Aces pick Bruins long-timer as new head coach

Beth Bragg
Aces center Brian Swanson, left, joins new coach Rob Murray during Wednesday's press conference.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
The Alaska Aces named former NHL center Rob Murray as the new head coach of the reigning ECHL Kelly Cup champions during a press conference in Anchorage on Wednesday. Murray was 117-103-20 in regular-season games and 9-7 in the playoffs in his three seasons as head coach at of the AHL's Providence Bruins.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News

When Alaska Aces center Brian Swanson began his professional hockey career a dozen seasons ago, he got an education from Rob Murray, one of the few veterans on the Hamilton Bulldogs team of 1999-2000. By simply observing Murray, Swanson learned what it takes to be a pro.

"He's one of those guys who shows up to work every day and works hard. He was 32, 33 years old at the time and I thought, 'Wow, this guy's still pushing himself to the limits,' " Swanson said. "You never had to worry about him -- he'd always be there.

"I can only imagine he coaches the same way he played, with that intensity."

Swanson will find out soon if he's right.

Murray, 44, was introduced Wednesday as the new coach of the Alaska Aces, a move that takes him from the organization that hoisted last season's Stanley Cup to the one that captured the Kelly Cup.

After spending three seasons as head coach of the Providence Bruins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, Murray takes over as coach of the Aces, the reigning Kelly Cup champions of the ECHL.

He replaces Brent Thompson, who after two seasons in Anchorage jumped to the AHL as head coach of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Murray spent eight seasons with the Bruins organization, the first five as an assistant coach in Providence. Along the way, he coached seven players who helped Boston claim the Stanley Cup this year.

He had a chance to stay with the Bruins even after his coaching contract was not renewed in April, but he chose the Aces and the ECHL instead.

"I had an opportunity to scout for them, but at the end of the day my decision was I wanted to continue to coach," Murray said. "(The ECHL) wasn't something I was looking at from the onset, but this is considered the marquee market in the ECHL."

Murray said he's never been farther north or west than Vancouver. But as is so often the case in the world of hockey, he has numerous connections with the Aces.

During a playing career that spanned 16 pro seasons, he played with both Swanson and Thompson. As a coach, he has worked with several current and former Aces players, including Bryan Miller, Adam Courchaine, John Lammers, Alexandre Imbeault, Derick Martin, Colin Hemingway and Matt Underhill. And he coached Anchorage's Nate Thompson, now with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

When it came to the Aces job, Murray had an advocate in Thompson.

"When I got the opportunity to move on, (owners Terry Parks and Jerry Mackie) wanted me to put together a list and on that list were five candidates who I thought were good, and Rob Murray was one of those names," Thompson said in a phone interview Wednesday. "I know Rob very well and I really like what he has to bring. He's a fantastic coach. Not only did I play with him but he coached me, so I know what kind of person he is and how hard he works.

"Anchorage is really getting a good coach."

Murray was 117-103-20 in regular- season games and 9-7 in the playoffs in his three seasons as head coach at Providence. He led the Baby Bruins, as the team is called, to the conference finals in his first year but failed to make the playoffs the last two seasons.

Murray said player development was a key part of the job in Providence, which is Boston's highest-level affiliate. That's important in Anchorage too, he said, but wins and losses get just as much attention, if not more.

"At the AHL level there's more of an onus on developing players and having them move on. Management will tell you it's not about wins and losses, but everyone wants to win," he said. "Here, development is definitely a factor ... (but) there's more of an onus here to win."

Murray spent much of his playing career in the AHL. A third-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals in 1985, he played 107 games with three NHL teams and 1,098 games with a variety of minor-league teams. A 6-foot-1, 180-pounder, he called himself "a defensive center" who ranks second all-time in the AHL with 2,940 penalty minutes. He played more than 500 games for the Springfield Falcons of the AHL, setting team records for most games, assists, career penalty minutes and single- season penalty minutes. When he retired as a player, the Falcons retired his jersey.

Murray will become the Aces' fourth coach in six seasons, a revolving door the team can blame squarely on its success. His three predecessors all parlayed their success with the Aces to jobs in the AHL, the highest level in minor-league hockey, and one of them has since become an NHL head coach.

Davis Payne spent four seasons with the club, winning the 2006 Kelly Cup before moving to the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL as an assistant coach in 2007. Now he's the coach of the St. Louis Blues of the NHL.

Keith McCambridge took over for Payne and spent two seasons with the Aces, taking the team to the 2009 Kelly Cup Finals before going to the Manitoba Moose of the AHL as an assistant coach. He's expected to be named head coach of the new St. Johns Jets, the AHL affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets.

Thompson spent two seasons with the Aces, ending his run with the Kelly Cup championship before moving on to Bridgeport.

Murray inherits most of the team that won this year's Kelly Cup. Seventeen players, including Swanson, have already re-signed with the Aces.

"I'm not too proud to take somebody else's team that just won the Kelly Cup," Murray said.

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