Backup plan

Murray set to take his game to Finlandia and bring the same energy he gave the Bulldogs

Daily Mining Gazette/Daver Karnosky In this Nov. 29, 2016, file photo, the Bulldogs goaltender Cam Murray looks on as defenseman Tanner Givens carries the puck behind his own net during a game against the Gremlins. Murray made 25 saves to earn a shutout in the contest.

HANCOCK — When the Finlandia Lions hockey team takes to the ice this fall, they will feature some local talent as they look to bounce back from a very disappointing 2016-17 campaign that saw them go winless in 25 attempts.

One of those local prospects who has the potential to make an impact from the moment he arrives on campus in August is goaltender Cameron Murray from Hancock. Murray comes to the Lions from the extremely successful Bulldogs program that won one state title and has been one of the best teams in the area the past three seasons.

Murray joins Houghton graduate Marcus Gloss and senior Alec Rounds to create competition behind the Lions defense this season. Getting the opportunity to get his education so close to home and play hockey at the same time made Finlandia an attractive landing spot for the former state champion.

“Just being able to get my education at Finlandia, close to home, that’s always nice,” said Murray. “I love home. You have to love this area. To be able to continue to play hockey at the next level, you get to play the sport you love, so how can you complain?”

Murray has not taken the traditional path to college hockey, but while that could appear to be a detriment, on paper, the reality is, he has seen his fair share of challenges over the past four seasons, which he overcame. He did not really commit to playing goaltender full time until he got to high school.

“Growing up, I switched between goal and player a lot,” said Murray. “I wasn’t really set on goalie until the year before my freshman year. Then I [decided] I’m sticking with it. Knowing that you are the last line of defense, knowing that you have to be the strongest at that moment, the adrenaline hits you quick. Especially when you get that save and you are the last guy, [because] everyone stops. That is just a great feeling to have.”

From there, Murray plied his trade with the Bulldogs’ junior varsity program. Having been a house league goaltender growing up, the opportunity to pull on a school sweater was nice, but what proved to be more important to him was that playing for the JV team meant he needed to focus on his education, since he had to keep a specific grade point average to remain eligible to play.

As a sophomore, Murray joined the Bulldogs varsity program, where he was set to split time with then-freshman Dawson Kero. Due to offseason surgery for Kero, Murray opened the season as the starting goaltender.

He started five games before the John MacInnes Holiday Classic and five more over the course of the season, winning six times along the way. During that first stretch, he defeated Calumet and Escanaba, but suffered losses to Marquette. Calumet and Traverse City.

Once Kero was healthy enough to play, the youngster got the lion’s share over the rest of the season. Murray saw action in five more contests, winning four of those games, but losing to Kingsford in mid-January.

As a junior, Murray had to transition to being the full-time backup to Kero. He only saw action in seven games.

The lowest point for him was a 5-4 loss in overtime to the Jeffers Jets, in just his second appearance of the year.

After that loss, Murray struggled with whether or not hockey was worth all the hard work he had been putting in to improve his game to that point. He sought out the advice of his friends, family, coaches and especially his uncle, Chris Givens, the head coach of Traverse City Central’s hockey team.

The advice he received from Givens made the biggest impact.

“I almost felt like quitting,” said Murray. “As soon as your ego, or your mental [game], is off, you are done. I almost felt like just quitting. I had a lot of family members, especially Chris Givens, help me out. That helped boost my confidence.”

Murray saw action in just five more games that season. In those five contests, the Bulldogs won by a combined score of 45-4, so he was not seeing action against top-end competition. Then, he found himself playing the role of supporter to his teammates during their run to the title.

Through his first two seasons with the Bulldogs, Murray posted goals against averages (GAA) of 3.01 and 3.05, respectively. Needing to improve his fitness and response time, Murray spent the summer prior to his senior year cross-fit training with Micah Stipech. The hard work paid off in his first action as a senior. Murray stepped in for an injured Kero and shutout Houghton at Dee Stadium on Nov. 29, opening the eyes of the local community in the process.

“I think that was the big turning point where everyone was like, ‘Holy crap, he can play,'” said Murray. “It was awesome. I can’t even explain the feeling of getting a shutout after playing a team I had never gotten to play against in my high school career, in their own barn. That was a great feeling.”

Murray saw action in seven more contests as a senior, going 5-1-0 over that stretch and defeating Escanaba, Jeffers, and Marquette along the way. He finished his final season with the Bulldogs with a GAA of 1.69, a significant improvement over his previous two seasons.

With Danny Hill already at Finlandia, and with Devyn LaCourt also joining this year’s class, Murray has teammates and good friends to help him adjust to his new environment this season.

Murray models his game after that of New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “The King” — as he is affectionately known — has had a tremendous career, winning nearly every award a goaltender can win, with the exception of the Stanley Cup. It is how Lundqvist supports his teammates that really resonates with Murray.

“I like his mindset of always helping, always having the backs of his defense,” said Murray. “That is kind of what I have based myself on. I have always wanted to be there [for my teammates] in a positive role. I just want them to know, I’m here. If they screw up, I’m here.”

As Finlandia enters the 2017-18 season, Murray has proven that he can be an important contributor both on and off the ice, and that should prove helpful to the Lions as they should be able to feed off of his positive energy no matter what role he finds himself in.