Babson's Murray fighting the good fight
By Ray Biggs
D3hockey.com Managing Editor
BABSON PARK, Mass. - We all heard the question growing up. “What did you do with your summer vacation?”
For any successful college hockey player, the answer is usually a bit different from what a younger version of themselves might say. For most, pick up games with friends and teammates past, a job, and hour after lonely hour spent hitting the weights is on tap. All of it in the name of winning championships. So much for the offseason.
Whether it's Division III or the NHL, Jamie Muray continues to turn heads.
It's a schedule Jamie Murray knows too well, but the Babson goaltender would tell you it's paid off. The rising senior has already been named an AHCA All-American twice, the ECAC East Conference Player of the Year in 2014, and has been ranked among the best in the nation in most major goaltending categories throughout his career.
Murray's exploits have been a great source of pride and stability for Babson since his arrival on campus three years ago. His goaltending prowess also made his summer a bit more interesting, in a way most players could hardly imagine.
After the season wrapped with a 3-2 overtime loss to Norwich in the ECAC East title game, Murray walked in to his postseason meeting with Head Coach Jamie Rice having little idea about how he was a spend part of his summer. It was in that meeting that he found out he was to be invited to Prospect Development Camp with the National Hockey League's Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It was pretty surreal,” Murray said. “I had a little bit of an idea that a camp invite was a possibility after talking to our former assistant coach Brendan Flemming. He said some teams had showed interest and an opportunity might come up. I didn't keep my hopes up, I didn't want to get too high on that. But in my end of the year meeting with coach Rice, he told me Tampa was going to invite me…. I kinda just sat there and let it sink in…. It took a lot longer than just that meeting to sink in.”
For those that may not be familiar with them, Development Camps are conducted each summer by NHL member clubs to provide professional level training to current minor leaguers, draft picks, and prospective free agents in an environment that closely mirrors an NHL training camp. NCAA players that are brought into camp do not jeopardize their eligibility by participating.
Before Murray could start to reap the benefits of camp in Tampa, he first had to find his bearings on the ice while in the company of players from one of the NHL's top minor league systems.
“It was pretty intimidating when you first step out on the ice,” Murray said. “…I didn't know what to expect when I finally stepped out there. It's a step up, but I don't think everyone really understands how high of a level D3 hockey is…. You see little things though. Everybody is a well-rounded player.”
Individually, Murray worked under the tutelage of renowned Tampa Bay goaltending coach Frantz Jean for the week of camp. Murray noted that a varying technical perspective on the goaltender position, and an increased attention to detail helped open new frontiers for his game.
“These guys know what they're doing, and it's a lot of little things,” Murray said. “They have a set system for how they want their goaltenders to play in different situations on the ice. It's different depending on whether it's high in the zone, or low in the zone they want you to do do things differently….. For me, i'm not the most technical goaltender, so it was a little tougher to make the adaptations to it, but it's something I enjoyed.”
Murray wasn't just there to learn. He was also there to compete. The Lightning conclude their camp with a competitive 3-on-3 tournament, in which rising NHL stars Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov have hoisted the top prize.
As he often has as a Division III player, Murray stood right up to the challenge, doing so in a playing environment generally dominated by offense because of the open-ended nature of 3-on-3. Murray took charge of his share of the four man goaltender rotation in the tournament, outperforming sixth round draft picks Kristian Oldham(Omaha Lancers, USHL) and Adam Wilcox(Syracuse, AHL) with a save percentage of .829 to earn the nod in the tournament championship game.
“First and foremost, it's a credit to him,” Rice said. “He's been a great player here at Babson, a tremendous young man, and he's really serious about hockey. It's nice to see him get this opportunity and be able to go perform and do well…. From an overall standpoint, I think it speaks to the quality of players at this level.”
Murray has found a level of success only a small percentage of college hockey players reach, but his story is more than one of success. It's a story of perseverance. Unlike many successful collegiate players, Murray found himself in a constant struggle for highly limited playing time at the Junior A level. He appeared in just three games for Bay State in the 2011-12 season, and can recall the trials and tribulations of being a career backup as if it was yesterday.
“I was playing for a coach that didn't think I had it in me,” Murray said. “It was frustrating to sit on the bench and not be able to show what I had. Eventually I asked to be sent somewhere that I could play.”
His destination was hardly an improvement when it came to opportunities for game action.The EJHL's South Shore Kings already had two capable goaltenders in Derick Roy(Northeastern) and Robert Levin(Arizona State), leaving Murray the chance to appear in just two games in his short tenure with South Shore.
“I was again stuck in a spot where there wasn't much opportunity, so I just worked as hard as I could in practice with their goalie coach, Jeff Cohen,” Murray said. “I tried to perform in some non-league games that didn't really matter for the team, but they were the only opportunity I had.”
Seizing a limited window of opportunity ultimately landed Murray at Babson. Cohen got in contact with the Babson coaching staff and goaltender coach Ed Kesell regarding Murray's future in college hockey. Murray recalls the process moved forward rather quickly from that point on.
“Coach Kesell came to watch me in a few practices, and then Coach Rice came to see me play against the Breakers, and we beat them 5-2 or 5-3 that night…. I ended up committing that day and confirming the next night that I was going to Babson.”
Even upon leaving the Junior A ranks, Murray wasn't completely out of the woods in his effort to earn a stable opportunity for playing time. As Murray's freshman year began, Babson already packed quite a punch in goal with eventual All-American Zeke Testa entering camp as the favorite for the starting job.
“Freshman year I went in with really low expectations,” Murray said. “I hadn't played much, and most kids on the team knew that, so nobody knew what to expect out of me. I was just going to go in there and work as hard as I could. I knew they had Zeke, who had been great for three years, and Danny Rivellini…. I was just trying to work hard, take care of the little things, and I knew I would eventually get my chance.”
He just didn't expect the opportunity to come so soon. On November 8th, 2012, in just the third game of his collegiate career, Murray got the starting nod in a 2-2 tie with Umass-Dartmouth. He went on to earn a considerable 42 percent share of the playing time alongside Testa in his counterpart's All-American campaign.
The tandem helped lift Babson to the 2013 ECAC East title and a berth in the NCAA quarterfinals, but Testa's All-American honors were also a product of their strong partnership in goal.
“It was pretty ideal,” Murray said. “I got my playing experience, and Zeke got the honors he deserved.”
With Testa's graduation, Murray quickly skyrocketed to stardom of his own in Division III hockey. He compiled back-to-back All-America seasons as the team's full-time starter, and now holds a 48-15-6 record and a career .939 save percentage as he enters his senior season.
Murray has amassed an overwhelming collection of accolades as a collegiate hockey player, but his work off the ice may be of equal, if not greater importance.
Among the activities Murray runs is a charity Wiffle Ball tournament, which is now in its sixth year in his hometown of Scituate, Mass. Murray organized the tournament six years ago to raise money and help make a difference in the life of neighbor Cole Pasqualucci, who suffers from a rare kidney disorder. It's an event the Scituate community has embraced with open arms, as they've raised over $25,000 to date.
“It just started as a small idea to get some kids together, play some wiffle ball, and have a tournament to raise money,” Murray said. “It's become a big community wide event that a lot of people come support, and we've been able to raise a lot of money for Cole and his family.”
Murray's efforts did not go unnoticed, as he was a finalist for the 2015 Hockey Humanitarian Award. The award is given annually to college hockey's finest off-ice citizen. The last player in NCAA Divisions II or III to win the award was Saint Anselm's Tucker Mullin in 2013.
Whether it's his track record on the ice, or his work off of it, Rice believes the story of his starting goaltender is one that can inspire other Division III players, and young players looking to someday make their mark in college hockey as he has.
“It's a great story for players of any age,” Rice said. “Where you are now does not determine where you'll be down the road. Jamie played about five games in two years in the EJHL, and now he's in a free agent camp…. I don't think you're on anyone's radar when he was going through that. He took care of his business and has made the most of his opportunity.”
It's been a busy summer for Murray, but he's already looking ahead to his senior season and beyond.
“It's going to be an exciting adventure ahead for us,” Murray said. “We were pretty young last season, we had 12 or 13 freshmen coming in and many were key players for us. I don't think people expected much of us. On paper, it was definitely a rebuilding year."
"We went out there and proved we could compete with the top teams, and when we went into the Christmas break at 11-0, we knew we had something special. We didn't finish exactly how we wanted to, we didn't win an ECAC East championship, but we exceeded expectations. We'll be back this year knowing we're one of the top teams to beat. We'll embrace that and hopefully end up playing for a championship.”
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