Murray wears it well

KEN WIEBE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

Andrew Murray has a front-row seat for what could be a historical hockey moment.

The Selkirk product and Manitoba Junior Hockey League graduate is playing a valuable role in his second season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are smack dab in the middle of a heated push for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

That push continued last night against the Vancouver Canucks at GM Place as the Jackets closed out a swing through Western Canada.

"It's always nice to be back in Canada, it's been great," Murray said from Vancouver. "The trip we're on right now is really big for us in the standings. We still have 20 games left and every game seems like it is a playoff-type game, with the way things are so tight and how close everybody is. They're pressure-packed games right now and we need as many wins as possible to get in."

Murray says the Ohio city has been relishing the race.

"It's been great. A lot people know that Columbus hasn't made the playoffs in franchise history and there's definitely a buzz in the city and around the rink," said Murray, who had seven goals and nine points heading into last night's game. "The fans have really jumped on board. We've been getting great crowds and great support. It's nice to be part of this thing and hopefully, we can get in there.

"You can tell right now everybody is excited about everybody is on board. The fans have been extremely loyal and extremely patient and it would be nice for us to repay them and give them a chance to watch some post-season hockey.

"Once you're in, you never know what can happen. As we've seen in the past, some seven, eight seeds have gone on some pretty good runs. With the way our team is and the goaltending we have, it's anybody's guess once we're in."

Fun to watch

With captain Rick Nash driving the bus and rookie goaltender Steve Mason taking the league by storm, the Jackets are the type of team that could be fun to watch in the spring.

But what's been the key for the success of this club?

"It's just the emergence of players within the group, players have been stepping up and it seems like every night we're getting contributions from different guys," said Murray, 27. "It seems like there's a new hero every game."

Occasionally, Murray has been one of the heroes.

"Obviously, it's a learning experience as you go along. For me, it's trying to contribute any way that I can to help this team get to the next level," said Murray. "It has flown by. Playing in Syracuse for two-and-a-half years, I grew as a player and that time was needed to get to the next level and improve."

Jackets assistant coach Gary Agnew was the head man with the Crunch when Murray turned pro and has seen the improvements first-hand.

"He's found himself a nice niche," said Agnew. "He's become a really good penalty killer and a really dependable third or four line guy. He's played all three positions and he knows how the game is played. He knows when to chip it in and he knows when he can carry it. Defensively, he's really smart -- coming into the zone, reading the rush and making sure he knows what his assignments are.

"We want him to be that defensive stalwart, but we also ask him to score goals and take the puck to the net. He's done that. He's scored some big goals for us. He's never going to score 50, but he can definitely chip in 10 or 15. That's what makes him a solid player."

ken.wiebe@sunmedia.ca


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