Unfortunately for Blake Murray, it’s been a slow start to his draft season.
And while a pair of upper-body injuries have already befallen the Sudbury Wolves center, Murray remains determined to put that balky shoulder to the wheel and prove that he deserves to rocket up the draft boards.
“I was off for the month of August and I had to regain the strength in my shoulder,” said Murray, 66th in Future Considerations Fall ranking for the 2019 NHL Draft.
“I came in to Sudbury and I felt good and was ready to go for the start of the year.
“I’d say I did a hard month in September of training in preseason. I got into Sudbury early, in the last week of August, so it was pretty tough to get back into things and I feel great now. I just want to keep rolling.”
His first injury, to his right collarbone, occurred in the summer as Murray was participating in camp for Canada’s entry at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
“It was a great experience to play against the best — the top 40 guys your age. It was pretty tough,” he said. “I hurt my shoulder in the last scrimmage there, so obviously I had to come home. It was tough not to represent my country, but it was a great experience overall.”
Murray recently suffered another injury to that same shoulder, which caused him to miss another game.
“It was the same type of injury,” he said.
“I’m all good now, though.”
The Uxbridge, ON native is determined to not let his early season injuries hold him back. He doesn’t feel he was hampered in his preparation for the Ontario Hockey League season.
And he’s committed to not letting his injuries get into his head and cause him to try to do too much to provide to the scouts that he’s healthy.
“There’s obviously a little bit of that it’s your NHL draft year and you’re trying to prove yourself,” Murray said. “I’m just trying to go out there and play hockey tonight, just play my game, and not think too much.
Early reports have been positive. In 21 games, Murray has 14 points on eight goals and six assists.
More importantly, for Murray, the team is enjoying success.
It’s been four seasons since Sudbury finished the year with a winning record — and it hasn’t even been close. With seasons of 12, 16, and 17 wins sandwiched around 27 wins in 2016-17, there hasn’t been a lot to cheer about in the Nickel City.
This season, the Wolves have raced out to a 11-6-1-1 start.
Murray said he’s enjoying the atmosphere that’s been caused by winning in a city that’s starved for success.
“It’s been a crazy atmosphere. We’re winning hockey games this year. Compared to last year, we were getting 2,000 fans a game; now we’re getting up to 4,000,” he said. “It’s been a lot louder and a lot more fun to play at home. And we’re winning games at home, so it’s a lot more fun to play there.
“Everyone in Sudbury loves the Wolves and you’re recognized everywhere you go. In Whitby it was different. In Sudbury, there’s really not much else to do than hockey.”
Murray explained how he’s noticed how much winning has changed the atmosphere on and off the ice.
“I think we’re a lot better team this season,” he said. “We’ve got a great goaltender Ukko (Pekka Luukkonen) coming in this year who has won us a lot of games this year. We’re expecting to win this year.
“In practice, in the room everyone’s a lot more happy. Last year, we didn’t win as many games as we would have liked and everyone was a little bit pissed. This year, people are coming into games ready, hyped up, and looking to win every night.”
Some say the league gets easier in your second year.
And while Murray admits that you are more comfortable in the league, there’s also more attention on you — so easier is a relative term.
“Obviously you’re used to the league after the first year. But now you’re playing against the top guys and everyone knows who you are,” he said. “So it’s a bit harder. You have to have more compete and compete every night.”
Murray said he’s not overwhelmed with his first few games, but promises that better things are coming.
He’s still got plenty of time to show what he can do.
“It’s been an alright start. I think there’s a lot more to come,” he said.
“I think I’ll have a good second half of the first half of the season. And then I want to carry that into the second half of the year. I just need to stay consistent, every shift, every game throughout the rest of the year. I need to bear down on my chances and score some more goals, I’d say.
“If I do that, I think I’ll move up [the draft boards].”