That was until the Washington Capitals came calling.
As NHL training camps open this month, the St. Clemens, Ont., native, who has called Sudbury home for roughly the past decade, will find himself right in the thick of big league action as the associate goaltending coach with the Caps.
Not bad for a young man who first developed his craft as a form of self-assessment in his playing days, relatively late in his career.
Through his early minor hockey days and on to his AAA career in Waterloo, Murray was hardly a “can’t miss” prospect between the pipes. In the end, this served him well.
“I think a big part of being a good goaltending coach is having the passion for it,” Murray said earlier this month, before leaving for Hershey, Pennsylvania. “You have guys playing who are extremely talented, it comes very naturally to them. It didn’t come naturally to me.
“(But) I had the drive and perseverance to keep on pushing it. I had to work for what I got.”
With junior stops in Orangeville, Cambridge and Chatham, what Murray eventually got was a scholarship to attend Lake Superior State University.
Though his NCAA career might have been somewhat pedestrian, it was here that Murray started to shape his beliefs regarding the character side of his craft.
“Terry Barbeau (Lake State goalie coach) was an unbelievable influence on how to treat people and build relationships which, in all reality, is just as important — if not more important — to being a goaltending coach at a higher level,” Murray said.
With an education degree from the University of Windsor, Murray opted to make the move to Sudbury in 2005, the hometown of his wife, Renée. Mixing in summer gigs with various local goalie schools and plenty of private one-on-one sessions, Murray began to make a name for himself in the Nickel City.
Things changed dramatically, however, with the opening of RHP in the summer of 2010.
“One of my friends down south runs ‘The Zone’ in Waterloo, so I had seen it happen there,” Murray said. “Down south, there’s a lot of options to develop skills, and it seemed like it was a good time to bring that concept up north.”
Finding full-time work doing something he truly loved, Murray fully expected to be focused on growing the business in Sudbury for many years to come.
“I really enjoyed my time coaching in Sudbury,” he said. “And getting a chance to coach at the highest level in this area, working with the Sudbury Wolves, was great.”
Through it all, Murray continued to expand his knowledge, always looking to learn. When RHP added Finnish netminder Juha Lehtola a few years back, Murray tapped in.
“(Juha) had a great influence on me as a goalie coach,” Murray said. “You start to see the different ways that guys play in different countries. If I hadn’t had those experiences, I don’t think I would be ready for where I am at this year.”
It is this mindset, and his knowledge of the new wave of more conservative netminding, working from the goal-line out, that caught the attention of Washington head coach Adam Oates. An innovative thinker who throws himself into all aspects of the game, Oates was looking to shake up the Capitals’ goaltending system.
Enter Murray, alongside former NHL great Olaf Kolzig.
“That is a big part of my job, to go and lead the way with that,” Murray explained.
Although he’ll be working with NHLers Braden Holtby and Michael Neuvirth over the next few weeks, Murray will be based out of Hershey to maintain constant contact with the young prospects of the Caps’ AHL affiliate. Murray will also be tackling goaltending scouting duties within the organization.
“Goaltending is changing as we speak,” Murray said. “Working with guys that are at the top of their game and learning, learning from the best, building relationships, that’s what I look forward to most.”
Randy Pascal is the founder of SudburySports.com and a contributing sports writer for Northern Life.