by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.
Veteran center Garth Murray had just one question as he surveyed the damage in the San Antonio dressing room after he was demoted by Phoenix.
"I was just wondering how they could get a ‘W,’" Murray said. "They lost every way they could. It was quite a situation to come down to."
It wasn’t like a rose garden when Murray left. The Rampage were 2-7 at the time, not great, but far too early to panic. The bottom fell out with a vengeance while Murray was gone, though. San Antonio went 0-12-0-1 without him, polishing off a franchise-record 17-game winless streak.
Since Murray’s return, San Antonio has won six of nine. Coincidence? Well, the Rampage have added a load of quality players via trade and demotion in the past couple weeks. But none of those winning ingredients knows more about comebacks than Murray.
Murray played in all of seven games last season, one with Montreal and six with Florida. A bad shoulder injury he suffered in a fight while playing with the Panthers cost him the rest of the season.
That’s one reason why Murray, 26, now finds himself as an AHL regular for the first time since 2004-05 with Hartford. The timing of the injury was particularly cruel — Murray estimated that the Panthers offered him his best chance to turn into an NHL full-timer.
"It almost took a lot of pressure off me. Whatever happens, happens," said Murray, who signed with the Coyotes as a free agent. "I think most of the ‘what ifs’ were right after the injury. When it’s all said and done, and I’m done with playing hockey, time will tell what I think of (the injury costing him NHL time). Now, it’s just a matter of leaving it all out there. It’s back to the grind again, trying to chip away."
Murray has four goals and two assists in 18 games for the Rampage, plus a completely changed outlook on his profession that only emerged through challenges.
"It’s a battle. It’s a totally different mindset you have when you’re younger," he said. "You always think you’re always going to be an NHL player. It’s just a matter of getting better and getting older."
Players like Murray eventually find out that it doesn’t work that way, that everyone gets older long after they stop getting better. But the combination of more experience and talent is working for the Rampage in the short term.
While San Antonio’s vets can’t turn back the clock or the AHL schedule, they have the savvy to take advantage of the shifts yet to be taken and are turning the Rampage into one of the league’s hottest teams.
"That’s the mindset. Everyone is so optimistic," he said. "The way we look at it now is we’re a completely different team. It’s a 60-game year for us. It’s a big mountain to climb, but people don’t climb Mt. Everest in a day."