When Tyler Currier joined the Missouri Mavericks, the rookie forward from Anchorage, Alaska, never dreamed his best buddy and running mate would be veteran trainer Bill Murray.
Murray has spent as much time working with professional sports teams (25) as Currier – who is 25 – has spent on the planet.
Yet a freak injury and more time on the training table than he ever imagined created a bond between the two men that will likely last a lifetime.
“I've never been around a trainer like Bill,” said Currier, who suffered a broken foot when he was hit by a teammate's shot in a preseason warmup session. “To be honest with you, he's more like a coach or a father figure to the guys on the team than he is a trainer.
“When Bill's in the locker room joking, we know it's time to joke. When Bill has his game face on, we know it's time to get serious. He's a leader on this team, and he has the respect of everyone in this organization. I had the broken foot, then my first game back I had a sprained ankle and he helped me get through all that – mentally and physically.
“I'd be in the training room, listening to Bill's great stories – and he has the best stories of anyone I know – and he told me I was going to get through it. And we got through it together. There is no way I could ever repay him for what he did for me my first year as a pro.”
Mavericks coach Scott Hillman calls Murray a pro's pro. The Chicago native spent seven seasons as a ball boy for the Chicago Bulls in the 1970s and learned to love the interaction that goes on in a professional locker room.
He spent 11 years with the NHL's New Jersey Devils (1996-2006), including their 2000 and 2003 Stanley Cup championship seasons. He still holds the Devils’ record for the longest tenure of any trainer in the club's history, and the team always had among the league's fewest man-games-lost totals while collecting more regular and postseason victories and making more playoff appearances than any other NHL club in that span.
For a few years he worked as the trainer for Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver's Gold Coast Suns in the Senior Professional Baseball League, and reveled in the postgame stories the chain-smoking Baltimore Orioles legend would tell on the long Florida bus rides.
He also worked with a young, first-year coach in the Southern Professional Hockey League named Scott Hillman, and they won two championships with the Knoxville Ice Bears.
When trainer Wes Fillingame left the Mavericks after last season to return to school, Hillman called his good friend, who was working in Europe's Kontinental Hockey League and the KHL Medical Center in Moscow, where he served as chief specialist.
“One of the happiest days of my life came when Bill said he'd join our staff,” Hillman said as he prepared his team for the 7:05 p.m. Friday matchup against the Arizona Sundogs in the opening round of the CHL playoffs at the Independence Events Center. “Bill Murray is the ultimate pro. He's our athletic trainer and therapist, but the boys in that locker room and I know he's so much more. He's an assistant coach, an advisor, a winner. He's the reason we are going into the playoffs as healthy as we are today.
“When he says something, the boys listen and they pay attention. We had two championship seasons down in Knoxville, and we're hoping to have another one this season in Independence. We are so lucky and so honored to have him here.”
The always-smiling Murray agrees with his coach and friend.
“I am having a blast being back with Scott and working with the players on this team,” said Murray, who is a member of the National Athletic Trainers Association, the American College of Sports Medicine, the Canadian Athletic Therapists Association, the National Strength & Conditioning Association and the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society. “The guys on the team are so responsive, and this organization, from Brent (Thiessen, team president) and Scott to the players and the front office staff, are first class.
“When I was with the Devils, I felt like I was with the classiest organization in the NHL, and I feel the same way working with the Mavericks. They are the classiest organization in the CHL.
“And I felt the same way about working with Scott at Knoxville. When I got the call from Scott to join him here in Independence, I immediately said yes. I wanted to come in and help create good habits, set the tone and help the team get ready for what we are about to experience Friday. I'm thrilled we're as healthy as we've been at any time this season. The boys are buying what we're selling – it's all a matter of trust, faith and belief.”
When asked about his relationship with Currier, a smile came to Murray's face.
“He's a special young man,” Murray said. “This team has the ultimate pros, the ultimate leaders in guys like Matt (Stephenson), Chezy (Dave Pszenyczny), Sebbie (Sebastien Thinel), Rammer (Mike Ramsay) and Kinger (Colt King).
“And then we have the young guys like Tyler and the rookies on this team who have really made an impact. I see Tyler flying around on the ice, scoring goals, playing like we hoped he'd play all season.
“And we know the best is yet to come. I'm sure he didn't want to spend most of his first season in the training room with me, but we enjoyed each other's company. He learned the mental part of the game is as important as the physical part of the game. He learned how to overcome injury, frustration and disappointment, and look at him now. He's going to be playing his best hockey on the game's biggest stage – the playoffs.”
Which is something Murray knows about. He took part in 120 Stanley Cup playoff games with the Devils, including 20 Stanley Cup finals.
But he is as excited as any kid on the Mavericks, as the team attempts to claim its first-ever CHL Ray Miron Presidents’ Cup.
“The feeling is the same,” he said, grinning from ear to ear, “whether it is the NHL or the CHL. The only difference is the bonus check.”