April 21, 2014
By Neil Koepke
EAST LANSING - When Rem Murray started playing hockey at a young age in southwestern Ontario, he was always focused on the present and not the future.
He was more concerned about the level of hockey he was at rather than what could be next. In fact, Murray says he wasn't confident that there would be a next level - whether it was Junior B, college or pro hockey.
Murray made it to all those levels, including an outstanding four-year stay at Michigan State and a 16-year pro career, including nine in the National Hockey League.
"When I was in Junior B, I was happy to be there and wasn't sure I'd make it to college. I was ready to push myself and see what happened,'' Murray said. "My brother, Pat, was there before me and I always strived to play at Michigan State.
"When I got there, it felt great, but I never set any goals for myself.''
Murray said he always wanted to play in the NHL but "it didn't seem to be a realistic goal.'' But through his development at MSU as a smart, two-way forward who could score goals, put up points and be responsible defensively, Murray earned a spot in the NHL.
After nine seasons in the NHL and six more in Finland and Austria, the 1995 MSU graduate, with a degree in civil engineering, retired from hockey in 2010. He's now involved in commercial real estate, and lives in Rochester with his wife, Kim, also a Spartan graduate, and their four children - Jillian, 11; Joey, 10; Owen, 8, and Allison, 6.
In recognition of his achievements in hockey and his great representation of Michigan State throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, Murray, now 41, has been named winner of the 2014 MSU Distinguished Alumnus Award.
"You think about all the people that have come through the hockey program at Michigan State, the great names and good people, so it really means a lot,'' Murray said. "It doesn't seem like it's been 19 years since I left, but I think back and realize those were the best times of your life.
"I think I've had a bit of success since then, but those four years of playing hockey at Michigan State were the best. The best friends I have are the guys I played with in college.''
Murray never missed a game in his four seasons as a Spartan from 1991-95. He played in 165 consecutive games and had 71 goals and 147 assists for 218 points. He ranks fourth in career assists at MSU, and is tied with former teammate Dwayne Norris for seventh place in career points.
He captained the Spartans as a senior and led the team in scoring with 20 goals and 56 points. His best season in points was as a sophomore when he had 22 goals and 57 points.
But Murray, who grew up in Dublin, Ontario, near Stratford, was more about team success, and the Spartans had an outstanding record during his career. Murray's teams compiled a 98-49-18 record, played in the NCAA Tournament three times and advanced to the Frozen Four in 1992, his freshman season.
"I was able to play with good players and was able to produce,'' Murray said. "As a freshman, I was on the power play with Dwayne Norris, Peter White and Bryan Smolinski. It was a pretty potent power play. But we had great leadership and they passed down what it meant to be a Spartan. As you got older, you passed it on to the new players.''
Murray said his bond with his teammates and what he learned from his coaches about being a student, part of a team and about life are what he cherishes most about being a Michigan State graduate.
"I came in as a young kid and didn't know very much and left there knowing quite a bit more about life than when I got there,'' he said. "You're 18-22 years old and you spend every day with your teammates and create a great bond by pushing each other, competing together and going through the great battles, trying to win for each other.
"Coach (Ron) Mason taught us about that, about being a good teammate and a good citizen, and that it wasn't about the individual. Of course, we had fun, but when it was time to play, everybody played hard.''
When Murray left MSU, he signed with the NHL's Edmonton Oilers after the Los Angeles Kings, who drafted him in 1992, relinquished their rights to him. It turned out be huge break for Murray, who put up 90 points with the Oilers' minor league team in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in 1995-96.
The next year, Murray earned a spot with the Oilers and spent six seasons in Edmonton.
"I found a role as a third-line checker, so I did what I had to do to stay there,'' Murray said.
In nine seasons in the NHL, including stints with the New York Rangers and Nashville Predators, Murray played in 560 games and had 94 goals and 215 points. In 1999, he put up career highs in goals with 21 and points with 39.
Murray's favorite NHL memory is joining the Edmonton Oilers late in the 2005-06 season and being part of their run to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes. Unfortunately, the Oilers lost Game 7, 3-1.
Two years earlier, Murray had to retire from the NHL after being diagnosed with cervical dystonia, a neurological disorder that causes neck muscles to contract, altering the posture of the head and neck. He experienced severe pain and stiffness in his neck, and it progressed to the point where his head was involuntary forced to face to the left, as if he was looking over his left shoulder.
Murray thought his career was over and he was more concerned with finding a way to live a normal life and be able to be part of his children's lives.
Through effective medical treatments and rehabilitation, Murray recovered and eventually was deemed healthy enough to play hockey again. After a tryout with the Red Wings in the fall of 2005, Murray found a comeback spot with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League. He played in 54 games and late in the season, signed as a free agent Edmonton.
"I didn't play much when I got there in March but a couple of guys got hurt and I was playing in the playoffs,'' Murray said. "We upset Detroit in the first round, then beat San Jose and Anaheim to get to the finals.
"We lost in seven games but the experience of going through that was surreal, especially after what I had gone through, after thinking I'd never play again. I had my family around for most of those rounds. They all came to Game 7. That was a pretty satisfying feeling.''
What motivated Murray to push himself to try to play again?
"I think everyone wants to go out under their own terms. You don't want to be forced out with an injury that was not even related to hockey,'' he said. "There were times when I was pretty down. It was tough to get out of bed and get going some days.
"But I went back to how I was brought up and what I learned at Michigan State and just kept fighting. I wanted to prove that I could come back and play. I had to give it one more shot.''
Murray's last NHL game was Game 7 in Carolina.
The next season, Murray headed to Europe for another great hockey and family experience. They spent two seasons in Finland and four in Austria.
"That was an awesome experience living in Austria at the end,'' Murray said. "We lived in the Alps, in a ski town, with about 1,000 people - great people. The kids learned German. It was a fun time.''