His players stood around the dressing room in red Canadian jerseys draped with gold medals from the IIHF World Hockey Championship on Sunday, moments after watching Rick Nash score a breathtaking breakaway goal to secure a 4-2 win over Finland.
Murray had spent much of the past month explaining systems and strategies to the team, but his final message was about something much more important.
“Life is all about making a difference,” he said. “You guys made a difference in Canada today. . . .
“We’ve got the deepest emotional well in the world for the game of hockey. I’ll tell you, when Rick Nash was going in on that breakaway in the last minute or so, 31 million Canadians were carrying our emotions with him.”
The elation on the faces of the players as they doused each other with champagne soon afterwards suggested that they understood.
The Canadians travelled a long way to play this tournament at a time when each of them could have been relaxing and playing golf. Nothing was more important than the gold medal to the guys who volunteered almost a month of their time to come to Russia and play for Canada.
“We do the best we can not to let our country down,” said forward Justin Williams. “Every single guy worked his tail off to get what he deserved here. And we deserved this gold medal.”
It was a textbook example of the formula needed to win international hockey tournaments.
Canada got goals from skilled players and grinders, timely saves from goaltenders Cam Ward and Dwayne Roloson and learned from its early mistakes. It all added up to a third world championship title in five years.
The play of Nash in particular also helped seal it. He was considered the most talented player who agreed to join the Canadian team before the tournament and his performance here matched that reputation.
His two goals in the gold medal were the difference and helped earn him the tournament’s most valuable player award and a spot on its all-star team.
“I don’t have to tell you that Rick Nash probably took over this tournament for us,” said forward Mike Cammalleri. “He stepped up and he was huge.
“That was some of the best hockey I’ve ever seen played.”
Said GM Steve Yzerman: “He was spectacular. He was head and shoulders above everyone.”
In the end, so were the Canadians.
This run to gold was stunning in its sheer efficiency. Canada outscored its opposition 13-4 during the playoff round games and seemed to get better each time out. The Canadians were bigger, stronger, faster and more disciplined than their opponents when the games counted most.
“It was really weird, we really grew together quickly,” said 18-year-old Jordan Staal, who is now the youngest Canadian ever to win a gold medal at this tournament. “We weren’t here for a very long time, but we really had a lot of fun.
“That’s the chemistry of winning.”
Colby Armstrong and Eric Staal also scored in the gold medal game for Canada while Petri Kontiola and Antti Miettinen replied with third-period goals for the Finns.
Miettinen’s goal with 2:16 to play got the Finns back to 3-2 and gave them the some hope after Canada had dominated the game. Nash ended that with a splendid one-handed deke of goalie Kari Lehtonen while defenceman Pekka Saravo tried to haul him down.
“He’s a hell of a hockey player,” said forward Jason Chimera, Nash’s teammate in Columbus. “The guy was draped all over him. I couldn’t score in an empty net with a guy draped on me like that and he scored it against a goalie.”
It marked the end of the final test for Canada.
Murray had given this team the theme of “Digging in for Canada” – a message he drove home with T-shirts and inspirational videos. Before the semifinal win over Sweden on Saturday night, he showed the team some clips of trench warfare from the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
It was all in preparation for the type of adversity they faced at the end of the gold medal game.
“We were digging in pretty deep at the end there,” said Murray.
Canada entered this event completely under the radar because many thought it didn’t have enough skill to compete with the Swedes or Russians or Czechs. Even Yzerman was worried that his team would have trouble scoring.
Those thoughts were quickly put to rest when energy line player Jamal Mayers had two goals in an opening win over Germany. Canada proceeded to get consistent offensive contribution from three of its forward lines.
The top unit of captain Shane Doan, Matthew Lombardi and Nash was its most reliable. The trio led the way offensively.
“People were questioning whether we were old enough and whether we had enough experience and star power,” said Doan, proudly displaying his gold medal with Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral printed on it. “You always love that kind of answer to those questions.”
The 29-year-old admitted that this victory felt a little more special than others he’s been part of because of the controversy that broke out on Parliament Hill over his captaincy early in the tournament. Doan handled that situation with class and it earned him the respect of his teammates.
Ultimately, Canada’s biggest strength at this tournament was the way it played together. Players were subbed in and out of roles, Ward and Roloson split the goaltending duties and everyone seemed willing to do whatever Murray asked.
“I think we were so balanced just all the way through the lineup,” said forward Eric Staal. “Both on the back end and up front. That’s how you win championships, that’s how you win tournaments like this.”
The Canadians were also helped by a little luck as they avoided a final against powerful Russia when Finland knocked off the host country in the semifinal. Russia won the bronze medal on Sunday with a 3-1 win over Sweden.
The Canadian team drew inspiration from all over the place while preparing for the gold medal game. Cammalleri read some of Bill Gaston’s book “Midnight Hockey” before heading to Khodynka Arena and started to get emotional while thinking about what was to come.
“It kind of hit an emotional chord,” he said. “You really realize what you’re doing and how lucky we are to be in this position and the responsibility that comes with it.”