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Colorado May Be Good Fit for Murley

By Phil Janack

Schenectady Daily Gazette, July 15, 2006

A shoulder injury ended Matt Murley's first full National Hockey League season early. When he gets back, it will be with a new team.

After four years in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, Murley, 26, has signed a one-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche.

Murley, a Group VI unrestricted free agent, said he agreed to terms late last week with the Avs, though a formal announcement wasn't made until Thursday. The NHL's free-agent signing period began July 1.

"We acted quickly," Murley said by phone from the home of a Westchester-area friend, where he has already begun training. "There were a few teams interested, but I liked the organization Colorado has, and the opportunities I have to make the team. And if I do get sent down, it's a good spot to be playing."

This season is the Avs' first in a secondary affiliation with the Albany River Rats, through Albany's primary NHL partner, the Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes. Colorado will fill out the roster spots left open by Carolina.

Playing for Albany would be a homecoming for Murley, a Troy native, who starred for four years at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before being signed in 2002 by Pittsburgh, which drafted him 51st overall in 1999.

"Colorado seemed to really want me, and I wanted to go somewhere where I was really wanted," Murley said. "I also liked the idea that if I do get sent down, I'll go to Albany and get to play there and work on getting called back up."

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Murley played 41 games in mostly a checking role for Pittsburgh last season, scoring a goal and five assists. He injured his left shoulder in a fight with Philadelphia's Ben Eager in late December, and both his effectiveness and ice time suffered.

In February, Murley had surgery to repair a torn labrum, ending his season.

Ottawa's Martin Havlat had a similar procedure done early last season, after playing only 18 games. He returned for the Stanley Cup playoffs, where he was 7-6-13 in 10 games for the Senators.

"Lots of guys have had this surgery," Murley said. "It's something guys can come back from easily. I'm done with my rehab and everything. It's going to be good. I'm anxious to play because I haven't for so long."

Murley played 59 NHL games for Pittsburgh, with two goals and six assists. He played full AHL seasons with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2002-03 and 2004-05, the latter during the NHL lockout.

In the AHL, Murley is 48-87-135 in 216 games. He reached the Calder Cup finals in 2004, and represented the Penguins at the 2004 all-star game in Grand Rapids, Mich.

"I didn't really know if I'd be back in Pittsburgh," Murley said. "It was a question mark, and then these other teams called. We looked at the rosters of all the teams, and there's definitely a chance to play on a third or fourth line in Colorado and be a depth player for them."

The Avs have also signed freeagent forwards Ben Guite and Mark Rycroft and defenseman Jeff Finger. Rycroft played 80 games for the St. Louis Blues last season, while both Guite (Providence) and Finger (Lowell) spent the year in the AHL.

Guite, who turns 28 next week, played for Jim Salfi's Clifton Parkbased Capital District Selects junior program in 1995-96 before attending the University of Maine.

Murley was pleased to be able to focus on training, rather than finding a place to play. In 2004, he signed with Pittsburgh a week before training camp opened in September.

Last year, he accepted the Penguins qualifying offer in mid-August.

"This is the earliest I've ever signed in the summer," he said. "It's good to get it over with and just focus on getting ready. The last few summers I've had to wait until August or something like that before I finally signed. That's why I'm happy it happened this quick."

Dating back to his college days, Murley has always played well in front of the home crowd, including two goals and two assists in a 5-3 Wilkes-Barre win at Albany on Feb. 15, 2003. At RPI, he was 74-101-175 in 137 games from 1998-2002.

"Hopefully, I can keep that good luck up," Murley said. "If, unfortunately, I get sent down, I've always played well there. Hopefully, that would continue, and it wouldn't be too long before I got called up."