Terry Murray is back in the game
But make no mistake, the new head coach of the American Hockey League Adirondack Phantoms, the top farm team of the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers, is home.
A native of Shawville, Quebec, Murray was originally drafted by the California Golden Seals in 1970 but ended up with the Flyers in the mid-1970s. He has been with the organization in various capacities, including head coach when the Flyers advanced to the 1997 Stanley Cup finals. He has been a player, coach and scout and now he has heard the Flyers' siren song and returned to the organizational fold once again.
Still, as comforting as it is to return to the organization for which he has toiled so long and so often, the decision wasn't necessarily a no-brainer.
Murray is, first and foremost, an NHL guy.
"It took a little while, quite frankly," Murray said of the decision to accept a minor league posting. "I've been in the NHL a long time." To go back to the AHL, "you need to process that. You need to talk to family and get their reaction. It was very easy after that."
A year ago, Murray was the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings, but when the Kings couldn't find ways to score, GM Dean Lombardi dismissed Murray 29 games into the 2011-12 season.
The Kings, of course, sneaked into the playoffs under new head coach Darryl Sutter as the eighth seed and then steamrolled the competition en route to the team's first-ever Stanley Cup championship.
The period was bittersweet for Murray.
Although the Kings lobbied to have Murray's name engraved on the Stanley Cup, Murray's name was left off. GM Dean Lombardi ensured, however, that Murray will receive a Stanley Cup ring, a nod to the work Murray did in helping establish a defensive identity in an emerging young Kings squad that finished second in the league in goals allowed last season. But Murray is a coach, plain and simple, and so even as the Kings were marching toward history, he wondered what the future would hold for him.
"No question, when you're out like I was out in Los Angeles, it's a pretty quiet time. There's not a lot of phone calls," Murray said.
"You're pretty isolated in your own mind," added Murray, who did some scouting for the Kings during the playoffs.
It was during a scouting trip during the Eastern Conference finals between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers that Murray had a chance to chat with his old pal and former teammate Paul Holmgren about the future. The two kept in touch and Murray was eventually offered the Phantoms' job.
"They're the only organization I'd agree to do this with. It's a very comfortable thing," Murray said.
It was more than familiarity that attracted Holmgren to Murray.
The Phantoms have not made the playoffs in the three years since departing the comfy confines of the old Spectrum in Philadelphia. The team is expected to make a permanent move to Allentown, Pa., in two years, but Holmgren wanted someone who could improve the team's prospects now with a more structured environment.
It was exactly the rationale that Lombardi used when he hired Murray to replace Marc Crawford as Kings head coach back in July 2008.
"I've known Terry for a long time," Holmgren told ESPN.com. "I think he's a good coach. I think he's a real good teacher. We feel very comfortable bringing him back."
Throw in the fact that with the NHL lockout, the American Hockey League is flooded with young NHL talent, and the responsibilities that fall to AHL coaches have grown exponentially. This is especially true of the Phantoms, who are chockablock with players who have significant NHL experience, including Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn -- whom Murray coached in Los Angeles -- Eric Wellwood, Zac Rinaldo, Erik Gustafsson, Harry Zolnierczyk, Ben Holmstrom and Marc-Andre Bourdon.
"Quite frankly, it doesn't change my approach to the job I've been hired to do," he said. "I think one of the strengths of my coaching experience is to be able to build strong teams."
Repetition of drills so that they become second nature, adherence to a strong defensive game plan, those are things that the Phantoms can expect to see on a daily basis as the AHL season proceeds.
A year ago, Holmgren and Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette turned significant responsibility to the team's youngsters, who responded for the most part admirably as the Flyers knocked off favored Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs before falling to New Jersey in the second round.
One of the challenges for Murray and other AHL coaches will be in keeping those players who have enjoyed NHL success on the correct developmental arc, keeping them falling into bad habits, cutting corners against lesser competition, etc.
To that end, Murray said he's looking forward to helping these players not just hone skills on the ice but off as well.
"The Flyers organization is looking for new leaders, different leaders," Murray said.
These players will form the core of a new generation of leaders and they'll get a chance to mentor younger, less experienced players at the AHL level.
"This is a very young hockey club," Murray said of the Phantoms. "This is a real opportunity for the players that have NHL experience under their belt. They're hungry, they're eager, they're keen."
For those players who haven't had NHL experience, Murray's goal is to get them to the point where they could step into NHL action should that call come from the Flyers.
For those who've already shown NHL skills, Murray will be looking at helping them to more fully develop their games. Holmgren, for instance, suggested Couturier, who excelled defensively with the Flyers a year ago, will get a tremendous opportunity to develop his offensive skills under Murray at the AHL level.
"Young players are young players, they're still learning the game," Holmgren said. "These guys will continue to get excellent tutelage under Terry and his staff."
With the start of the AHL season looming is Murray, who turned 62 in July, nervous?
"I'm excited more than nervous," he said. "It's just the excitement and the anticipation of working with these young players. It's very exciting to get under way again."
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