Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Honoring Humboldt: How a goalie mask motivates Matt Murray like never before

Sophomore netminder knew six people involved in Humboldt crash
Caroline O’Connor/Collegian

Roughly a month after the Massachusetts hockey team’s season ended last year, the hockey world stood at a standstill.

On April 6, the bus of the junior league Humboldt Broncos was struck by an 18-wheeler semitruck while the team was on its way to a playoff game in Western Canada. Of the 29 people on board, 16 were killed and 13 severely injured.

Sitting in his room at UMass, a vague text message popped up on goaltender Matt Murray’s phone from his good friend, Curtis: Something was wrong. Something was going on.

Murray’s world couldn’t have been more still.

“I just remember trying to contact anybody who had any idea – I tried calling them,” Murray recalled with a blank stare. “I just remember calling my dad and just breaking down.”

Six friends of Murray’s were on that bus. Five of them died there on Saskatchewan Highway 35.

Murray came to let the coaching staff know that he would be traveling home for the funeral services, his emotions dripping all over the then-freshman’s face.

He was at a loss for words – in shock.

Wanting to show their support, UMass players sported ‘Humboldt Strong’ stickers on all of their gear, as did many other hockey teams around the world. But for Murray, a sticker wasn’t enough. He wanted something permanent.

Working with the same designer as last season, Jesse Acciacca of Jesse Custom Designs, Murray felt the need for a new mask. He gave Acciacca full creative reign over the style of his goalie mask. The only thing that mattered to him was the names.

“I wanted every name of the people on that bus,” Murray said, “from the coaching staff, trainers, play-by-play guys, stats guy, to every member of the team.”

Acciacca focused on making sure all of the names were visible without overwhelming the whole mask. He told The Massachusetts Daily Collegian via email that he used “pearlescent paint effects to make [the names] shift in the right light, except for five of the team members that Matt knew personally.”

Conner Lukan, Stephen Wack, Logan Hunter, Jaxon Joseph, Parker Tobin.

Caroline O’Connor/Collegian

It was decided that those names would be prominently printed in bold on the back plate, where everyone was sure to see them.

“I just wanted to honor them in some way possible. I think that was the biggest thing,” Murray said. “Just making sure that I could do some part in just carrying their legacy on – carrying them through.

“It’s just a very, very humbling feeling, putting that mask on. Knowing who is on it and what they’ve done.”

Wack was one of Murray’s closest friends on the Broncos. The two had been friends since they were 10 years old and lived just a street away from each other – a 10-minute walk, Murray recalls. Murray met Lukan when he was 15 years old, playing for the Spruce Grove Saints. He said Lukan, who is currently in Murray’s profile picture on Twitter, was easily his best friend on the team.

Joseph and Hunter were both from Murray’s hometown. The St. Albert native was more familiar with Joseph because of a minor hockey program that Joseph’s father had done a lot of work for. Hunter was in the grade below Murray, but the two had been on the ice together several times.

Although he didn’t consider himself close personal friends with Tobin, it wasn’t a question whether or not he’d be included in the five names. Tobin was the goaltender of the Broncos and happened to live in Stony Plain, Alberta, just a half hour away from Murray’s hometown.

“The whole goalie community – the hockey community is small as it is – but us weirdos that consider us goalies, that’s a community,” Murray said. “I always recognized him as who he was as a goalie, and as a person, on the ice.”

The mask arrived in Amherst on Oct. 9, three days before the Minutemen’s season-opening series against Rensselaer. Coach Greg Carvel saw the mask for the first time on Twitter, then took it upon himself to take a closer look at it the very next day.

It was apparent to Carvel how much the design meant to his netminder, as Murray went through the names and explained the design to him with the five names displayed on the bottom right side of the back of the mask.

Sophomore Cale Makar, who also hails from Alberta, played against Wack and other players on the Saints. Thinking back to when the accident happened, Makar recalled how endless amounts of information came pouring out from his friends and family from back home.

“It’s kind of on a more personal level for me,” Makar said. “I think it was big everywhere – everybody recognized it and the hockey world came together, so that was pretty cool to see.

“Obviously it’s a horrible accident, it’s something you’ll never get over.”

The sixth friend of Murray’s, who was fortunate enough to not be included in the bolded names, was Tyler Smith. Murray considers Smith to be one of his closest friends, as the two live relatively close to each other.

Since the accident, Murray said that he’s spoken to Smith and even got to see him a few times during the summer as well. But as great as it was to see a friend he’d almost lost, it was inevitably emotional and overwhelming.

Murray couldn’t imagine going through all of that by himself.

Smith has been a part of a multitude of videos, presentations and features to discuss the unfortunate events that he endured. But that’s the kind of kid Smith is, according to Murray: If he has something he wants to talk about, he will.

“I think the hardest part was trying to make him comfortable,” said Murray, through a lump in his throat. “Because of course you wanted to ask him all these things. You want to bring up like, ‘Hey man, are you okay?’

“At some point, you need to make sure that [he knows] you’re just friends and that you’re not trying to pressure him with that,” he added. “Because it is such a sensitive topic still for a lot of people, and especially people involved with it first-hand.”

Five months later, the crash is still a touchy subject for any hockey player. For sophomore Mario Ferraro, it’s a reminder of his privilege and the honor that he has to “wake up every morning and just come to the rink and play our hearts out.”

Ferraro remembers Murray having to leave campus to take some time off. He recalls how it was a tough time for the team as whole, because it was such a rough time for Murray.

“It’s something we think about every day,” Ferraro said. “And that’s the kind of mindset we have on this team: to give 110 percent every time because not a lot of people get this opportunity.

“We think of those kids involved in that accident and pray for them and think of them in our game.”

UMass is off to one of its most impressive starts in recent memory, sporting an 8-1 record as well as a five-game winning streak in Hockey East play. Murray, armored in his new mask, has started between the pipes in six of nine contests this season, earning the starting spot in the last three consecutive wins.

Last season, Murray saw a little over half of the season’s playing time, finishing with a .911 save percentage. He registered the lowest goals against average by a UMass goaltender since 2008-09, and set a new program record for shutouts with four. But alternating between then-teammate Ryan Wischow, who was a veteran on the team, continued to plague Murray’s rhythm all season.

Now, it seems as though Carvel is showing where his confidence lies.

Murray has yet to register a loss this season, amassing six wins in six starts, making him the first UMass netminder to start a season 6-0-0 in the team’s Division I history. He’s averaged 27.5 saves per game along with a 1.67 goals against average, which ranks him second in the conference and ninth nationally.

He accumulated a season-high 35 saves against the then-No.1 ranked team in the country, Ohio State, allowing only three goals against the high-caliber Buckeyes. He currently leads Hockey East with a .943 save percentage, which ranks No. 7 in the country.

Murray was the fourth Minuteman to earn Hockey East Player of the Week honors after collecting a staggering 58 saves in the most recent sweep over Providence. In both one-goal games, Murray kept UMass alive and preserved the lead late against a stealthy Friar squad.

“We’ve gone back and forth with the two goalies all year and we figured that we weren’t going to lock one for a while, because [Filip] Lindberg’s played fine too,” Carvel said after the 3-2 win over Providence in Schneider Arena. “But, just what we’ve seen from Murray here, it was a no brainer to come back with him. Boy, he made a lot of big saves, especially down the stretch.”

Consistency is something Carvel has heavily emphasized throughout the rebuild of the program, and Murray has started to find a way to deliver that. Game after game, Murray has played with heart and an insatiable tenacity that has made him very difficult to beat.

And there is no question where his passion is stemming from.

When it’s 5:30 a.m. and Murray has to get up for workouts despite his extreme tiredness, he thinks of the players who can’t do that anymore. When he catches himself complaining or being ungrateful, Murray says he now kicks himself for thinking that way.

Murray considers his new perception of life to be the most powerful thing that he took away from the effects of the crash that took so much from him.

“I think it’s ramped up his play this year,” assistant coach Jared DeMichiel said of Murray. “He’s more passionate and he’s excited.

“He’s obviously got some friends looking down on him, too.”

Mollie Walker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at MWalker2019.

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  • K

    Keri AbelNov 17, 2018 at 11:04 pm

    Very proud of you bud! You are a true inspiration to many! All your friends are with every time you set out onto the ice! Love you lots