Rung # 3 – The Minor Hockey Player in Grande Prairie
Facing the prospect of competing against and playing with boys from the metropolis of Grande Prairie was certainly intimidating for a farm boy from Wembley. Murray was one of the last to be selected but he was excited to have made the cut to play for the Grande Prairie Midget Knights. He would have the great honour of wearing a green melton hockey jacket with white leather sleeves bearing the team logo.
Murray wearing his melton jacket, the young hockey player’s most sought after garment. Photo courtesy of Dr. Joe Dragon
Ray Prefontaine started the program and was then in his seventh year of coaching the team. “Our home ice was the Dave Barr Arena. I was fortunate to have some great teammates like Murray Head, Alan Young, Brad Kezema, Scott Peace and just a lot of good hockey players. This was my first competitive league where scouts were starting to show up and I realized we could compete with some of the best hockey players in the Province. I had one year with the Midget Knights. We won a lot of league tournaments at the double AA level but we were not quite good enough for the triple AAA level back then.”
Grande Prairie Knights 1982-83
Back row from left: Francois Guenette, Alan Young, Todd Schweitzer, Dennis Kellner, Ray Savage, Allen Pauze, Murray Toews, Ken Wald
Middle row from left: Murray Head, Scott Wallace, Russ Wlad, Eldon Coney, Wade Strandquist, Brad Kezema, Ian McKay, Colin Clements, Andrew Knapcik.
Front row from left: Scott Peace, Art Schweitzer, trainer, Ray Prefontaine, coach, Bob Wallace, manager, Ron Strandquist, assistant trainer, Gerald Richard
Rung #4 – The Junior Hockey Player
Murray Toews is endowed with an unusually charitable disposition. He is quick to deflect praise from himself to others – giving credit to teammates, his coaches and most importantly to his family. That became apparent during interviews with him concerning his accomplishments in hockey. His five years as a junior player with the North Stars of the Peace Cariboo Junior Hockey League were a watershed in his development that opened new worlds of opportunity including a number of potentially life changing crossroads and an indication of his superior skills in the game he loved. Junior hockey represented a long step upward on his hockey ladder.
Murray proudly showing off his North Star uniform. Photo courtesy Murray Toews
The 1983 season started badly for Murray. History repeated itself and during the first game of the season a skate blade severed his Achilles tendon. The doctor informed him that it was unlikely he would play hockey again. Murray was undaunted. Three months later he defied his doctor’s prognosis and was back on the ice contributing in meaningful ways by Christmas. It is difficult to know how much of Murray’s recovery is due to his medical treatment and how much one might attribute to Murray’s attitude. He credits Dr. John Case for treating him effectively. He rounded out the remainder of the season playing with linemates Colin Clements and Dennis Kellner. With the North Stars, Murray played one season under coach Simon Jukes. For the last two North Star years Ken Head was his coach.
Neil Isnor, one of Murray’s North Star teammates, presently a phys ed teacher and coach in Camrose, sheds light on Murray’s attitude and determination. Isnor and Murray who he nicknamed “Squeak” played together for three years as a North Stars and then Isnor played against him at the College level. Neil, a fine hockey player in his own right, was the first North Star to win the PCJHL league scoring title. He fondly remembers:“You often hear stories about players who never took a shift off but never seem to need one. I can say without a doubt that I played with one such player and that was Murray Toews. It didn’t matter if it was a summer hockey game or a Junior playoff game, Murray only knew how to play one way and that was to treat every shift as if it may be his last. “
North Stars 1984-85
Back row: Ray Prefontaine, coach, Keith Souverwald, Brian Brick, Orion Donison, Morgan Hall, Norm Trembley, Kevin Hamelin, Craig Clements, Ray Savage, Shaun Impey, Andy Travis.
Middle row: Murray Head, Murray Toews, Dennis Kellner, Greg Hartman, Neal Isnor, Jim Morrison, Lee Wiebe.
Front row: Gerry Richard, Dwayne Hommy, Dean Eastman, Milton Antypowich, Colin Clements, Scott Peace.
“Under Ken Head’s leadership we started talking about winning championships. Ken would see pieces of the puzzle that were missing. We were fortunate enough to have a very strong local core that included my brother Tim but we were missing some pieces for a championship team and Ken knew where to find them,” recalls Murray. An important part of the story is the coming together of the feared “Dragon Line” consisting of Joe Dragon, Wade Wallan and Murray Toews.
The famous Dragon line-then. Photo courtesy of Dr. Joe Dragon
The famous Dragon line-now . Wade, left, Joe and Murray. Photo by Darren Foley
When asked what kind of a teammate Murray was, Dragon replied: “Murray was a great leader – both on and off the ice. As our Captain, Squeak knew when our team needed to be serious and when our team needed to have fun and was very adept at finding ways of doing this with all the players on the team. Although it was a lot of pressure, he took a lot of pride in the organization and what it meant to be Captain for our Junior team – players always respected him. “
Like Joe, Murray had also been offered an NCAA scholarship to play college hockey but in San Diego. However, at home he had an opportunity to play one further year with brother Tim. Also, Murray had tallied a total of 144 points as a North Star so why not remain at home and further pad those statistics?
There was however a problem in the minds of some hockey critics – Murray, Wade and Joe were all right hand shots. Ken had the answer. He converted Murray to his “off wing”. He had always played right wing or centre ice until Ken converted him into a left winger. From that vantage point he could see more of the net and it worked. It is exciting even today to dig into the archives and review reports of the final series between the Spruce Kings from Prince George and the North Stars. The North Stars were down three games to one. By sheer determination they “stormed back” – no pun intended – to win the championship. “Winning a championship with my brother, Tim, Wade and Joe was a career highlight - my final year of junior hockey playing with the North Stars and being captain for three.
Grande Prairie North Stars. Peace Cariboo Junior Hockey League champions 1987-88. Photo courtesy Ken Head
Murray completed his tenure with more recognition and honours than any previous or subsequent player in the history of Junior hockey in Grande Prairie. In his years as a North Star he established records for most points as a North Star, most goals in a single season and most assists. His five year point total total during 217 regular league games included 190 goals, 271 assists for 461 points. In the process he received more votes for All Star recognition than any other player in the League. In an article by Randy Poulis of the Herald Tribune staff he quotes League Commissioner Bob Leer, “ Not only had Toews made himself the best in 1986-87, his three records have likely made him the best player ever to suit up in the PCJHL. That’s got to be the most phenomenal record.” (Herald Tribune Feb 26, 1986).
A full page story appeared in the Grande Prairie Herald Tribune on Friday, March 25, 1988 highlighting all Murray’s records including his history as a North Star