In terms of distance, jumping up to the WHL isn’t that far for defenceman Matthew Murray.
The 16-year-old is playing his rookie season in the KIJHL with the Creston Valley Thunder Cats, but a quick one hour drive puts him in Cranbrook, where he has a potential future with Kootenay Ice.
Murray, Kootenay’s 70th overall selection in the fourth round of the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, made the jump into Junior B with the T-Cats this year after playing major-midget with the Thompson Blazers.
“It’s definitely a big change going from playing major-midget to the KI, playing with a lot older guys, no more cage,” said Murray. “It’s a different game out there with older people and skill levels.”
The Kamloops native played alongside his team in a 5-4 double-OT loss to the Kimberley Dynamiters on Tuesday night, with Kootenay Ice general manager Jeff Chynoweth and assistant coach Jerry Bancks in attendance.
Murray made it out to training camp with the Ice over the last two seasons, which he describes as a positive experience for his development.
“I like how their’s is a smaller camp so it’s based on the guys they really want to look at,” said Murray, “whereas all my other buddies on the Thompson Blazers and got drafted, there are 200 or 300 kids at their camps.”
Murray was released from the Ice after camp at the beginning of the season, with instructions to jump up into Junior B hockey.
“They [Ice] just wanted me to get a year under my belt of playing somewhere above midget and see where I fit in and how I flow without a cage and all the older guys, just to get some experience,” Murray said.
That experience has paid off, according to Thunder Cats head coach Josh Hepdtich.
“Matt’s one of our top defencemen,” said Hepditch. “He’s an all around player, he’s a good skater, he’s a good puck mover, he’s got a good shot. He’s very capable of playing good at both ends of the ice.”
“…His offensive abilities are coming, but he doesn’t lack in defensive ability. He’s good in his own zone, he’s aggressive and plays very hard, he’s got that mean edge that you can’t really teach kids—you either have it or you don’t.”
In 35 games with Creston Valley this season, Murray has three goals, two assists and 77 minutes in penalties. He’s played his way onto the second unit powerplay, and has also earned a spot on the penalty kill.
While Murray is enjoying his time in Jr. B, he’s still setting his sights on the WHL with the Ice next year, which means strengthening and building his fundamental skills and hockey sense, said Hepditch.
“For Matt to get to the next level, it’s about the basics, fine tuning a lot of things,” said Hepditch. “He’s got the skating ability, he’s got good feet, he’s got a good shot, he’s a good passer, but now it’s just trying to pull them all together.”