Toughness runs in Murray's family
To hear Lasse Bjorn talk about it, Floyd Martin should spend every one of his waking hours in Kitchener, Ont., living in mortal fear of retribution. To hear Floyd Martin talk about it, well, not so much.
Here’s the backstory: At the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif., 20 years before his grandson Douglas Murray was born, Lasse Bjorn was a standout defenseman for the Swedish Olympic team. In the first game of the tournament, Floyd ‘Butch’ Martin of Canada, via the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen, knocked him clean over the boards and Bjorn ended up with broken ribs.
The story goes that Bjorn has been plotting his revenge against Martin ever since.
“I’d tell him that was a real cheap shot,” Bjorn said if he ever met up with Martin today, “and then I’d swallow him whole. I would have done so when it happened if I didn’t lose the blade of my skate, so I was slower than usual.”
There’s only one problem. The year after the Olympics, Martin was playing for the Chatham Maroons, who toured through Sweden and the former Soviet Union. One of their games was against Bjorn’s Djurgarden squad and while the two played up the incident, even posing together on the front page of the newspaper, they had a good laugh about it. And Martin happily reports he was not swallowed up by one of the greatest defensemen ever to play for Tre Kronor.
“Actually,” Martin recalled, “he was a hell of a nice guy.”
But you get the idea here. Bjorn was a take-no-prisoners type of competitor who liked to hit first and ask questions later. A member of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Hall of Fame, he won nine Swedish League championships with Djurgarden between 1950 and 1963. He played in nine world championships for Sweden, winning two gold and three bronze medals in addition to one bronze in three Winter Olympics. He and defense partner Roland Stoltz are Swedish legends who would take young Douglas to Djurgarden games and, almost like Statler and Waldorf, those two old guys from "The Muppets," comment on everything they saw that they didn’t like.
“My grandpa was pointing out every time a guy could hit somebody,” Murray said, “and Rollie Stoltz was pointing out how to play the puck.”
Murray is probably a lot more Lasse Bjorn than Roland Stoltz these days as a defenseman with the San Jose Sharks. After all, he has recorded 200-plus hits each of the past two seasons and has led the Sharks in that category each of the past three. He will never be confused with Paul Coffey in terms of skating and has developed into a shutdown defenseman, but he likes to think all the advice from Stoltz didn’t go unheeded. The will to compete and the willingness to hit, though, were passed down directly from his grandfather.
Former NHL star and long-time scout Anders Hedberg was on his way up in Sweden when Bjorn’s career was ending and recalls watching him as a boy. He remembered Bjorn being the biggest player in Swedish hockey and one who could have played in an expanded NHL.
“When he stepped into somebody, it was very effective,” Hedberg said. “You could hear the sound of the body crunch and he could play. In today’s world he would have played in the NHL and he would have been a better player than Douglas Murray. You can quote me on that one.”
That means Bjorn, circa 2011-12, would have been better than one of the league’s most physical and effective shutdown players and he would have made in excess of $2.5 million. He would have been better than a player who was the best defenseman in the Eastern College Athletic Conference in 2003, a two-time ECAC all-American and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. And finally, Lasse Bjorn would have even been better than the guy who shared the Rubbermaid Player of the Year Award (we’re not kidding about that, by the way) as a member of the American League’s Cleveland Barons in 2005.
Murray’s route to the NHL has been an interesting one to be sure. Instead of honing his game at home, Murray came to North America at 17 to play two years of Jr. A before enrolling at Cornell University. It was there that his game blossomed and where he was noticed by NHL scouts. Not only did Murray get a degree in hotel administration, he also displayed an entrepreneurial acumen, much like his grandfather.
During his playing days and after retiring, Bjorn was the owner and operator of Lasse Bjorn Akeri (trucking). His company logo was a hockey stick with wheels underneath. His father, Thomas, heads a family-owned textile company and runs Lee and Wrangler in Sweden. And when Murray was at Cornell, he and several friends invented and marketed the UberTap, a hands-free, three-spout keg tap. You know what they say about necessity . . .
Although he gave up control of the company early in his career to focus on hockey, he anticipates being a captain of industry after he’s finished being an alternate captain for the Sharks.
“I always loved business in general,” Murray said. “When I’m done playing hockey, I’m much more likely to do something in business — whether it’s restaurants or hotels or venture capitalism — than hockey. I love the game, but I would think I would tackle something new when I’m done.”
That likely won’t be anytime too soon. Murray has two years left on his deal with the Sharks, which will take him to the age of 33. He’ll likely have at least one more multi-year deal left in him by that stage of his career.
And Bjorn? He turns 80 in December and still never misses a Djurgarden game. He played oldtimers hockey and ran his trucking company well into his 70s. He continues to hike and walk with gusto and still occasionally laces up the skates.
“My wife, Jack Daniel’s and exercise,” Bjorn said when asked what keeps him young. “These days mostly power walks and skating on the frozen lake. My last hockey tournament was in Lake Placid in 2001. I played for the Minnesota oldtimers and we won. I was only 70 years old at the time, so it was really a piece of cake.”
This article originally appeared in THN's Yearbook.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column.
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