Brendan Connolly, the first-line left wing, was acquired in the offseason in a third-party deal that essentially cost the Alaska Aces nothing.
The entire second line was plucked out of the discount bin. Center Jordan Morrison and left wing Brett Findlay arrived, basically for the cost of airline tickets, as free agents in midseason after the San Francisco Bulls imploded and left them unemployed. Alex Belzile's acquisition proved a daily double -- the Aces gained a right wing and shed a goaltender they no longer wanted.
Third-line center Tyler Mosienko turned up from Denmark in February as another cog acquired on the free-agent cheap.
Recall too that scoring winger Evan Trupp returned to his hometown late in the 2012-13 regular season in a trade that cost the Aces nothing more than a couple of spare parts.
All-ECHL sniper Peter Sivak merely proved the best offseason, free-agent signing on the circuit. Defenseman Brad Richard was just a Division III college kid with a dream when training camp arrived and Rob Murray kicked the kid's tires.
That's eight skaters, half the number an ECHL team dresses for games. Their combined cost was next to nothing. Their combined benefit was bountiful.
And that's a reminder of something that should not go unrecognized as the Alaska Aces tour the town -- coming soon to a bar near you! -- in the coming days with the third Kelly Cup in franchise history: Murray has stamped himself as a hell of a puzzle-master, string-puller, button-pusher and finder of round pegs for round holes.
To the players go the accolades, as they should -- and the Aces' tires have been amply pumped -- but someone has to assemble, organize and manage the show, tinker with it, give it structure, narrow its focus and, finally, unleash it.
In the ECHL, that guy's usually the head coach, who is also the general manager, director of player personnel, director of player development, director of hockey operations, head scout, video analyst, contract negotiator, keeper of the salary cap, conduit with the league office, team leader and all-around ringmaster.
Murray took all of those parts he assembled in basically the last year, mixed them with staples like captain Nick Mazzolini and goaltender Gerald Coleman and myriad players from the affiliation he helped forge with the Calgary Flames organization, and delivered a champion.
He's part good-cop -- a play-on-the-edge guy like Connolly gets looser reins because of his sizeable production -- and part bad-cop -- role players who too often stray from their roles get the reins tugged on them, and, if the team is sputtering, lines will be juggled.
He's a delegator -- he trusts assistant coach Louis Mass enough, for instance, to let the former Aces blueliner fully train and oversee the defense, and he values Mass' judgment.
He's a counselor -- a common sight in Cincinnati in the Finals was Murray, and Mass did this too, pulling a player aside for a quick word after practice or a game, a reminder offered, an instruction given.
He's a teacher too, and patient enough when a print hack asks to see a video clip to confirm whether he indeed really saw the two things he believes he did on a certain play, to cue up the clip and point out the three things that escaped said hack.
Aces ownership merits mention. Three years ago, after the Boston Bruins did not renew Murray's contact in his first head coaching gig with the American Hockey League's Providence Bruins, they snapped up the former NHLer. All he's done for them is win three consecutive Brabham Cups in the franchise's string of four straight and deliver their third Kelly Cup.
The Aces won this Cup on the road with Monday night's 4-0 clinic, and they have won all three of their chalices in somebody else's barn. As much as that bites for the Aces' Cowbell Crew of fans -- not sure those folks could ever be convinced to leave Sullivan Arena if the Aces won a Cup on their home ice -- it seemed almost fitting the way the Aces ruled the postseason road.
Because they are, well, quite good at hockey, and because Murray implores them to play the same way home or away -- on their toes, dictating the tempo -- the Aces went 9-2 in road playoff games. That followed a regular season in which their last 10 matches were road games. The Aces went 6-2-2 in those, and one of those regulation losses came in a meaningless final game -- the Brabham was already theirs.
So, the Aces went 15-4-2 in their final regular-season and playoff road games -- that's a .762 winning percentage. That's dominance worthy of, say, a champion.
History tells us that success could send Murray back up hockey's ladder. Davis Payne coached the Aces to the Cup in 2006, and was gone to the AHL at the end of the following season. Keith McCambridge guided the Aces to the Finals in 2009 and was soon AHL-bound. Same deal for Brent Thompson after he navigated the Aces to the 2011 Cup.
By the way, Calgary's AHL head coaching job, with the Adirondack Flames in Glens Falls, N.Y., is open. Just sayin'.
For now, the Aces and their fans can simply savor possession of the Kelly Cup.
Just remember, as it gets held aloft, as everyone gets their hands on it, that it has Rob Murray's fingerprints all over it.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog.