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Greater Tulsa Reporter

Oilers Coach Rob Murray Has Ties to the Blues

GTR Sports Writer

TALKING AT LEFTY’S: New Oilers Coach Rob Murray, right, answers a question during a broadcast from Oilers Vice President of Communications John Peterson recently at Lefty’s on Greenwood in downtown Tulsa.

GTR Newspapers Photo

Another coach. Another chance.

Once again, the Tulsa Oilers seek redemption and a spot in ECHL post-season play when new boss Rob Murray takes charge for the 2017-18 season.

Add a new affiliation with the NHL St. Louis Blues, and it’s plain to see the Oilers are serious about returning to the glory days of 1993. With Murray at the helm, the chances appear brighter.

“There is a familiarity with St. Louis through a working relationship I’ve had with the Blues organization throughout the years,’’ says Murray. He has a history with many of the Blues’ front office personnel through coaching and playing and will direct the St. Louis rookie team in a tournament at Traverse City, Michigan, next month.

Since the NHL franchise has no American League affiliate this coming season, the Oilers’ relationship could prove even more beneficial, unlike the tie to Winnipeg last season. The Jets and  the Manitoba Moose, the team’s AHL affiliate, repeatedly drained Tulsa’s most talented players while giving back little in return.

Murray says some seasons are like that with needy parent organizations calling up its best minor league players. However, he’s been on the receiving end where the major franchise sends talent down to the farm. He said such moves have helped win championships, and he’s hoping for the same in Tulsa.

In January of last season, Manitoba yanked all-star goalie Jamie Phillips from the Oilers’ lineup, and the campaign went downhill from there. Murray says Phillips’ call up was one major reason for the team’s decline, making the puck-stopping position even more important this season.

Murray was planning on bringing in former Oiler keeper Kevin Carr, who played for him in Alaska last year. However, Carr had already signed with an overseas team, forcing Murray to look for fresh faces.

Two of them are 24-year-old Jake Hildebrand and 25-year-old rookie Tyler Parks. Hildebrand compiled an 18-21-3 record at Indianapolis in 2016-17 while the 6-foot-7, 215-pound Parks went 8-3-4 in the Southern Pro League.

With goaltender perhaps Murray’s chief concern after arriving in Tulsa, he said the Oilers’ defensive effort was not a problem last season. He said offensive production was lagging and he plans on doing something about it.

Wonderful things were expected to happen under Jason Christie, the winningest coach in league history, when he arrived two years ago. Following the now infamous team meltdown of last season and Christie’s departure, the franchise is left hoping that Murray is the answer.

The 50-year-old former Alaska coach is ready to transform the Oilers into the always anticipated ECHL playoff contender. He said reaching post-season play has a sense of urgency when training camp opens on Oct. 2. Following a preseason game at Wichita on Oct. 7, the season kicks off at the BOK Center on Oct. 13 against Kansas City.

Murray comes to town with an impressive playing and coaching resume. He spent six years in Alaska and led the now defunct club to three straight Brabham Cups with the best record in the ECHL from 2011-12 through 2013-14. The team won the Kelly Cup in 14.  

The Toronto native played 16 seasons in the American and National Hockey Leagues, being selected to the AHL Hall of Fame. With 431 games as an ECHL coach under his belt, Murray has carved a 231-150-50 record, producing winning records in five of his last six seasons behind the bench.

Murray says he was available to take the Oilers’ reins following an economic downturn in the state of Alaska. He said the Aces folded partially due to changes in the oil industry, and a state deficit made it tough for hockey fans. A lack of spendable income led to a declining fan base, and a shakeup of ECHL west coast teams made travel more complicated and expensive.

Murray was hired by the Oilers on June 7 and hit the ground running. Unlike Christie, he did not say his hiring date curtailed his recruiting ability. However, many of his players from last season had already signed to go overseas or to the AHL.

The coach says about one-third of his new squad will consist of returning Oilers and he expects many of the AHL players will become available when cuts are made in camp and disillusioned players return from Europe.

A self-professed “hard-nosed’’ player, Murray says successful teams are built around their skating ability and agility. He wants the Oilers to be tough while also possessing quickness with explosive scoring punch.

Murray noted how Tulsa’s leading scorer last season, Garrett Ladd, had just 34 points while Alaska had three players with almost twice as many. Stephen Perfetto led the Aces with 66 points with Peter Sivak adding 65 and Tim Coffman 63. A similar production would no doubt be helpful.

  Toward anchoring the blue line, Murray has already signed returning D-men Chris Joyaux, Dennis Brown and Eric Drapluk, along with forward Charlie Sampair who played in Alaska last season. Forward Adam Pleskach is also set to return after missing 22 games to injury a year ago.

Forward Phil Brewer has retired with Garrett Ladd signing overseas. Brewer tied for second in Oiler scoring last year, one point behind Ladd. Through the first week in August, the club was said to have 12 or 13 additional signings already set, but announcements can’t be made until immigration red tape is ironed out.

 In the meantime, Murray, unlike Christie, will be basking in the glow of a sweltering Tulsa summer. At this time in 2015, Christie complained about the Oklahoma heat after arriving from Ontario, Calif.

Coming from Alaska, Murray said he enjoys the warm weather in Tulsa. He can stand the heat and his No. 1 priority is reaching the 2018 Kelly Cup playoffs. With the right ingredients, he wants to cook it up in the Oilers’ kitchen.

Updated 08-29-2017

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