Matt Murray, The Canadian Dream
When you’re a kid in Canada, you dream of winning the Stanley Cup. Not being a champion but the exact moment of becoming a champion: Impatiently waiting for the game clock to count down to zero giving way to an unbridled celebration and embracing of teammates. For Matt Murray, a “kid” from Thunder Bay, Ontario, he got to live out the dream of watching his teammates leap over the boards and speed in a single direction: Towards himself. Their gloves and helmets anywhere between ice level and 30 feet in the air, their arms out stretched as face muscles are pushed to their physical limit in a vain attempt to portray the pinnacle of joyful human emotion.
I suppose the next best thing about being a Stanley Cup champion is when you get to have your very own day with the Stanley Cup. Although the locker room party after Game 6 in San Jose looked pretty sweet too.
You never know what decisions are going to lead you where. Somehow, last Summer, PuckShots found ourselves photographing a PRO Kids event starring Marc & Jordan Staal, Robert Bortuzzo, Carter Hutton and Haley Irwin. Oh, and Matt Murray decided to show up on a whim during Bortuzzo’s session. As a Penguins fan I was very well aware of who Matt was and made sure I had the chance to talk to him. “This is pretty funny” I thought as I watched kids look past him, “He’ll be a big star one day”. Less than a year later Joanna and I found ourselves in a 16-seat Mini-Bus with Matt Murray and the Stanley Cup.
Is this even real life?
Tuesday, July 19th
9:59AM-Thunder Bay International Airport
We started the day by picking up Matt and his girlfriend Christina as well as hired Security and man-of-many-talents, Bryan Bortolin, in the Mini-Bus (provided by Kasper) and headed to the airport. Upon arrival we weren’t really sure what to do. Matt, Christina, Bryan and myself went upstairs to try and figure this mystery out. Meanwhile Joanna, who remained downstairs, phoned us to let us know she had the Cup! We raced downstairs to find a locked case on wheels. Shortly after down the escalator came a man wearing a Hockey Hall of Fame cap and polo. This was Walt, one of the “Keepers of the Cup” employed by the NHL, who would unlock the box revealing, predictably, a red satin interior protecting Lord Stanley’s Cup. Matt approached with an huge smile, grabbed the Cup and headed out the door as iPhones and tablets were raised around him snapping photos.
— PuckShots (@Puck_Shots) July 19, 2016
On the way to the next stop, Walt gave Matt the low down on do’s and don’ts with the Stanley Cup; A list of things that should go unsaid but still needed to be said.
This whole day would be documented with extra care as the NHL had hired Fadoo Productions, a film crew from Toronto, to capture Matt’s story. Between trips they’d throw a few interview questions at Matt. There was Dale the director, Adam the sound guy and Kevin the camera man, who I was especially impressed with watching him balance a massive camera on his shoulder, with one eye in the viewer, the other one closed while walking backwards, sometimes crouching all the while avoiding people and objects both of the static and moving variety.
Our first stop was to interrupt a floor hockey game put on by Westfort Minor Hockey, which Matt is an alumni of. Matt walked into Delaney Arena and onto the playing field with the Stanley Cup. The kids were in shock. There was a second where Matt walked towards them and they all just froze, followed by a swarming of Matt. Kids are funny in these moments. They either lose their minds or lose their words. We took a “team photo” with all the kids crowding around Matt and the Cup, and then Matt stuck around while parents snapped photos of their kids with Matt.
— Westfort Hockey (@HockeyWestfort) July 22, 2016
11:17AM-Intercity Shopping Centre
Leaving Delaney Arena, I thought “That was pretty neat”. And then we got to the Intercity Shopping Centre (aka “The Mall”) and realized that those kids with Westfort just got better than VIP treatment. The line-up at the mall started at Santa Claus’ usual spot, zig-zagged a few times then went down the long corridor towards Sears, hooked a right, down another hallway, out the door onto the sidewalk and then up the side of the mall all they way to the next entrance. Foolishly, I didn’t think it would be this crazy since with Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Patrick Sharp (3 times), the Cup had visited Thunder Bay a lot. Well, as it turns out, Thunder Bay locals are not tired of seeing the Cup and they certainly were excited to meet Matt Murray!
Since Matt wouldn’t be able to see everyone that day, he forewent signing autographs to get in as many people as possible. The first 15 minutes were… Interesting. It started with a few loud mouths towards Matt’s blindside yelling “Matt! Matt! Look over here Matt! Hey Matt! Matt!” I guess they hoped to entice him to pose just for them. Then a couple people ran through security to try and get a closer look of Matt and the Cup and were ushered off by security. It had nearly settled down until a man in a wheelchair and his son posed with Matt for a photo. As the man left the stage his chair began to coast backwards towards the back of the stage which was about an 18-inch drop. While everyone watched this happening in slow motion, Security Guard Bryan Bortolin sprung onto the stage and caught the man’s chair and pulled him back on stage. Bryan, rightfully, got a loud applause from those in attendance.
After this, everything went very smoothly. Lots of enthusiastic fans both young and old, including a group of fans wearing San Jose Sharks jerseys (in good nature as they posed with Matt showing the sign for #2). Matt, amazingly, never seemed to lack energy with anyone right up until the last group he was photographed with: A group from the Royal Canadian Navy. Matt was presented with a banner signed by Hundreds of fans. And rather than exiting out the VIP entrance, Matt wanted to walk the Cup past the remaining line of people who didn’t get to meet him. I was actually pretty amazed to see how thrilled the look on people’s faces were by way of Matt merely walking by with the Cup.
We hopped in the Mini-Bus. I was exhausted. I can only imagine how Matt felt. And now he was off to do another long session of “meet and greets” at the hospital. You always hear the cliché of “pro athletes being generous with their time” and I always kind of thought “Yeah, but who wouldn’t want to bring home the Stanley Cup like a hero?” Well it didn’t take long too see how laborious this was going to be on Matt and for someone who I’ve observed in my limited time with him to be a pretty “forward spoken guy”, I didn’t hear even a hint of a complaint.
2:32PM-Thunder Bay Regional Hospital
Before going to the hospital, we hit up the Subway near there where Subway owner Paul Ratte had arranged a platter of subs, cookies and drinks for us. A couple fans, unprepared for seeing an NHL hockey player in a Subway, asked Matt if he’d sign their iPhones. “Are you sure?” Matt asked. They nodded.
We took a couple loops around the hospital parking lot so we had enough time to stuff the subs back. The ever resourceful Bryan also works at the hospital and was able to guide us around. Matt first went to the mental health ward, which is an area typically left out of such events so it was a huge deal for Matt to bring the Cup there. Afterward, we all headed up to the hospital Auditorium where Matt greeted patients and staff at the hospital. Bryan stepped in to take photos for people with their phones. What a trooper.
Once again, there were more people wishing to meet Matt than there was time. To the hospital organizer’s credit, it felt like we got through all the patients there – only staff missed out.
We had some time in-between appointments so this was the perfect opportunity to hit up Hillcrest Park for the photo Matt really wanted: Him with two giants. The Stanley Cup and Thunder Bay’s Sleeping Giant. Luckily the crowd there were too interested in catching Pokémon to look up and see what was going on so Matt had a lot of freedom. I went ahead to scout out a spot. Matt hopped out of the Mini-Bus with the Cup and climbed the stone steps to get his shot.
While I was photographing Matt hoisting the Cup in front of the famous landmark, Joanna had snapped a couple quick shots with her iPhone and texted them to Matt and his mom, Fenny. After the shoot we left Matt alone in the bus to nap while we enjoyed the cool breeze on this hot day. Before heading to our next event we made a quick stop off at Matt’s house to freshen up. During this time Matt tweeted Joanna’s iPhone pic. That one act made this photo the most viewed photo PuckShots has ever taken. It was picked up by various media outlets including NHL.com. Amazing.
— Matt Murray (@mattmurray_30) July 19, 2016
5:04PM-Red Lion Smokehouse
Matt’s cousin owns Red Lion Smokehouse and had arranged for a small private get-together of friends and family. This was great timing as we were all quite hungry.
Matt’s dad, Jim, gave an opening speech and revealed a treasure that he had kept from Matt’s childhood: A tinfoil Stanley Cup standing about 8-inches that Matt had made for his dad on Father’s Day. Also in attendance was Matt’s rockstar brother, Michael Murray of Ten Meter Band. Matt invited ex-coaches from the Westfort Rangers, Thunder Bay Kings and Soo Greyhounds, goalie coaches, trainers, his host family from his OHL days and agents. It was a veritable who’s who of who’s helped Matt Murray to where he is today. And what an awesome way to say “Thank you!”.
By the way, if you haven’t tried the food at The Red Lion yet, correct that error right away. It’s amazing!
Matt’s high school sweetheart, Christina, and her parents have a beautiful home on the outskirts of town, where our next stop was. The long trip made for a welcomed rest. We took some stunning shots of Matt with Christina and her family (and their dogs) with the Stanley Cup in their back yard in front of their flower garden.
This is where Bryan and I got to cross something off our respective bucket lists: Raising the Stanley Cup over our heads! At 35 pounds, it’s not only heavy but deceptively heavy as there’s definitely a lot more weight towards the bottom so as one arm is pushing up with ease the other is saying “hold on, gimme a second!”. What an amazing experience and opportunity. One I’ll never forget.
We made a stop at the home of one of Matt’s good friend’s, Rob DeGagne, where other of Matt’s childhood buddies were waiting as well as Trevor Mikus, a Thunder Bay Kings board member, and his kids. We took some more photos before Matt collected his friends into the Mini-Bus to head back to his house to spend the rest of the night relaxing.
Maybe it’s because Matt is 6’4” or because he has a beard that Sidney Crosby could only dream of, or maybe because he is, as the scouting reports have stated all along, mature beyond his years, but next to his piers, Matt appears as a man amongst boys. And that’s not a knock on “the boys”! Trust me, I’m as baby-faced as they come – my only refuge being a full beard of my own. I think it’s just that Matt carries a calm, unassuming confidence about him that bleeds out into everything he does. And should it be any surprise that a 22-year-old who can stare down Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway in the playoffs is anything but?
Joanna and I soaked in a few last moments with the Cup before bidding Matt farewell. Matt and Fenny have repeatedly thanked PuckShots for our part in capturing the day. This is like having the proverbial cake and eating it too… And then being graciously thanked for eating the cake. But that’s where Matt comes from. That’s who he is. The Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as us in Thunder Bay, are lucky to have him.