it and having that confidence in myself helped me. Things did turn around, and I had faith that they would, so I've been happy and proud that I was able to come around and be where I'm at today."
At the beginning of the 2005-06 season with the Barons, Stevenson started strong, leading the team with 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 17 games before getting promoted to San Jose.
At the time of his call up, Stevenson was likely better known for being “Glenn Hall’s grandson” but that is likely to change in the near future
"Being the grandson of one of the greatest goaltenders of all time is something special,” Stevenson says. “I want to play well so everyone knows my name too, but at the same time if we get mentioned in the same breath, that’s fine. I'm glad to have the opportunity to say that."