Q&A with two-time Stanley Cup winning athletic trainer Bill Murray

Scott Murray is the player-coach-GM of Thailand's fabled expat hockey squad, the Flying Farangs. He is also the Vice President of the Siam Hockey League and a lifelong hockey fan and aficionado, remembering attending original six games at Maple Leaf Gardens.   

Where were you born and what were were some of your earliest sporting influences? 

I was born and raised in Chicago, on the north side of the city. I think one of the reasons I became so interested in my career choice is because Chicago is such a great sports town.  I was immersed in this culture from my earliest memories. 

What was it like to be part of a Stanley Cup winning team? 

Lifting the Cup was certainly a dream come true, almost surreal the first time. The playoff run in the NHL is so long and such a battle that I didn’t allow myself to even think about that moment before it actually happened.  To answer your question it felt like a relief that it was finally over and at the same time a real sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in reaching a career long goal. When I was handed the Cup, overhead, by Slava Fetisov on the ice in Dallas I never considered its weight; The Stanley Cup weighs 34.5 pounds and I actually came close to falling backwards and dropping it.  My mind quickly flashed this nightmare scenario and fortunately I regained my grip and balance.  I’m still horrified at the thought.  

The second Cup was a completely different experience as most of our players told me it would be; for a majority of our players and staff this would be their third Cup. I was told that for your first one you almost have no idea or real understanding of what’s happening and that for every one after that it’s the opposite and that was exactly my experience. The second time I had complete understanding of what was happening and tremendous appreciation. I must say that I took more satisfaction in watching the experience of the players and staff who had never won before. 

 How did you become interested in athletic training? 

I became interested in athletic training when I was 12 years old. My father was a Chicago police sergeant and one of his side jobs was working security at the Chicago Bulls practice facility. He became good friends with the Bull’s trainer and when I was twelve I began working as a ball boy covering practices and games. I did this for seven years. Working next to the trainer I saw what he did everyday and thought to myself “this is a great way to make a living when I get older”. I was extremely fortunate and grateful for that experience.

Please describe for us an athletic trainer’s primary responsibilities 

An athletic trainer’s most basic role is injury prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation but it’s so much more than that. Much of your expanded role depends on your setting: clinical, corporate, high school, university, or professional.  How an athletic trainer cares for a high school student-athlete is quite different than how we would care for a professional athlete.  For example, many people don’t realize how much counseling is involved in our position and not just when it comes to injuries. 

Dealing with injuries can be very difficult mentally and from a personal aspect many players who are experiencing other life challenges are reluctant to open up to coaches or teammates and family who can’t completely understand their unique pressures; we do. Anyone who is interested in this field should start by speaking with the athletic trainer in their high school or university; they can give you advice and direction on available programs that will start you in the right direction.

How did you get involved in hockey? 

My focus was not always in hockey as a career path, in fact, it was the last sport I chose to experience.  Because I grew up in the world of the NBA my dream was to become an NBA trainer. While in university I worked as a student athletic trainer and was primarily assigned to our Division I football program.  I enjoyed the high injury rate and the variety of injuries that you can see in any given week. I was fortunate to gain experience as an NFL summer intern with the Dallas Cowboys and a seasonal intern the next season with the Miami Dolphins so professional football became my focus, however just before my senior year my focus turned towards professional baseball, which is a long story.  After five very rewarding seasons in baseball I came to the realization that getting a permanent position in MLB was a very long process; the average time from the minor leagues to the major leagues was 10-15 years in any one organization. I was way too impatient and so I decided to make the move to hockey where the average time from minor pro hockey to a chance in the NHL was considerably shorter. While it may have taken me some time to discover that hockey was my favorite, I am grateful for having sat in MLB dugouts, on NFL sidelines and NBA and NHL benches; I have been very fortunate.

Did many of the athletes you treated play through injuries? 

I have countless stories of players who played through injuries that won’t sound normal or even possible to the average person. Most of these stories occur in the playoffs or a final championship game or an international Olympic type event; the biggest of stages. Not every professional or elite athlete is capable of these amazing feats of courage and pain tolerance.  The majority of my experiences occurred in hockey, which is why I realized it was the sport for me; the overall toughness of these athletes places them far and above other sports and these guys only made my job easier.

Can training standards being applied throughout all levels of hockey? 

I think most of the concepts can and do apply to all levels of hockey. The game of hockey that a pee-wee player plays is the same game that a professional player plays. The only differences for me are size, speed, and our expectations. Earlier I mentioned role of an athletic trainer working with a high school athlete is different from one working with a professional player; this is the biggest difference and simply because the professional player is getting paid and that is his job; he is an adult so he is able to push the envelope much more. There should be no pushing or playing through injuries with youth or amateur athletes. 

Please tell us about the role nutrition plays in athletic performance 

Proper nutrition applies to all players of all ages. Most young athletes think this concept only applies to the day or night before and the day of their game. This is a misconception. Good nutrition should begin several days or the even during the week of your next game. This is also applies to getting the proper amount of rest and sleep. Don’t think you can eat junk food and average five hours of sleep two-three days before a big game and then switch to a balanced meal and get eight hours of sleep the night before and that you will be at your best; this is false. 

The question is how committed are you to play at your very best? Are you willing to make the necessary sacrifices to give you and your team the best chance for success? Concentrate on creating good habits early in your season and these will become habit rather quickly.

Please tell us how you became involved in SNIPES 

I became interested and involved in SNIPES at the earliest stage of its development.  I was interested in its concept because I know the need, at every level of play, for something effective that is both a teaching tool as well as competitive. Hockey is supposed to be fun. Before almost every game I will tell the players on the bench “let’s have fun out there” and Snipes is fun!  Hockey is also about competing and so is SNIPES.  

Developing and increasing your “Compete Level” is essential for a young player. Many don’t realize that Complete Level is an actual quality that is found on almost every scouting report and is something that is measured and evaluated.  Finding a goalie to shoot on is not always easy and even in the NHL we would occasionally use a shooter tutor, put sticks through the net, or place water bottles in the crease.  

SNIPES is the modern upgrade we have all been waiting for. As far as when the best time to start strength training for young players I think it’s very important to look at each player individually.  As we know, not all children develop the same physically. I believe that the best time to begin is after their growth spurt in order to avoid injuries and maximize your strength gains. Also, remember that girls develop faster than boys and so on average this is about age 15 for girls and 16 for boys. Again, this is different for everyone and could be earlier or later depending on physical development. This is a topic we can discuss more in depth in a future publication.  Before this I say they should focus on FUN!

How much time should a young athlete devote to practice?  

Well, that is a very good question because one of the common denominators I have found with the majority of athletes that I have had the pleasure of working closely with is the commitment and the amount of time they dedicated to improving. This doesn’t only apply to hockey and I’m not only talking about your average professional players; I’m also talking about Hall of Fame players and future HOF’ers in all the sports I’ve worked in: football, baseball, basketball, and hockey.  

What separates them is the incredible amount of hours they have dedicated to constantly improving themselves and this doesn’t stop once they have “made it”; it never stops. There is a popular theory I heard that said the magic number is 10,000 hours but I have read other studies that refute that. More recent studies agree that it’s not about a specific number but rather what are you doing during those hours of practice. They conclude that the time must be spent in immersive practice; sport specific practice that is structured, requiring effort, and is ENJOYABLE.  

It’s about being deeply immersed in your activity with the end goal of improving one’s performance. This is why I think SNIPES is the perfect tool for improving a player’s skill, agility, compete level, and reaching your ultimate goals and most importantly: it’s fun!