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Murley Eyes Calder Cup

By Phil Janack

Schenectady Daily Gazette, June 1, 2004

When he made his National Hockey League debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins in October, Matt Murley didnít know how he could ever top the feeling.

The Troy native found a way in December, four days before his 24 th birthday, scoring his first NHL goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and again in early February with a pair of goals for PlanetUSA in his first American Hockey League allstar game appearance.

Nearly four months later, Murley is still at it.

Murley scored the winner with 6:39 left in overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday night in Hartford, Conn., sending the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to the AHLís Calder Cup finals for the second time in four years.

Wilkes-Barre will face regular-season champion Milwaukee in the best-of-seven series starting at 8 tonight and Wednesday in Wisconsin. It continues Friday, Sunday and, if necessary, June 7 in Pennsylvania before moving back to the Bradley Center June 11 and 12, as needed.

"I couldnít imagine all thatís gone on this year," Murley, a 2002 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute graduate and four-year star for the Engineers, said from Wilkes-Barre before the team left for Milwaukee Monday night. Among his Penguins teammates is right wing Reid Simpson, who won a Calder Cup championship with the Albany River Rats in 1995.

"At times, itís been a really frustrating year because pucks werenít going in the net for me, but at other times, itís been a great year. I think I understand now why I wasnít scoring goals during the regular season, because I was meant to get a couple more in the playoffs here. You only have so many on your stick."

Murley had 10 goals and 37 points in 63 regular-season games, but ranks second on the team with seven goals in 20 playoff games. The biggest came against Hartford, redirecting a Colby Armstrong shot past the AHLís top goalie and MVP, Jason LaBarbera.

"I was forechecking behind the net, and their guy shot it around the boards," Murley said. "Armstrong picked it up off the boards and fired it at the net. I just went to the net and tipped it in."

"I never even saw it. I had my back to the goalie and just got my stick on it, and it went in. It was awesome. It was unbelievable. It was crazy."

While most of the 5,818 at the Hartford Civic Center were stunned into silence by the goal, there was a pocket of Wilkes-Barre fans that celebrated along with the Penguins players, including Murleyís parents, Tom and Patricia.

"It was pretty exciting," Tom Murley said. "Matty got a break, a deflection theyíd been working on all year long. He was flying. He had one of his better games. Both teams really played great. It was a wild one."

Special goal

The goal was especially satisfying for the younger Murley, who scored 175 points in 134 college games and 58 as a rookie last year for Wilkes-Barre, but has been used more in a defensive role in the playoffs. He has five assists, and ranks third on the team with a plus-4 rating and fifth with 12 points.

"Iíve kind of been tossed into a niche of playing third line and doing a lot of penalty killing," he said. "I got a couple of emptynetters because theyíve put me out there in the last minute. I think Iíve done pretty well and done whatís expected of me."

Murley could become the third straight former Engineersí player to win the Calder Cup. Brad Tapper and Brian Pothier won with the Chicago Wolves in 2002, though Pothier was injured and missed the playoffs. Former linemate Marc Cavosie won with the Houston Aeros last spring.

"Hopefully, this year itís my turn," Murley said. "The playoffs is what you work for all year, and to be able to be this successful is great. Itís really exciting. Weíve made it this far, so now we want to win it."