The last time Anze Kopitar and Douglas Murray appeared opposite each other it came in the controversial twilight of the 2011-12 NHL regular season. Ryane Clowe’s bizarre stick incident allowed the San Jose to take all four points from the Los Angeles Kings with a pair of extra-time wins that lifted the Sharks into seventh place in the Western Conference. The Kings dropped to eighth in the standings, and a were awarded a date with the President’s Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in an imposing first-round matchup.
It would be a massive understatement to say that much has transpired in the hockey world since then.
But there was Murray in the bowels of Hovet, the historic Stockholm arena opposite the Erricson Globe, exchanging pleasantries with Stanley Cup-winner Kopitar moments after Murray’s Djurgardens IF was unable to maintain a third-period lead and fell to Kopitar’s Mora IK 3-2 in a shootout Tuesday evening.
Thousands of miles away from the Pacific Division, the two California based-rivals had their own stories on how they came to be playing in Sweden’s second-tier HockeyAllsvenskan as the NHL lockout continues.
It was the second time Mora beat Djurgardens in a shootout this season, but the first game that Murray appeared against Kopitar, and as the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Swedish defenseman waited for his NHL counterpart to emerge from his locker room, it wasn’t difficult to discern the frustration as one of Sweden’s most legendary clubs slogged through a difficult season after 35 consecutive years spent in the top-tier Elitserien. After the shootout loss Tuesday, Djurgardens languished in ninth place in the 14-team HockeyAllsvenskan as Mora pulled two shootout points with a rare road victory at Hovet.
Murray’s road map to the NHL was vastly different than many of his fellow countrymen. Though he played briefly for Djurgardens’ under-20 team in 1996-97, he left for a prep school in New York, playing in the Tier-III Junior A Eastern Junior Hockey League and eventually suiting up for four years at Cornell University, where he graduated in 2003 with a degree in hotel administration.
“I was just going to go for one year,” Murray said about playing in the United States, “and then everything went from there and fell into place. I went off to college, and all that. It wasn’t planned to go this route. I was trying to make the best decision at each time, and that’s how it ended up happening.”
Having returned to Stockholm during the lockout, he’s now playing for the same club that his grandfather, Lars “Lasse” Björn, won an astounding nine championships with between 1950 and 1963 while representing Tre Kronor, winning the 1952 Olympic bronze medal and capturing gold at the World Championships in 1953 and 1957.
“Cornell was special. It’s a lot of tradition,” Murray said. “So is it over here in Djurgardens. For me, it’s extra special that my grandfather [was] pretty much the biggest legend on this team.”
There’s also a comparable environment between the two hockey arenas. Cornell’s Lynah Rink has long been one of the most intimidating environments within college hockey, while Djurgardens is backed by an energetic assemblage of supporters that hounded the referees from the start of the game on Tuesday and made it difficult for the Mora coaching staff to communicate with its players during stretches of a feverish third period. That the game was particularly physical for a HockeyAllsvenskan game, and that the referees often chose not to use their whistles – much to the stress of both teams’ supporters – did not diminish the noise coming from behind the end that Djurgardens attacked twice.
“It’s a little bit more, I want to say, like a soccer feeling, as far as you have the regular people that watch, and then you have the hardcore fans that are standing the whole game. It’s fun,” Murray said, echoing those who have compared the similarities of the hardcore fans between hockey and soccer in Europe.
Part of the experience for Murray is offering the knowledge he’s gathered as a seven-year NHL veteran and imparting it onto the shoulders of his teammates as an attempt to raise the collective will of his Djurgardens squad.
“You always try to – small things here and there that you pick up along the way,” he said. “It just kind of goes without thinking about.”
And as his Djurgardens experience progresses – he has two assists and 34 penalty minutes in 10 games – he continues to pay close attention to the stalled lockout negotiations in North America as the Sharks’ representative on the NHLPA negotiating committee.
In a September conversation with Bay Area News Group and Sharks beat writer David Pollak, Murray articulated that not playing NHL hockey was much more difficult than not collecting a steady NHL paycheck. The interview offered strong insight toward the defenseman’s desire to reach that long-sought-after agreement to return the highest level of hockey back to the United States and Canada.
“I understand that it’s tough to understand as a fan,” Murray said to Pollak. “And to be honest with you, I don’t think I fully understood it before I got involved and before I became a player in the NHL. I’ve been on the other side. It’s a tough one. It’s a really tough thing to explain. But hopefully we can work something out in the near future so we don’t have to answer these questions.”