CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa — Goaltenders are notoriously difficult and sometimes surly. They are abnormal. Perhaps it is the isolation and individual preparation required to be a backstop and to shoulder the immense burden of allowing opposing teams to score. Pittsburgh was spoiled for over a decade with Marc-Andre Fleury whose gregarious personality and team-first behavior set the standard in goalie-team relations. Penguins goalie Matt Murray would like to follow suit.
Does Murray want to improve his glove hand or mobility? Maybe, but he said yesterday his main hope is to improve his leadership skills and be a better teammate.
“The biggest (improvement) for me is trying to be more of a leader,” said Murray. “The more I play in this league, the more I hope to be a leader, to inspire others and just try to be a better teammate.”
Murray, 24, who has played only two and a half years in the NHL, who lost his rookie status last season after two Stanley Cups, talked about leadership. Murray didn’t wait to win a Stanley Cup and did so in his first chance. And again in his second chance. With a pair of rings clogging his ears to those who may say goalies can’t be leaders, Murray sure sounds like he is ready to embark upon the same path as his predecessor, Fleury.
“I can’t give you one word for it. Just try to make a better connection. Realizing if a guy needs something from you or just offering yourself to be there to talk to somebody,” Murray explained. “Whatever it may be.”
Murray will have a pair of inexperienced netminders behind him in training camp and at least one of those goalies behind him this season. Last season, Casey DeSmith, 27, finally made it to the NHL after two years in the USHL, three-plus years at University of New Hampshire, and three years in the minors including a stop with the ECHL Wheeling Nailers. DeSmith played only 14 NHL games which would still qualify him as a rookie, if not for being two years past 25-years-old.
The other goalie in Penguins training camp will be Tristan Jarry. Jarry, 23, has 27 games NHL experience and a pedigree which could lead him to challenge Murray someday.
Jarry and DeSmith figure to have a lot of questions and need more guidance. Coaches can only do so much and hearing from a teammate can have more impact. Despite being younger than DeSmith and just one year older than Jarry, Murray has packed a wealth of experiences into his two and a half year career. Murray has not only won championships but dealt with nagging controversy as he displaced the immensely popular Fleury. Murray has dealt with numerous injuries from a broken hand to concussion symptoms and had to bounce back from poor play.
And yet Murray is willing to share his experience with players who would snatch his job if given the chance. Matt Murray has been ahead of the curve in every phase since his arrival. Assuming a leadership mantle in a veteran clubhouse despite not yet turning 25-years-old just seems par for Murray’s course. As one of the level-headed, intelligent people in the locker room, Murray has a lot to offer. And he learned from one of the best.
So, if Jarry and DeSmith are willing to listen, Murray is ready to be a leader.
(PHN staff contributed to this story)