As Matt Murray stopped pucks with cool confidence in the Stanley Cup final, his former coach in Thunder Bay didn’t bat an eye.
"He’s always been a goaltender that was very calm, cool, collected. Nothing really bugged him," Lonny Bohonos, the former NHLer and Murray’s one-time minor league coach, said.
Murray has quickly earned that reputation during a brief, but wildly successful stay with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
On Sunday, the 23-year-old from Thunder Bay became the first goaltender in NHL history to win the Cup in each of his first two seasons and first to win it twice while still considered a rookie.
Most striking during both playoff runs was composure on the biggest, brightest stage in hockey. But Bohonos, who coached Murray from ages 14-16 with the Thunder Bay Kings, says that’s nothing new. Murray had that same demeanour in bantam and minor midget, where he played before stepping into the junior ranks with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
"All the things that everybody’s seeing right now, he did that at a young age as well," said Bohonos, who logged 83 games combined for the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Kings had a couple players then who they thought might have a chance to make the NHL, but Murray was most likely among them. He was smart and stylistically sound with "really quick reflexes" and he had a great size for a goaltender even then — close to six feet tall as Bohonos remembers it.
Murray didn’t shy away from shots either, even if they happened to come in practice from the head coach, who once scored 62 goals in a season for the WHL’s Portland Winter Hawks.
The Kings encouraged Murray to play the puck more in those days and to put on weight. Even now, he carries only 178 pounds on a lanky six-foot-four frame.
Bohonos has tracked Murray’s career closely over the years and was most pleased to see that he had run with an early NHL opportunity, which came last spring when Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins long-time starter and Cup-winning starter in 2009, suffered a concussion. Murray, a third-round pick of the club in 2012, not only filled in capably but ultimately stole the job of the 32-year-old while helping the Penguins to their fourth Stanley Cup.
He further cemented head coach Mike Sullivan’s confidence with a superb first full season, trailing only the three Vezina trophy finalists — Sergei Bobrovsky, Carey Price, and Braden Holtby — in even-strength save percentage (.923) among those who started at least half their team’s games.
Murray got hurt before the start of the playoffs and it looked like Fleury might keep the job in his place with two rounds against Columbus and Washington. But at the first sign of struggle, midway through the Eastern Conference final against Ottawa, Sullivan turned back to Murray and he delivered again — though not without a stumble or two.
Shook for eight goals in dropping Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup final in Nashville, Murray got the call again in Game 5 and responded with a 24-save shutout. He followed that up with another 27-save blanking on Sunday night, which secured the NHL’s first repeat Cup win in almost 20 years. The Penguins planned to celebrate with a victory parade in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
Murray finished the post-season with a 1.70 goals against average and .937 save percentage.
Sullivan boasted during the post-season about Murray’s "ability to move by things that don’t particularly go his way…" Murray says he concerns himself only with those things he can control.
"I mean, once that puck drops, it’s kind of like nothing else matters," he said at one point. "You really forget what’s outside the glass and what’s outside of that moment."
He’s precisely the person Bohonos remembers.
"He’s just always been Matt Murray," Bohonos said. "It’s great to watch him and see him have that success."