His voice still hoarse in the aftermath of Canada’s gold medal victory over Finland at the IIHF World Championship on Sunday night, the veteran coach was asked if he might be the guy to lead the country at the 2010 Olympics.
“The only job I’m worried about now is trying to get the St. Louis Blues in the playoffs next year so that Team Canada has another coach (at the 2008 world championship),” said Murray. “But I’ll do anything that Hockey Canada asks me.
“If they want me to drive the bus or carry the sticks, I’m a proud Canadian and I’ll always be there if they ask me.”
There is a strong case to be made for Murray.
He now has three gold medals at the world championship and this one might have been his most impressive. Murray took a team that had very few star players and turned it into a powerhouse that won all nine games it played at the tournament.
The players celebrating in the dressing room at Khodynka Arena after the game knew exactly why they were wearing gold medals.
“Right from Day 1, everyone was given a role,” said forward Jay McClement, who plays for Murray in St. Louis. “It was laid out on the table and it made it a lot easier for us.”
With two more world championships to be played before the Olympics come to Vancouver in 2010, it may seem premature to be discussing the coach for that team.
But Hockey Canada officials don’t see it that way. They use all these big international tournaments to try people out in different roles and help shape the entire Olympic staff.
Murray won’t be campaigning for a coaching position at any point because it’s not his style. Prior to this tournament, he hadn’t coached a Canadian team since the 2003 world championship and had thought he might never be asked again.
“I’ve never, ever politicked for any job and I wouldn’t do that,” said Murray. “I know there were a lot of good guys that wanted to coach this team and I’m fortunate they asked me.”
Murray is 17-0-1 in his past 18 games coaching Canada at the world championship.
But neither he nor any of his players want to be back for next year’s world championship in Quebec City and Halifax. They’d rather be playing for the Stanley Cup.
The 2010 Olympics are a completely different story. World championship MVP Rick Nash, captain Shane Doan and forward Eric Staal were all part of Canada’s world championship and Olympic team last year and will be looking to add an Olympic gold to their collections in Vancouver.
A win there would give Staal a spot in the elite Triple Crown club.
“It is great to have this gold medal on my neck and the Stanley Cup last year,” he said. “Now I just have to get that gold medal at the Olympics in 2010. Then I will have all three.”
Staal’s younger brother Jordan might find himself in that mix for the Olympic team along with fellow teenager Jonathan Toews, both of whom set records by winning gold at this world championship.
At 18 years eight months three days, Jordan Staal is the youngest Canadian to win a world championship while Toews became the first Canadian to win the junior and senior world titles in the same year.
“When you win your last game going into the summer, it’s a pretty special feeling,” said Jordan Staal. “It’s not too often a Canadian player can get that gold medal.
“I’m pretty excited to head home and have some fun.”
As most of the players boarded flights back to North America early Monday morning, a feeling of satisfaction trumped any fatigue they were experiencing after a night without sleep.
This is not an easy tournament to win. While this victory gave Canada its third gold medal in the past five years, the country has just five titles since NHLers started participating in the event in 1977.
Murray knew just how tough it would be, which is why he was disappointed that several players had turned down invitations to join the team before the tournament began.
“I think it’s disappointing, especially some of the young players,” said Murray. “The key for us is for me to focus on the guys that said yes. Those guys are feeling pretty good about themselves.
“Their summer’s going to be a little bit better than some of those guys that ended their season on a bit of a sour note. I’m so proud of the group that we had that I won’t give it a second thought to the guys that aren’t here.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said all of Canada was proud, too.
“Once again, we have proven that Canadians are up to the challenge when facing the best hockey teams in the world,” he said in a statement Monday.
The kudos from Harper came after Doan’s captaincy was called into question by politicians on Parliament Hill early in the tournament. The controversy surrounded a derogatory remark Doan allegedly made to a French-Canadian official during a game in 2005. Doan has denied making a slur.