Matt Murray motivated to join favourite boyhood team: 'I have a lot to prove'

Newest Maple Leafs goalie Matt Murray is super motivated to prove himself again, says it's all about pushing himself to be the best he can be, and Toronto is the best place to do that.

TORONTO – Matt Murray believes his father, his hero — the late James Murray — was peering down with a smile, proud to see his son introduced as a Toronto Maple Leaf.

“Yeah, I think so. I mean, my first hockey game was a Leafs game with him,” Murray said Tuesday during his initial meeting with the Toronto press, via Zoom from Ottawa.

“It was his favourite team. It was my favourite team to watch growing up. So, yeah, of course, I think he’d be super happy.”

James fell ill and passed away in January of 2018.

The good news: He got to see that little Thunder Bay, Ont.-born goaltender with whom he’d share drives to practice and nights on the couch watching Leafs grow up to become a two-time Stanley Cup champion.

Now, that boyhood Leafs fan will get to experience the other side of the Battle of Ontario, having his planned four-year commitment to Ottawa chopped in half on Monday evening, when he was traded to Toronto.

Murray, 28, maintains “there are no hard feelings” between he and a Senators regime that waived him last season and paid Leafs GM Kyle Dubas a third- and seventh-round pick to take on 75 per cent of Murray’s remaining salary.

But he also declined, twice, to offer his thoughts on why things went sideways in the nation’s capital.

Murray, like all good goaltenders, would rather stay in the present. Focus on the next one.

To join a Cup-dreaming Maple Leafs squad is to experience a homecoming of sorts.

Privately, Murray has been heeding the guidance of Jon Elkin, who heads the Leafs’ goaltending development and scouting program, since he was 10 years old.

“He just knows me,” Murray said. “Knows how to push me.”

And Murray’s strong ties with Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe, both of whom he played for as an OHL stud in Sault Ste. Marie, lend familiarity to the transition.

After what Murray describes as an “intense” few days — nixing a potential trade to Buffalo, zipping to Toronto for a medical exam, then ultimately jumping from a crowded crease on a rebuilder to No. 1 on a contender — the softspoken netminder wanted to announce his excitement before fielding any questions.

“I'm extremely motivated. I think I have a lot to prove. And I think coming here, this is a place where I wanted to be,” said Murray, stressing his excitement. “It's all about pushing myself to try to be the absolute best that I can be. I think Toronto is a great place to do it.

“Can't wait to join a team with such great players, staff, organization, fan base. Everything about this team is top notch.”

The greatest concern over the trade is twofold: Murray’s recent inability to stay healthy and remain consistent. The two go hand in hand.

Once among the elite in his position, Murray is now three years removed from (a) carrying a starter’s workload and (b) posting a save percentage above the league average.

There have been concussions and neck ailments. Undisclosed lower-body injuries and undisclosed upper-body injuries. Which is why Dubas wanted his own doctors to check under the hood before signing off on the deal Monday night.

The Maple Leafs have three months to get their new acquisition in the best shape possible, mentally and physically, to perform on opening night.

Since the deal became official, Murray’s phone has been buzzing with calls from the many prongs of the Leafs’ extensive support staff, “willing to help with literally every aspect of my move and just really making things simple.”

So, as Murray and wife Christina, his high school sweetheart, browse for a new home in Toronto, the goaltender is already making plans to meet with an array of Leafs personnel to maximize the medical, nutritional, and strength and conditioning benefits afforded by one of the NHL’s most cash-flush organizations.

“I’m just super, super excited,” Murray said. “My time in Ottawa, I don't think it went as anybody had expected. But at this point in time, I'm really just focusing on the present and the near future.

“It's a heck of a group. I mean, there's so many great players on this team. And obviously they've had a lot of success in the last couple of years.”

Yes, to a point.

What most of them haven’t had is the Stanley Cup success Murray reaped early in his career, those remarkable runs that taught him a marathon is a step-by-step process.

The first step: Find a new home and move his family to Toronto.

The second: Hit the gym.

The third: Pull on that same sweater he rooted for as a boy, sitting next to Dad, and go win some hockey games again.

“We used to watch games together,” Murray said. “So just being able to put on that jersey for the first time, I think is going to be something really special for me.”

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