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August 06, 2015

Bob Murdoch

Bob Murdoch, the man with the magnificent mustache, was a NHL defenseman with Montreal, Los Angeles and Atlanta/Calgary in the 1970s and early 1980s. Though younger fans may better remember him as the Jack Adams award winning coach of the year with the Winnipeg Jets in the early 1990s. He also coached the Chicago Blackhawks.

As a defenseman Murdoch's signature move was to drop to the ice slide in front of blistering slap shots or taking away cross-crease passes. He defended by playing the percentages. What else would you expect from a Mathematics major.

Bob Murdoch, the son of a rental car franchise owner, grew up in Larder Lake, a half hour drive east of the hockey hotbed of Kirkland Lake, Ontario. Bob actually played only outdoor hockey until the age of 14 when he finally joined a Kirkland Lake team.

His studies were important to him. Murdoch passed up a hockey scholarship at Michigan Technological University in Houghton and chose to pay tuition and enroll at the University of Waterloo. His choice of academics? Mathematics and Physical Education. A double degree.

University hockey players were rare in National Hockey League circles back then. Canadian university students making the NHL remain rare nowadays. But Murdoch would be the exception to that rule.

After graduating from Waterloo, Murdoch considered teaching but he decided to join Father David Bauer's Canadian national team program in the hopes of playing in the Olympics. He would skate with the "Nats" for two seasons, befriending Cornell's Ken Dryden who also played on the team.

Unfortunately, Murdoch's Olympic dream died because of politics. In a dispute over amateurism biases Hockey Canada boycotted the 1972 Olympics. The national team dream soon died and players like Murdoch had to make career decisions.

Murdoch decided to keep skating when the Montreal Canadiens offered him a free agent contract. He, like most of Montreal's prospects back then, would spend a couple of seasons apprenticing in the minor leagues. Murdoch would play the 1972-73 season with the Habs, playing alongside - get this! - Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Jacques Laperriere and J.C. Tremblay. With a blue line group like that, it was no surprise the Habs would win the Stanley Cup.

While the Canadiens would go on to establish a dynasty with that blue line later in the decade, but Murdoch would land in Los Angeles shortly after the 1973 championship. It was actually a good thing for Murdoch, as he got more of a chance to play for the next six seasons out in California.

In 1979 Murdoch was traded to Atlanta. He would relocate with the entire franchise to Calgary in 1980. In total he played three seasons with the Flames' franchise before hanging up his skate and stepping behind the bench with the Flames as an assistant coach.

Murdoch would run his own NHL bench in both Chicago and Winnipeg before coaching several years in Europe.

"I have had such a wonderful life in hockey," Murdoch told Richard Buell in his book The Glory Of The Game. "I'm retired now, 57 years old, and I've seen the world, I've seen the tanks in Prague during the Prague Spring in 1968, and I've seen Germany and Slovakia, and Sweden and Finland, and places the average Canadian doesn't even know exist.

"And I've never had to work a day in my life."

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