Sunday, July 29, 2012

Murray charting hockey future

By MARK HUNTER
Daily News Sports Reporter
Like all 68 players attending this week's Team Pacific Camp, Matt Murray is standing on the edge of his hockey future.
The Team Pacific Camp, featuring 1996-born players from B.C. and Alberta, continues today and Sunday at McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre. From the attending players, Team Pacific will be selected for the World U17 Hockey Challenge in Quebec from Dec. 28 to Jan. 4.
The short-term goal for each and every one of the players is to make the team. But with junior camps scheduled to start in late August, there's a lot more on each of the 15- and 16-year-old players' minds these days.
For Murray, who turned 16 on Monday, it's cracking the roster of the WHL's Kootenay Ice, which selected him in the fourth round, 70th overall, of the 2011 bantam draft.
The Ice's camp starts at the end of August and, for the 6-foot-1, 210-pound defenceman, the strategy is pretty simple.
"I'm going to go in trying to make the team and give 'er my all out there," Murray said Thursday. "I thought I had a really good camp last year — the coaches liked how I played."
Yes, Murray turned some heads at the 2011 camp, which is probably good news for him.
The bad news is that the coaches last season — two of them, anyway — won't be back this season. Kris Knoblauch, who was the Ice's head coach the past two seasons, was let go by the team in the offseason, and assistant Todd Johnson took the head-coaching position with the U of Regina Cougars.
The Ice has since hired Ryan McGill to be its head coach, and recently added Chad Kletzel as an assistant coach.
So Murray has two new people to impress, but he's confident, especially with the time he has put in during the Team Pacific Camp.
"It's a great experience, just to be out and playing with guys who are all high-calibre," Murray said. "It's all-around good players, so it helps."
Pretty well every player at this week's camp is getting ready for a junior camp somewhere, so Murray isn't alone.
And they all have the same goal — make Team Pacific, make a junior team and then, a few years down the road, make the NHL.
Murray, who had six assists and 112 penalty minutes in 31 games for the major-midget Thompson Blazers last season, hasn't stopped working since the season ended in the spring.
"This offseason, I've been training with Greg Kozoris, doing sprints every day at 7 a.m., then going to the gym after that," Murray said. "It's pretty interesting getting to train with pro guys, and Greg does a lot of that. It's been a big help."
Without looking too far ahead, this is a special week for Murray, as it may be one of the last chances for him to play alongside some of his former Jardine's Blazers teammates.
A total of seven members of the team that won the Kamloops International Bantam Ice Hockey Tournament in 2011 are in camp this week — Murray, goaltender Liam McLeod, defencemen Carter Cochrane and Joe Hicketts, and forwards Ryan Gropp, Chad Butcher and Carson Bolduc.
"This will probably one of the last times we'll all be together, because we're all going our separate ways and doing what we need to do," Murray said.
But that doesn't mean Murray won't be seeing his friends.
"It will be kind of cool being able to play against these guys in the future," he said. "Hicketts and Bolduc will be playing the (WHL) next year, so I might have the chance to face them."
The camp continues today with practices at 9, 10:15 and 11:30 a.m., and 12:45 p.m.
Murray's Team Grey will meet Team White at 6 p.m., before Gropp, Hicketts and Bolduc will lead Team Black in a game against Team Red, featuring McLeod, Cochrane and Butcher, at 8:15 p.m.
Sunday's placement games are scheduled for 9 a.m. (third place) and 11:15 a.m. (gold medal).

(NOTE: I slipped up in not posting this story much earlier. The first-place game on Sunday, 11:15 a.m., will feature White and Grey.)

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