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Goaltender Murray helping Spruce Grove to AJHL success

By Neil Hilts on January 25, 2016

Spruce Grove netminder Matthew Murray's promotion to the starting spot has paid off in spades for the Saints in 2015-16. (Photo by Emily Van Ee)     

Coming off of an Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) championship, the Spruce Grove Saints entered 2015-16 with two top-end goaltenders: Brett Zarowny, a former WHLer with Prince George, and Matthew Murray, one of the top 17-year-olds in the league.

The Saints won their first 10 games by a margin of more than 40 goals, and Zarowny and Murray were a big reason to the hot start.

But early in November, the Saints made the decision to move on with Murray as their starting goaltender and breakup the successful tandem. They shipped Zarowny to Drayton Valley in exchange for another goaltender, in large part to open another roster spot.

The AJHL has a rule where teams can only have six players in their final year of junior hockey eligibility, most commonly when they are 20 years old. Zarowny, born in 1995, was moved to open a spot for a position player.

Ultimately, the Saints made more moves and brought in another 1995-born goalie, but this early move made it clear Murray was the No. 1 choice.

It was a big task to hand the reigns to Murray, but he showed how capable he is with the league’s best GAA last year, and a huge start to the year in 2015-16. The Saints are 36-6-3 on the year and lead the division by eight points.

In 2015-16, he is 19-3 and has his team leading the Viterra North Division and entire AJHL. His goals-against-average is fifth best, while his save percentage is third highest in the league. Murray was also a member of the Canada West squad that won gold this past December at the CJHL’s World Junior A Challenge. He has yet to commit to playing post-secondary hockey, but likely has dozens of suitors. He could also turn to the major junior route and explore if there is WHL interest.

Normally entering a Junior A league for the first time, especially for a goaltender, there can be a tough adjustment period, but not for Murray. The now-17-year-old dominated with a 14-1-3 record, .920 save percentage and league-best 1.72 GAA en route to the AJHL championship with the Saints. He split duties with Zarowny, who started this season with Spruce Grove before getting shipped to Drayton Valley. 

Murray’s 33-4-3 record through two seasons in nearly unheard of, and because of his success, he’s begun to hear his name talked about for the 2016 NHL Draft.

Murray is looking to become the second Matthew Murray goaltending prospect in the NHL, following his namesake (no relation) in the Penguins system. Another product of Northern Alberta, Murray grew up and played his minor hockey in St. Albert. 

If Murray keeps playing well and boosting his draft stock, he can attempt to be the first AJHL goalie drafted since Sherwood Park’s Matt Tomkins as selected in 2012. 

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By Neil Hilts| January 25, 2016
Categories:  Junior
Keywords:  Spruce Grove Saints

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