Like many hockey success stories, this one starts in a basement with a game of mini-sticks. The difference though, is that Troy Murray wasn’t playing in
the game with his brothers. He was refereeing it.
“The basement was a full hockey rink, they played mini-sticks and I just reffed them,” Murray remembers of his start in the stripes. His grandmother even
made a jersey for the four-year-old, who would add a hand-me-down helmet and roller skates to complete the look. Murray even had his own whistle.
Twenty years later, the Regina, Sask., native is one of 18 officials at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. It’s an age group he
is very familiar with, having played for the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League while working the lines in the Western Hockey
League at the same time.
Playing in one league while officiating the level above it, Murray – the son of Tampa Bay Lightning scouting director, and former Hockey Canada head scout
Al Murray – was working alongside the same referees who threw him in the penalty box for 344 penalty minutes over his junior career.
“I was already one step ahead of where I was able to play,” Murray laughs. “It’s interesting, because one night they’re in power and the next night they’re
your best friend and you’re working with them. And the next night you’re certainly almost feeling they’re working against you sometimes.”
One of Murray’s former junior coaches says that perspective may have been developed from his play.
“Troy as a player, he wasn’t fun to play against,” Clint Mylymok, who was behind the bench of the Hounds when Murray patrolled the blue-line, said. “He’s
perfect as a ref, because he knows all the tricks in the book.”
“I’ve had a couple coaches who always told me ‘You’re a better referee than you are a player,’” Murray says with a grin. “But it always got me thinking
that reffing might be where I end up.”
The Notre Dame coaching staff encouraged Murray’s developing passion, allowing him to miss practices or video sessions if they were booked after his
refereeing schedule had been set. Mylymok says supporting Junior A players in their pursuits outside of hockey is just as important as getting them ready
“When he first started it, I remember talking to Troy about it. ‘If you can get your foot in the door you’re exactly what they’re looking for.’”
Those were important conversations for Murray, who faced a choice at the end of junior; continue playing or pursue refereeing. By the time he was 20 years
old, Murray had been contacted by NCAA Division III schools and some from the Alberta Colleges Athletics Conference, but no schools from NCAA Division I or
Canadian Interuniversity Sport, which is where he was hoping to be.
Murray also knew any post-secondary commitment would likely mean giving up the black and white and that was not something he was ready to do.
“I certainly saw myself progressing further on the reffing side of things, so I think I would have pursued that even if I had the choice [to play CIS or
NCAA Division I].”
So his choice became clear: whistle over stick.
Murray stayed home and started a sports management degree at the University of Regina, while also trying his hand at senior hockey in Saskatchewan. But the
games took too much time away from refereeing, which Murray no longer considered just a part-time pursuit. Now the 24-year-old has career aspirations and
refereeing takes precedence over most other commitments.
“Obviously it’s always in the back of my mind; it’s certainly something I aspire to and would love to do,” Murray said of a future career in officiating,
where he is already showing potential. “Like every player they’ve got the dream to make it to the NHL and I think every ref has that dream too, especially
when you get to this level of competition. It’s certainly in the back of everyone’s heads.”
The 2016 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge is his third international tournament, but first as a referee. Murray was a linesman at the 2014 U17 tournament in
Sarnia, Ont., getting the gold medal game assignment, and the 2014 World Junior A Challenge in Kindersley, Sask.
Murray smiles when he says his goal this week is to earn a spot in a medal game, knowing he would have said the same if he were playing.
“It’s funny. Eighteen of us come here and we don’t know each other and all of a sudden we’re friends almost immediately and next thing you know we’re on
the ice working together but there’s still competition, which a lot of people don’t realize,” Murray explains.
Only eight officials, four referees and four linemen, will call the medal games. Selection depends on performance, so Murray is treating every game like it
is the playoffs, including the pre-tournament game he worked between Canada Red and the United States.
“I certainly understand where [the players are] coming from,” he says. “Certain situations I understand why they do what they do or why they did what they
didn’t do, but there’s a lot of things that I probably did myself that I know wasn’t the best thing to do. You understand why and sometimes you reason with
them and all you need is a verbal penalty, but other times you have to assess actual penalties. But knowing the game is a huge asset for sure.”
It is an asset Murray has been using through his first season working American Hockey League games. He hopes to be invited to the National Hockey League
officials’ combine this summer to continue working his way through the professional ranks.
A commonality shared by many on the ice this week in Sault Ste. Marie.