STOCKHOLM – For somebody who’s spent most of his adult life, and most of his life actually, outside of Sweden, Douglas Murray is surprisingly Swedish. Sure, he’s a Stockholm native, and maybe you can’t take Stockholm out of the boy, but there's more to it than that.
After all, Murray did leave Stockholm as a boy when he enrolled in the Portledge School prep school in Locust Valley in the state of New York as a 17-year-old, to play hockey, go to school, and see the world.
“We had some relatives there, and they asked me if I was interested in going to school and playing hockey there. I thought it was a good opportunity to play North American style hockey, and learn some English,” Murray told IIHF.com.
He ended up staying there a little longer than a year. After high school, he received offers from several colleges, chose Cornell University and then graduated from there in 2003 with a Bachelor’s degree in hotel administration. By then he had been drafted, by the San Jose Sharks in 1999, had been Ivy League Player of the Year, and a Hobey Baker Award finalist.
A true All-American, in other words. In all, he’s played over 400 games in the NHL, over 150 games in the AHL, and almost 130 games in the NCAA, but he’s never played in a senior league in Sweden. He played four games with Djurgården’s major junior under-20 team as a 16-year-old, and hasn’t played in Sweden since.
Well, technically, he has played in Sweden, because in 2010, the San Jose Sharks opened their regular season with games against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Stockholm, but he hasn’t played for Djurgården.
And it’s his connection to Djurgården that makes him so special, such a part of Swedish hockey tradition. Hockey, and Djurgården, is in his bloodline. Murray's maternal grandfather Lasse Björn, an IIHF Hall of Famer, won two World Championship gold medals (1953 and 1957), but even more importantly, he won nine Swedish titles with Djurgården.
While it may sometimes be difficult for players to be their fathers’ sons, it’s not difficult for Murray to be his grandfather’s grandson.
"Grandpa always took me to hockey games when I was a kid, and I got to sit next to him and his best buddy, [another Djurgården legend, and Björn's defensive partner] Rolle Stoltz," Murray said during the 2008 World Championships in Quebec.
The season is still young, and Djurgården is only seven points out of first place, but if the club wants to get back to Elitserien next season, they need to start raking in some wins. Djurgården, the club that’s won most Swedish championships, is looking to Murray to bring some energy into the team that’s ninth in the standings after seven games.
Murray, on the other hand, hasn’t played in a big rink since his days with the under-20 team. He’s played in North America, and even the 2008 World Championship and the 2010 Olympics, the two tournaments Murray has represented Sweden in, were played in an NHL-sized rink.
He’s not worried.
“I have to stay cool and play a little less aggressive game. There’s a lot of space out there and if I overplay in the offensive zone, it’s a long way home from there,” he said.
But to come from the NHL to Sweden’s second-tier league is nothing Murray has even thought about.
“I don’t think the gap is as big as many people think, especially when you’re talking about basic skills like shooting the puck or skating. Sure there are guys in the NHL that just fly past you, like Erik Karlsson or Patrick Marleau, that can do things in high speeds, and that see the game better, but at the same time, the NHLers who have come here haven’t really put on clinics,” Murray said.
“Also, we’ve seen young players come from HockeyAllsvenskan and take roster spots in North America,” he added.
Now, maybe this isn’t exactly the way Murray imagined he’d one day get to Djurgården - during an NHL lockout, or that Djurgården, would be playing in the second-tier HockeyAllsvenskan - but he has thought about coming back home.
“I’ve thought about it and dreamt about it since I was a kid. It doesn’t matter one bit how and when and under which circumstances I get to play for the club,” he said.
His grandfather’s number 12, has been retired by Djurgården, so Douglas is wearing No. 3, the same number he has with the Sharks. Number three was also Lasse Björn’s number in Tre Kronor. “So that’s a family number, too,” says Murray.
When Murray, 32, stepped onto the Hovet’s ice on Wednesday, in a game against Karlskoga, Björn was in the stands. It was not the result either man wanted: Douglas Murray's Djurgården lost to Karlskoga, 4-2, and Murray himself was minus-2.
"Grandpa's not going to think that was good enough. Then again, that's usual," said Douglas.
But he was there, and got to see his grandson in a Djurgården sweater. Finally.