Hockey Legends

of Grande Prairie

Rung # 7 – The Hockey Coach

Earlier it was noted that Murray sometimes mused about what might have happened if he had continued on his trajectory in hockey as a coach especially when he reflected on the fortunes of his friends Mike Babcock, coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Bill Peters the Calgary Flames head coach.

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Murray, Mike Babcock, Stanley Cup winning coach of the Detroit Red Wings, and Bill Peters, coach of the 1980 Memorial Cup Champion Spokane Chiefs, with the Cup.
Photo courtesy of Murray Toews

It was a different path that Murray chose and fortunate is that choice for Grande Prairie and his family. Being a coach in pro hockey certainly has potential to bring fame and fortune.  However, along just one line of thought consider how many days per month and per year that coaches in professional hockey are required to be away from home. Consider also the family values that are so much a part of Murray’s life.

Regarding crossroads choices in life, one can see Murray’s decisions reflected in the words of the poet Robert Frost in his poem The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.

Perhaps even more relevant is a quote from Ljupka Cvetanova’s book, The New Land.

Do not go where the path may lead, Go instead where there is no trail and leave a trail.

Don’t think for a moment that Murray chose an easy path. While on rung seven he was straddling three – maybe four ladders -  working at and learning a demanding job, husband and father of three - two active daughters and one son - coaching and, assuming executive responsibilities in local hockey organizations. We focus here on his coaching contributions – a dizzying assignment.

Upon first returning to Grande Prairie Murray joined Simon Jukes to coach his younger brothers Greg and Jeff who were on the city’s Midget AAA teams.

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Murray Toews got right back into coaching with the Midget Dragon Palace Knights after returning to Grande Prairie

“It was a fun time getting into coaching and doing the oil patch stuff. I was still in touch with Mike and Bill, whose coaching careers were leading them into the WHL and the American Hockey League. The business was developing so it was the right call for me to be home with my wife and starting a family: Muranda, my first daughter born February 1,  1995, Carlee was born April 17, 1996 (18 months apart) and Ty born on February 23, 2002.”

In Wembley in the early 90s Murray coached an Atom team that included his daughters Muranda and Carlee aged six and five along with Tim’s niece, Averyl every second year until they reached grade twelve. He coached a league winning co-ed team that played in an All Peace League. Murray proudly comments, “We saw a lot of development with these kids from not even knowing what an offside is or what a left edge is to some good hockey skill. ”  We had a tremendous triple A girls team and program as well in Grande Prairie. Coaching at these levels has made me realize what a professional coach must have to give up, like Bill Peters with a young family. I got to be with my three kids throughout their minor hockey careers almost every day whereas an NHL head coach loses that. They are lucky to see their kids skate three times a year let alone be a coach for them.” Murray also coached Ty, his youngest when his son played first in Wembley as a Novice and Atom and then Pee wee and Bantam in Grande Prairie. At present Ty is playing Midget Storm AAA hockey in Grande Prairie with Chris Schmidt as his coach.

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Ty, Carlee ( Scruff) , Muranda, Colleen, and Murray maintaining the family pond hockey tradition

Along with Murray’s competitive nature he is caring and compassionate. During Stan’s sleuthing for information regarding Murray he uncovered a moving story of a First Nation’s girl that he recruited from Gift Lake to play on a AAA team he was coaching. She faced numerous challenges including poverty, academic issues and discrimination but Murray believed in her. He became her advocate and sponsor. She was nominated MVP in a female tournament, was top scorer and MVP of the league, graduated from high school and went on to study at the college level.

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Murray, Muranda and Carlee(Scruff) with Norwich University Division 3 NCAA championship trophy

Murray particularly enjoys coaching at the lower levels and as one of his children noted in an interview “Dad switched to coaching and with work there was no longer time to play. No matter whether it’s work or hockey he’s always ready to roll up his sleeves, even if he’s already got a full plate-like the involvement with the Storm. That’s his nature-he just wants to help out.” Lorna LeBlanc, Executive Director of the Grande Prairie Minor Hockey Association says she can always count on Murray for support. She first met Murray when he was serving on the Jr. Storm Board of Directors and later in his numerous coaching roles. In the 2010/11 season he was awarded Coach Of The Year, Female Division. Lorna went on to say “Murray set goals at the beginning of the year and gave the team everything they needed to achieve them.  He knows how to get the best out of each player. He teaches them how to give their best 110% all of the time. He is strict with the girls, yet knows how to make them smile when they need it.  Murray respects the players and in turn they respect him.” Recently there was a crisis that required a coach for the Bantam Female Elite team.  Murray stepped in as head coach at the last minute to help the team finish the year.” All the while Murray’s family was upholding the Toews family reputation on the ice.  Kris Patton, writing in the local newspaper on October 25, reported, “ Sisters Carlee Toews and Muranda Toews, along with their cousin Averyl Toews — are point-per-game-or-better players, through 10 games as players in the Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League.”

If you remember the 1994-95 NHL hockey season that wiped out the NHL that year. Murray contacted his friend Bill Peters ,who at that time was assistant coach of the Detroit Red Wings, and Bill agreed to visit Grande Prairie for a week to tutor coaches and players in the city’s’ minor hockey programs. “Imagine”, reported Terry Ferrell of the Herald Tribune, “Being 12 years old and having an NHL coach, wearing his team gear, shouting encouragement to you, high-fiving you or feathering cross-ice passes to you as you skate down the wing.” (
What’s your opinion? Did Murray take the right path when he determined to return to his roots? As reported above shortly following his return to Grande Prairie he was quoted, “It was a fun time getting into coaching and doing the oil patch stuff.  … The business was developing so - it was the right call for me to be home with my wife and starting a family.” Thankfully it was a good decision for Murray. It was certainly fortunate for Grande Prairie.

Rung # 8 – The Business & Hockey Executive

It is apparent from Murray’s development as a hockey player that he was a leader among his peers. More often than not players and coaches alike chose him as team Captain. Both on the ice and in the dressing room players looked to him for advice and motivation. He was good at assessing both situations and individuals. As a coach he was meticulous about setting goals and then motivating his players to attain those markers. We are not as familiar with the application of these traits in his capacity as an executive in business but it is reasonable to assume that the leadership skills he groomed in hockey transferred to the business world. Murray was also fortunate to be the recipient of good mentoring – in hockey from the likes of Ken Head – in business from father-in-law, Gerald Bonnett.

Currently the CEO of Bonnett’s Energy Services Ltd., Murray began working for Gerald as a shop hand during the off-season in hockey. From shop hand he graduated to wireline operator, field sales, dispatch manager and General Manager. It is presently a private corporation with Mill City Capital: a private equity partner, described as a multifaceted service company offering a full range of well intervention and optimizing services. Clearly Murray’s success in business is a testimony to his leadership abilities, the same abilities he demonstrated while playing hockey as captain of many teams, later as a coach and serving on numerous boards and committees – too many to itemize here. A few examples serve to indicate the scope of Murray’s contributions to local young people.  

For six years Murray served on the Peace Female Athletic Club that governed Bantam AA, AAA, U16, Midget AA and AAA programs. Currently he is a board member for the female PFAC, a program that is important to Murray remembering that his daughters moved on from there to play hockey the OHA in the women’s WJHL.  From there Muranda went on to Norwich University, a division three school and graduated with her nursing degree. She won a National championship at the NCAA level in her last year. Carlee played in the University of New Hampshire, just outside of Boston at the division one level.

Murray’s most recent contribution to hockey in Grande Prairie pertains to the role he has played in rescuing the Grande Prairie Storm.

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Murray Toews and two Storm players Nate Morgan, left, and Nate Bierd who are billeted with the Toews family. Photo by Stan Neufeld

In conversation with Murray he downplays his role in that rescue effort. As noted earlier - it is his nature to deflect applause and praise. Murray has served on the Storm Board of Governors for many years dating back to the era of coach Fran Gow when the team won the AJHL championship. Concurrent with a down turn in the local economy the team encountered financial difficulty. Two years ago it was clear a crisis was looming and guided by Murray important steps were taken to salvage the city’s junior hockey program. Goals that were established included - cleaning up the balance sheet – paying outstanding debts and putting a competitive team on the ice. At this point Murray contends, “I think we are going down the right path. The new board is functioning well. We have a good coach in his second year who works well with the new GM Mark Bomersback. Now it’s a matter of getting some injuries healed and to see how good we can become. A lot of guys stepped up here including Darrell Radbourne. Rick Foley has also played a big role recently as well as Ray Mildenberger and Chris Millsap.” Murray goes on to say, “There is a lot of history there. As a coach you do it for all 20 kids on your team and that’s how we look at the team this year.

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Murray Toews and Storm coach Matt Keillor. Photo by Stan Neufeld

This year there are 20 players, next year there will be another 20. There will be some different faces with different names but it is a place for them to play hockey. I believe it is something the community needs. Nothing better to go see a good local Junior A hockey Game in Grande Prairie-right? I’d also love to see the WHL come to Grande Prairie”